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Behind every small brew in KC is a big plan


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Buckingham's encouragement and the response of festivalgoers convinced Schaffter that his hobby might be a viable business.

"We talked to a lot of people from Kansas City and we realized that people were really looking for something new. It was really energizing," Schaffter says. "So I started doing research on construction, and then I was like, 'Wow, no, this is going to be crazy.' "

The numbers, at least, are crazy. Since April, Schaffter and Baikie have hauled more than 8,000 pounds of concrete out of the brewery space. Kansas City Power & Light had to install a new utility pole outside Cinder Block in order to meet the brewery's utility needs, which are almost four times greater than the auto body shop that preceded it.

There's a showpiece wall in the front taproom with barrels of wine and spirits. Cinder Block will open with a barrel-aging program, an uncommon investment for startup breweries because it means an even longer delay in revenue coming in the door. Because the brewery is opening between hop seasons, Buckingham, Baikie and Schaffter are each storing 100 pounds of the key beer ingredient in his basement.

Schaffter, a former shop hand at his family's John Deere dealership in Iowa who holds a degree in agricultural systems technology, has made the brewery feasible by acting as his own general contractor and forklift operator. The back half of the building has been converted into a production brewery with a mill room, a cooling room and a brewhouse. He has installed a 15-barrel system that will be run by Buckingham, who left the 23rd Street Brewery last month.

For its launch, Cinder Block is putting five year-round beers in its tap room: Weathered Wit, Pavers Porter, Prime Extra Pale Ale, Northtown Native Steam Beer and Block IPA. Schaffter expects to begin brewing in early August, to open in September, and to send kegs out by the end of the year.

"I've watched Bryce during this whole process," Buckingham says. "And I can tell that, for him, this is a lifetime commitment."

"You see people talking about the beer and loving it," Schaffter says. "That's what it's all about."

That and being a good neighbor. On this day, Schaffter is preparing to lend a cooling unit to Big Rip. The young two-barrel brewery's homemade cooler, a retrofitted window air conditioner, has conked out while battling the July heat. The two breweries, which are less than 10 blocks apart, off Swift Avenue, are part of the new face of a manufacturing neighborhood that until recently was more likely to confuse a GPS than be your car's destination.

"You look at Fort Collins [in Colorado], and this is how it happens," Schaffter says. "People know Odell and New Belgium now. Big Rip started something. North Kansas City is prime for the picking. There's cheap rent in an industrial area, and yet you have this neighborhood thing, a small-town vibe."

He pauses, brushes a hand over the smooth top of the wood bar that he built himself. "And here we are."

Michael Ptacek knew that he'd have to start small, but he didn't imagine making beer in a space measuring less than 100 square feet. Kansas City's smallest brewing operation is visible from the dining room of Green Room Burgers & Beer in Westport.

"The contractor said we'd want more room for the kitchen when we were putting up the drywall," he says. "The restaurant gets in the way all the time. I set out to make beer, and the fryer breaks. But I have about two days a week to go into the brewery."


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