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Thirsty? Your Hoppy Guide to the Downtown KC Craft Beer Scene

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5 minute read

(Editor’s note: This article was last updated Dec. 26, 2022)

Kansas City’s downtown craft beer scene traces its hoppy roots back to Nov. 17, 1989.

That’s the date John McDonald, founder of Boulevard Brewing, delivered his first keg of Pale Ale to Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen just a few blocks down the road on Southwest Boulevard.

While Boulevard remains king–it opened a spacious Beer Hall as its new throne room in 2016 and now sells its beers nationwide–it’s inspired a golden age of microbreweries in greater downtown.

Eleven have opened within the past couple years. The East Crossroads is the cozy, walkable core with eight brewers, but there are outposts well worth sampling in the West Bottoms and River Market too.

Where to start?

You might as well begin at the founding font, the Boulevard Beer Hall at Boulevard Brewing Co.

On any given day, cars with license plates from around the U.S. and Canada can be found in its parking lot, a sign its the center of beer tourism in Kansas City.

Russ John, owner of Brick River Cider, believes hard cider is the next big thing in the craft beverage world.

“I spent a summer in Salzburg (Austria) and this is what it was like,” Boulevard fan Ben Stouffer said while recently enjoying a glass at the 100,000-square-foot Beer Hall. “We’re here for the beer and the company.”

“It’s a community,” said Boulevard Brewing Co. tour guide Kay Thomason. “People can come and meet other people and hang out. We want the environment to be about conversation.”

Well, that and the beer. “Come take a tour and get some free beer,” Thomason said. “It’s pretty neat.”

Kyle Gray, owner of Casual Animal Brewing Co., acknowledged that Boulevard “definitely set the groundwork” for other smaller but no less sincere downtown microbreweries, most of which are within walking distance from each other in the East Crossroads.

“But the scene is blossoming and coming into its own,” he said. “As a beer drinker, I love it.”

And as a brewer?

“What’s cool is that it’s a makers, artists, people-who-are-into-being-creative kind of community,” Gray said.

“So that fosters what we’re doing and what all the breweries are doing. You’re trying to be unique and tap into something that somebody’s going to find special to them.”

City Barrel Brewing, which opened a month ago in the East Crossroads, is the latest entry to the downtown microbrew scene.

Here’s a rundown of microbrewery pubs in the greater downtown area:

Border Brewing Co., 512 E. 18th St., East Crossroads. Doubled its size in new location that opened in mid-November. Now has a full liquor license for cocktails and drinks and serving other brewer’s beers. Hours: Wed.-Thu., 4-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., noon-11 p.m.; Sun., noon-8 p.m. Capacity: 72 inside, 50 at outdoor beer garden. Special brews: Ribbon Cutter IPA, Strawberry Blonde Ale, Chocolate Milk Stout Nitro. Food: None, but outside food allowed. Ambience: Minimalist and neighborly.

Boulevard Beer Hall, 2534 Madison Ave., Westside. Hours: Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Thur., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Capacity: 339. Special brews: Rye on Rye 6 Whiskey Barrel-Aged Ale, Love Child No. 9 Sour Ale, Boss Tom’s Golden Bock (30th Anniversary Brew). Food: Pretzel dogs, snacks, cold cooked meats, cheese and vegetables. Ambience: Big and chill with a balcony offering a great downtown skyline view.

Brewery Emperial, 1829 Oak St., East Crossroads. Hours: Mon.-Thur., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri-Sat., 11 a.m.-mid.; Sun., noon-10:05 p.m. Capacity: 60 inside, 180 in beer garden. Special brews: Biscuit Pale Ale ESB, Gustav Kolsch, Sour Red with Cherries. Food: Starters, large plates and sandwiches. Ambience: Eclectically homey.

The expanded Casual Animal space more than tripled the size of the original brewpub that opened in 2018.

Casual Animal Brewing Company, 1725 McGee, East Crossroads. Hours: Tue.-Thur., noon-9 p.m.; Fri., noon-10 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., noon-7 p.m. Recently expanded into warehouse space next door that greatly expanded its capacity with great naturally-lit ambience.

Special brews: Peachable Moment Fruit Ale, Experimental Hazy IPA Version 19.2, Local Motive Imperial ESB. Food: Peanuts in the shell, cheese and crackers, chips (outside food allowed). Ambience: Casual and cozy.

City Barrel Brewing Co., 1740 Holmes St., East Crossroads. Hours: Tue.-Thur., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-mid.; Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Capacity: 180. Special brews: Rad AF, Hazy IPA, Ahoy! Guava Sour. Food: Full lunch and dinner menus featuring wood-fired sandwiches and entrees. Ambience: Accessible and educational with views of the kitchen and brewery.

Double Shift Brewing Company, 412 E. 18th St., East Crossroads. Hours: Tue.-Thur., 4-10 p.m.; Fri., 4-11:30 p.m.; Sat., noon-11:30 p.m.; Sun., noon-8 p.m. Capacity: 60. Special brews: Tessellation Mosaic IPA, Direction of Travel Kolsch, Power Moves Hazy IPA. Food: None, but outside food allowed. Ambience: Easygoing utilitarian.

Stockyards Brewing Co., 1600 Genessee St., Suite #100, next to the Golden Ox restaurant in the old Kansas City Livestock Exchange Building in the West Bottoms. Hours: Tue.-Thur., 4-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., noon-mid.; Sunday, noon-8 p.m.; Special Brews: Cerveza Royal Mexican Style Lager, West Bottoms IPA, Fox Trotter Scottish Ale. Food: Craft beer jerky, popcorn, hummus and pretzel chips. Ambience: Cowtown historic.

Kevin and Jodie Gittemeier, husband and wife proprietors of Nimble brewing, met while students at KU in the early 1990s.

Strange Days Brewing, 316 Oak St., River Market. Hours: Mon, 4-9 p.m.; Thur.-Fri., 3-10 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Capacity: 150. Special brews: Single Hop Pale Ale Series Episode 6, Berolina Berlinerweiss. Food: Pub Mix and Goldfish scooped snacks (outside food allowed). Ambience: Large and open with décor celebrating the old Muehlebach Brewery and professional soccer fever.

-Torn Label Brewing Co., 1708 Campbell St., East Crossroads. Hours: Wed.-Thur., 5-10 p.m.; Fri., 4 p.m.-mid.; Sat., noon-mid.; Sun., noon-8 p.m.; Capacity: 75 inside, 30 on patio. Special brews: Alpha Pale Ale, Monk and Honey Belgian Single, Hang ’Em High IPA. Food: Full kitchen serving seasonal rotating menu ranging from high-end bar snacks like home-made fried pickles to fried chicken. Ambience: Relaxed. Dogs welcome.

Alma Mader Brewing, 2635 Southwest Blvd., Westside. Hours: Wed.-Thur., 3-9 p.m.; Friday, noon-9 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and Sun., noon- 6 p.m. Special brews: “Hop-forward Pilsners, Pale Ales and IPAs.” Ambience: industrial chill, Food: None, but outside food welcome.

Rochester Brewing and Coffee Roasting, 2129 Washington, West Crossroads. Hours: Mon.-Thur., 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 7 a.m.-midnight. Special brews: coffee stout, pilsener, kettle sour, IPAs, cider, mead and house wine. Ambience: laid back, big wraparound bar and spacious backroom with kids’ play area, Food: sandwiches and panini’s.

Chris Lanman, founder of St. Joe-based River Bluff Brewing, is happy to join the downtown KC beer scene.

Nimble brewing, 1735 Oak, East Crossroads. Hours: Fri.-Sat., noon to midnight; Sun., noon-10 p.m.; Tues.-Thur., 4- 10 p.m. Family-run operation, unique because it also offers a full bar. Specializes in small batch beers, New England-style hazy IPAs, sours and red ales.

Red Sash, 406 E. 18th St., East Crossroads.  Hours Wed.-Thur., 3-10 p.m., Fri., 3-11:30 p.m.;  Sat., noon-11:30 p.m. and Sun., noon-10 p.m. Former Army officer Patrick Mitchell wants it to be friendly to military vets and first responders although all welcome. Specializes in classic pilsners, pale ales, IPAs and California common, a brew popularized by Anchor Brewing of San Francisco. Outdoor deck accommodates 40, capacity for 40 inside.

Oak & Steel, 17th and Wyandotte, Crossroads. Hours Mon.-Thur., 2-10 p.m., Fri., 2 p.m.-midnight, Sat., noon-midnight and Sun., noon-8 p.m. Oak & Steel doesn’t brew its own, but has 24 taps featuring all independent craft beers. Ambience: ground level space in garage, lots of natural light and 1,200 square-foot shaded patio; cash-free transactions encouraged. Food: patrons can bring in their own.

River Bluff Brewing, 201 E. Second St, River Market. Hours Mon.-Thur from 3-10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m.-midnight and Sundays from 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Specializes in “good, clean beer” including signature Speedliner IPA, Sandy Dunes Belgian Ale, Unionized unfiltered lager, River Cream Ale and Jerry’s Porter. Ambience: exposed brick, concrete floors, shiny stainless steel brewery kettles and a 1950 wooden Speedliner boat built in St. Joe suspended from the ceiling. Food: A kitchen is in the works with a menu that will include smash burgers and salads.

Brick River Cider Co., 1701 McGee St., East Crossroads. Hours Tues.-Sat. from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Nine hard cider offerings running the gamut from sweet to dry and except for the “Double Barrel Apple (16 percent),” are in the 4.3-5.5 percent alcohol range. Ambience, spacious interior, rollup doors open to long patio. Food: Full menu includes burger, pulled pork sandwich, fried chicken sandwich, orchard grill, deviled eggs, mushroom risotto and fish n’ chips.

Expected to open in early 2023: 

Vine Street Brewing, 2000 Vine St., 18th & Vine District.

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