It?s offered as an incentive to move a couch, used to help relax and socialize after work, and experts say it helped build the pyramids.
What is it?
Beer. And Rick Goehring, B.J. Hunt and Travis Rohrberg get to brew it for the masses every week with their up-and-coming brewery, Walnut River Brewing Company in El Dorado.
If you haven?t heard of them, don?t kick yourself; the brewery is doing all it can to just keep up with the accounts it currently has, but real area craft beer geeks will recognize their staple offerings of High Beam IPA, Greta American Wheat, Teter Rock Kolsch, and their most popular beer, Warbeard Irish Red.
?We are selling beer before it gets brewed,? Co-owner B.J. Hunt said. ?We can barely keep up with demand, but that is all about to change, though.?
The operation is getting ready to undergo a massive change, going from small local craft brewery to small local craft brewery that is distributing all through South Central Kansas.
?We are hoping to be in local liquor stores and have more offerings in area bars throughout Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey and Reno counties as early as May,? Head Brewer and co-owner Rick Goehring said. ?The beer isn?t changing; we are just going to make a lot more of it.?
To get where they are headed took a long time from where they were back in 2003, which was at square one. Goehring enjoyed home brewing for friends, and his wife recognized the passion and candidly asked him why he didn?t figure how to brew full time.
?It?s kind of crazy that she encouraged me to do all of this, really,? Goehring said.
He bought the brewery location, 111 W. Locust Ave. in El Dorado, back in late 2003 and it had some history?like former $2 brothel kind of history.
?It was called Goldie?s and it was the ?classy? joint as it charged $2 instead of $1 like the others,? Hunt said.
If that wasn?t odd enough, there was a flea market established at the location as late as a few months ago. There are still remnants from the market upstairs that are getting cleaned out while the brewery expands.
?We brewed in the back, and they had some space out in the main area,? Goehring said.
There are still people who pop by looking for a flea market, only to find a couple of guys brewing beer on a Saturday.
?It?s kind of fun,? Hunt said.
Back in 2003, though, Goehring still didn?t have a brewery, just an idea, and he was searching for a partner. He reached out to several people, trying to get someone to operate a restaurant out of the location and let him serve his beers.
A lot of looking and not much success later, he was eventually paired up with Hunt, but there wasn?t a chance he was getting talked into running a restaurant.
?I really didn?t want to do that,? Hunt said.
So they looked into production brewing and started running numbers to see if they could make something like that work. Currently there aren?t many commercial brewers in Kansas, with the most notable being Tallgrass Brewing Company in Manhattan.
They eventually settled on trying to make it work and toured Tallgrass and even made a trip to Colorado to visit with folks from Oskar Blues, Avery, and Upslope to see how they were running their breweries.
Now they had a plan.
With that plan in place, things are starting to pick up for the boys at Walnut River Brewing Company, and they aren?t just doing a few batches of home brew anymore. Currently, they produce 80 gallons of beer for every batch completed. That equates to 491 pints of beer. They do that three times on a normal Saturday.
?Really it?s just bigger than it was before,? Goehring said. ?It?s about to get bigger.?
None of this would be possible without the science required to make those delicious libations.
There are four key ingredients to making beer: barley, hops, yeast and water. The way you combine those ingredients and other specialty ingredients, and how much you use of each is what makes the beer taste a certain way.
In Germany, there are laws about the purity of beer, and only the main four ingredients are allowed to be used for brewing.
The rest of the world wanted to experiment, and that is how beers like coffee porter or cherry wheat were created.
Big brewers like Coors and Budweiser use rice and other inferior ingredients to keep the process cheaper, but it also makes the taste cheaper.
Walnut River Brewing Company only uses the best ingredients in their beer and has experimented with several different styles, including a smoked pepper ale and milk stout, recently.
One of the reasons Goehring said he picked El Dorado to brew beer was the proximity to El Dorado Lake and the Walnut River that runs to it.
?The water here is great for brewing,? he said.
There are certain minerals in water that help make beer taste good, and Goehring said his team doesn?t have to add much to the water to make it perfect in his mind.
Once the ingredients have been picked out, the physical brewing process can begin.
First, the grains are milled to the correct consistency. This serves as the base for the brew.
Water is brought up to a certain temperature and then starts to fill the mash tun. Then the milled barley and other grains are stirred into the water in the mash tun and then allowed to soak?making mash.
The soaking process allows the water to absorb sugars and other goodies from the grain. Typically, more grain equals more alcohol, but that isn?t always the case. This part of the process helps decide a lot about how the beer looks as well.
Once the water soaks up the sugars in the grain, it is referred to as wort. When the time is up, the wort is transferred to the boil kettle, leaving the spent grain behind, and the wort will boil for around an hour, normally.
This is when the hops are added to the process. Depending on what kind of hops, how many of them you use, and when you add them is what determines how bitter the beer is or how floral it smells.
When the wort is finished boiling, it is put through a wort cooler to get it down to a good fermenting temperature as soon as possible while it transfers to a fermenter, or a giant holding tank, where the yeast will ferment the sugars and starches, eventually turning them into beer.
The beer will stay in the fermenter for as long as the recipe instructs, but once that process is finished, there is still one stop left. The beer needs to be carbonated and can be done through bottle conditioning or forcing C02 into kegs.
Once it is carbonated, the beer is ready to be served and enjoyed.
The future is bright
The Walnut River Brewing Company headquarters is going through a complete transformation to get ready for the infusion of brewing equipment to complete the expansion. When it?s completed, the brewery will include a tap room, which will be open seven days a week, with a bar made of old reclaimed bowling alley wood, light food offerings, more small batch brews and a canning line so they can serve to the masses.
They are hitting beer festivals and contests to expose people to their brand of brewing, too. Recently, they spent the afternoon serving up their Kolsch and their Okotberfest, a seasonal offering, at the Sedgwick Fall Festival.
It?s small events like the one in Sedgwick and selling growlers at the brewery that helps expose new customers to their brand right now.
The brewery expansion will help expose others in the future and is scheduled to be complete in late April or May, and then much more distribution will come.
When a normal brewing day is completed, a few lounge chairs sit in the middle of the incomplete brew house.
Exhausted from about 12 hours of brewing, the guys can finally sit back, look around at the unfinished construction, and enjoy a brew. The future looks bright.
Photos and story by Joey Young