By Angela Rose | Sep 28, 2015
[Editor's note: Tallgrass Brewing Company ceased operations in 2018}
"What do you want to do with the rest of your life?" Jeff Gill's wife, Tricia, asked him in April 2006. He didn't even need to think about his answer. A successful environmental geologist, Gill's true passion was in the brewhouse.
"I loved the blend of science and art that is brewing," he says. "I loved brewing beer and loved having folks over to try out my latest homebrews." With the financial backing of friends and family, the couple opened Tallgrass Brewing Company in Manhattan, Kansas, one year later.
Strong demand was practically instantaneous. "We had difficulty making enough beer to ship to our wholesalers," Gill says. "We were usually over-ordered, and it limited our ability to come out with new beers, though we had lots of ideas." The company focused on producing six core brands and four seasonals in their original 14,000-square-foot facility with an annual capacity of 16,000 barrels.
To the delight of Gill, and thousands of Tallgrass Brewing fans across the Midwest, all of that recently changed. The brewery relocated to a 60,000-square-foot location this summer, quadrupling its annual capacity to 100,000 barrels. He expects Tallgrass to produce 25,000 barrels for all of 2015.
"Trying new things, exploring new flavors, and sharing them with folks were what I really enjoyed before starting the brewery," he says. "We now have the capability to make more new beers and get them out to market."
Doing so is actually an integral part of the brewmaster's job description. "Our brewmaster, Brandon Hoag, has to do an experimental brew twice a week," Gill explains. "Back when I was homebrewing, the ingredients were very basic compared to what we can get now. New hop varieties, purees, and spices really allow craft brewers at large to explore a lot of different flavors, whether that be a radler -- a mixture of soda and beer -- or a big Russian imperial stout with cocoa nibs and coffee. There are so many different things for us to try."
Gill and Hohe have begun the Tallgrass flavor expansion with the Explorer Series, a series of four beers brewed in their new four-vessel automated 50-barrel Custom Metalcraft brewhouse and releasing this fall. The offerings will range from a bourbon barrel-aged oatmeal cream stout to a rye whiskey barrel-aged Belgian-style tripel.
And while Gill cannot reveal too much at this point, he's very excited about the lineup the pair has planned for 2016. "Tallgrass is going to be diving into the world of sour beers," he says. "We're going to have some nice tart beers for folks to enjoy and will be producing them on a large scale."
Favorite Beers: Gill's favorites run the gamut from hoppy IPAs to balanced Vienna lagers. "I really enjoy our 16-Bit DPA," he says. "That's my go-to beer right now, especially on draft. I also love any hoppy beer from Laurelwood Brewing Co. in Portland, Oregon. But the Maibock from Blind Tiger Brewery in Topeka, Kansas, is phenomenal as well."
Challenges: "Our number one challenge will always be the continuing battle for quality and consistency," Gill says. "We're always trying to make our beer better. Our number two challenge is staying in the beer drinker's mind when we're selling our product as far as 500 miles from our brewery. We need to make sure our merch is on target, our beers are fabulous and remarkable, and that we're the right partner for our wholesalers. Sales and marketing far from home is always a big challenge when you're a small regional brewer."
Opportunities: Gill sees a great future ahead for Tallgrass Brewing's brands. "Our brands are relevant whether you're drinking them in Kansas City, Missouri; Manhattan, Kansas; or San Francisco, California," he says. "8-Bit Pale Ale and Buffalo Sweat are beers that can be enjoyed anywhere. They are brands that connect with people anywhere. And we're looking forward to expanding them beyond the Midwest region in the future." He has plans to begin distributing to a few new states -- in addition to their current 14 -- next year.
Needs: Time is Gill's biggest need. "We need time to get everything done," he says with a chuckle. "We're anxious, and we want to get out there. Our old facility held us back for quite a while, and we have a lot of stuff that we want to do right away. But it takes time to get it out the door."