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‘Nanobrewery’ hopes to set up operations in western Douglas County; demand for tickets to downtown Lawrence craft beer expo anything but ‘nano’


My wife is always harping at me (we could just end the sentence right there) to consume more locally grown food.

Well, I’ve just heard of a local garden that has piqued my interest. Among its main crops are hops and barley. And no, they’re not using them to make some earthy breakfast bar. We’re talking about growing local crops to produce beer.

Lovers of craft beers will want to keep their eyes on a western Douglas County property that hopes to become a significant craft brewing operation.

Neil Hull, president of Flint Hills Brewery LLC, has purchased a former horse farm near the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Stull Road in western Douglas County.

Hull has begun the process of winning approval to locate a “nanobrewery” on the property. But the brewery will have a twist. It hopes to grow on site most of the grains it needs to produce its brews.

“We want to have a place where we can educate people about quality beer instead of just focusing on quantity of beer,” Hull said.

Hull said a hops crop already has been planted, barley was grown last year, and of course, growing wheat isn’t much of a problem in Kansas. The property already has large amounts of blackberry and raspberry plants that can be incorporated into the beers. (Oh, my wife is going to be pleased. I’m going to be so healthy.)

I hadn’t heard of much hop or barley production in Kansas, but Hull said the climate actually works pretty well for it here. The trick is having the right soil conditions and acid level and such. As a result, they do quite a bit of container farming so they can control those conditions better.

The brewery plans to use the locally grown products to specialize in Belgian style beer making. Hull was in the Marines and also worked for the Department of Defense and has traveled the world. He’s made several contacts in the Belgium brewing industry, and has a host of recipes for Belgian beers. The brewery, though, also will produce some American ales, IPAs and other such brews.

But it may not be doing any of that right away. Hull has just started the process needed to get the necessary permits for the business. The idea of a nanobrewery isn’t addressed in Douglas County’s zoning code, so planners are having to write new language for the business. That’s the part of the process the brewery is in now.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission has recommended approval of a new nanobrewery use that could be allowed in agriculturally zoned districts, as long as the brewery goes through the conditional use permit process. It now will have to be considered by the Douglas County Commission.

Bottomline, it may be another one to two years before the brewery has everything in place to open.

Once it does open, it won’t be a huge operation, but it also may not be as small as its ‘nano’ title suggests. As I read through the proposed regulations, it looks like a nanobrewery was limited to production of four barrels of beer, which I think would be a little less than 470 liters. So, I was thinking of this as a weekend brewery — as in enough beer to last about a weekend. (Doesn’t that sound about right to you?)

But as I talked to Hull, he said the four barrel limit was not an annual limit. It was a limit on how much the brewery could produce during any one brewing session. It basically is a limit on how much brewing equipment the brewery can have.

Hull said, eventually, he believes the business will produce 1,000 to 2,000 barrels a year. Hull, though, said that won’t require him to build some type of industrial type of building on the rural property along Stull Road.

“We’re not going for the sky out there,” Hull said. “It will look like the buildings that are already out there. We don’t want to be an eyesore or generate a lot of truck traffic or anything like that.”

Hull said he and his investors' plans do call for a tasting room on the property. But he said if all goes well he would hope to open a full-scale brew pub in west Lawrence in the future.

So, lots of things to keep an eye on out there in coming months. In the meantime, we can all just daydream of gardening season.

• Perhaps some of you may skip over the daydreams of gardens and start dreaming of the upcoming second annual Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition set for March 2 in downtown Lawrence.

Well, hopefully you didn’t fall asleep at the switch during the ticket purchasing period for the event. Cathy Hamilton, Downtown Lawrence Inc. director, confirmed to me that the expo is sold out.

Tickets went on sale Jan. 29, and Hamilton said the local supply of tickets sold out in about five minutes. The supply on Ticketmaster lasted about two hours. The event — which will take place in the Abe & Jake’s Landing building along the Kansas River in downtown — hosts about 700 spectators.

Organizers of the event — which includes Downtown Lawrence Inc. and Chuck Magerl of Free State Brewery — thought they were on to something last year when the event sold out in about 10 days.

This year’s success likely will lead to brainstorming of how to expand the festival, which already has more than 20 brewers signed up to provide samples of their products.

There had been a rumor that the festival was going to expand to two days this year, but Magerl recently told me that upon examination, a two-day festival would have created too many logistical problems for the breweries.

Hamilton, though, said organizers likely will do some thinking on how to accommodate the growing popularity of the festival.

“I think we’re looking at a festival here that could become a real signature event for downtown Lawrence,” Hamilton said.

The event provides a direct boost to Downtown Lawrence Inc. Proceeds from the event go to Downtown Lawrence Inc. Last year’s event generated upwards of $9,000 for the organization, Hamilton estimated.


d_prowess 5 years, 3 months ago

I was pretty disappointed and even a little annoyed when I tried to get tickets to this beer festival on the afternoon that they went on sale only to find out they were already sold out. It just seems like you should have a better idea about the demand for your product and promote it appropriately. If I had known that there was a chance it could sell out by even the end of the first day, I would have been to where I needed to be as soon as tickets were made available.
I do think this could be a great event for Lawrence, but I hope its management is handled better in the future so it doesn't start to create a negative vibe towards the event.

kuhusker 5 years, 3 months ago

Part of the problem was that they didn't limit the number of tickets single individuals could buy. One person bought out 20+ tickets at 23rd Street for example, taking their entire supply. Online it didn't look like there was a limit either. The organizers ought to limit it to 2 tickets per person, which would help more people have a shot at getting in.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 3 months ago

Lawrence needs a Convention Center (would be great near downtown if a site was available) to handle events such as this. The fact demand is that high, and we have no place that will hold enough people show there is a problem. And attracting new events like this will be difficult.

gccs14r 5 years, 3 months ago

It doesn't have to be a 2-day event to expand. They just need a day permit for South Park with wristbands to determine who is a paid participant. They can then open it up for more people. The downside is that the weather won't always cooperate, but if they turn it into a weeklong event, they can put up tents.

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