I have been to the Sunflower State’s newest brewery.
And it was weird.
The Walnut River Brewing Co. opened to the public on Saturday in El Dorado.
(For you non-Kansas-natives, it’s important to pause here for a lesson on pronunciation: “El Dorado” is pronounced closer to “potato” than anything else. “Ell Door-AY-doe.” Now you’ll sound hip when you tell your friends.)
Getting back to my point. We went to the grand opening of the brewery on Saturday. Armed with the address, we found a tall, white-washed building at 111 W. Locust with a Walnut River banner hanging haphazardly from the front.
But we couldn’t find the door. This was our first clue that we were stumbling in to something unusual.
After walking around the building, we finally guessed at the entrance (it’s the closest thing that resembles a door on the front of the building) and stepped in to an antique store of sorts, where we were greeted by boxes of “fashion rings,” vintage glassware, ancient electronics, books, baskets and toys.
And, along the east wall, we found a brewery.
The story is familiar, but it’s always a good one: a homebrewer who loves the craft decides to try his hand at brewing beer on a larger scale. So he finds a good business partner and builds a MacGuyver-like brewery out of second-hand equipment in a building that also, coincidentally, houses a second-hand shop.
The result is almost a pop-up brewery, as much as that’s possible with a cooling room and a couple of fermenting tanks.
The beer, however, is really quite amazing. We tried the Kölsch-style ale, one of the closest representations of a German beer that I’ve had outside of Germany; the California Common, which was toasty and reminiscent of an Anchor Steam; and the super-malty Irish Red.
So we stood in this melee of stuff, resting our sample cups on a case full of baseball cards, and marveled at the scene. Great beer? Check. Fantastic people-watching? Check. Need a toaster? They’ve got you covered.
For now, they’re selling the beer in growlers direct from the brewery, but soon hope to move to restaurants in and around the Wichita area. And there are apparently plans to expand into the entire space, which would not be the same as what we saw on Saturday, but will be very cool anyway.
Now that I think about it, the experience was everything I hope for when I go to a new place for the first time. It’s fun to feel like a pioneer, to see things that you can’t wait to tell the folks at home all about. And it’s fun to find an experience that, while authentic, defies all logic and expectations.
We left with two growlers tucked under our arms and a hope that this place makes it. Y’all should check it out.