Topeka It isn't hard to find a good beer around here.
That is what Topekan John Dean will tell you. Earlier this month, the brewmaster at Blind Tiger Brewery & Restaurant took home two medals for his work at the nation's largest beer festival.
"People seem surprised by the quality," he said of his customers at the Blind Tiger. "They're shocked to get that kind of beer in Topeka. You generally have to go to bigger cities to find it at the bigger brew pubs. They're shocked that we've got it here in the Midwest."
Dean won a gold medal in Denver at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival for his American-style wheat beer known as Raw Wheat to his Topeka customers. It is the brewery's biggest seller.
Dean also took home a silver medal in the rye beer category.
The festival had about 1,800 beers entered in 58 categories by 393 breweries.
American-style wheat was one of the most popular beers at the festival with 46 entries. Dean calls it "the most popular craft-brewed beer available."
Dean, 35, started brewing beer in 1990 when he bought a brewing kit and taught himself the ropes. His father told stories of his own home-brewing experiments, and Dean was tired of paying for high-dollar, quality beer.
The quality of his first brews, however, left something to be desired, he said.
He eventually joined Topeka's beer-brewing club the Greater Topeka Hall of Foamers, now in its 15th year where he got tips from other brewers.
Dean landed his first brewing job at Barley's Brewhaus on Kansas Avenue in June 1996. He worked there until the brewery closed in 1997 and then commuted to Leavenworth for the next two years to the High Noon Saloon.
He's been at the Blind Tiger for the past three years. Part-owner Pam Caplinger said she gives her brewmaster free rein.
"He knows this business so well, and he is so good at it, that when he says he wants to do something and when it's in line with the budget, we say go for it," she said.
Dean said the quality and diversity of beer available in the United States is better than anywhere in the world, as brewers here replicate beer styles from other countries. There is increasing demand for beer beyond what Dean calls "pale yellow lawn mower beer" although "every beer has its place," he conceded.
Dean used Kansas wheat to brew his award-winning wheat beer. Dan Cain of Berryton in northeast Kansas has been growing and harvesting the hard red winter wheat Dean uses in his wheat beer.
Most brewers use raw wheat import from other countries, Dean said. Wheat grown in Kansas, he said, is geared more for use in bread products than beer. Some German growers have developed strains of wheat for use specifically in beer.
Germany is where you import from if you're serious about making a good raw wheat beer, Dean said. But that didn't sit well with the native Kansan.
"It just rubbed me the wrong way to use German wheat and me living in the wheat state," he said.