Essay Excerpt: When Kansas Was America’s Napa Valley

Essay Excerpt: When Kansas Was America’s Napa Valley

“When Kansas Was America’s Napa Valley” is the title of an essay I wrote for the series What It Means to Be American, a project by The Smithsonian and Arizona State University in conjunction with Zócalo Public Square.

Los Angeles-based nonprofit Zócalo Public Square, an ASU Knowledge Enterprise Magazine of Ideas, syndicates journalism on its site to media outlets worldwide. Zócalo editor Eryn Brown contacted me in October 2017 and commissioned an essay for the series, What It Means to Be American. After discussion, we decided on a topic that would explore the history of winemaking and grape-growing in Kansas before and after Prohibition. I wrote the essay over a month’s time, building on research I had unearthed while writing Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries across the Heart of Kansas and Missouri.

Below is an introductory excerpt from the essay. Visit the links below to read the entire essay.

When Kansas Was America’s Napa Valley

Located in the northeastern corner of Kansas, Doniphan County’s eastern edge is shaped like a jigsaw puzzle piece, carved away by the flowing waters of the Missouri River. The soil is composed of deep, mineral-rich silty loess and limestone, making it ideal for farming—and, it turns out, for growing grapes and making wine.

California wasn’t always America’s winemaking leader. During the mid-19th century, that distinction went to Kansas and neighboring Missouri, where winemakers and grape-growers led the U.S. wine industry in production. Bold entrepreneurs, industrious Kansas farmers—many of them German-speaking immigrants—produced 35,000 gallons of wine in 1872. That volume jumped more than six-fold by the end of the decade.

But the growth in Kansas’ wine industry (and its sister industry, brewing) coincided with dramatic changes in the state. From 1860 to 1880, Kansas’ population mushroomed from 107,206 to nearly one million people. Kansans battled over slavery in the Kansas-Missouri Border War (1854-1861) and again during the Civil War (1861-1865). Kansas vintners faced a dynamic and challenging moral, social, business, and political climate. The region’s civic and religious leaders railed against the use of alcohol, which they believed contributed to moral decay and spiritual rot, leading them to implement the first statewide prohibition on selling and manufacturing alcohol in the United States in 1881. For more than a century, this ban caused a slowdown from which the Free State’s winemakers are only now beginning to emerge.

Read the entire essay.

Image caption: Still photograph of teetotaler women from the satirical short film Kansas Saloon Smashers (1901), which spoofs the Wichita temperance activist Carrie Nation. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Three Guys and Beers

Three Guys and Beers

I took this photograph at Lawrence Beer Company in late November while I was sampling beers and taking notes for a story. At the moment, I was killing time between beers and took various shots of the tasting room. My attention drifted back to these three guys on my left, who were chatting and sipping on beer on a Thursday afternoon. The amber glow of the sun brought life to their rosy expressions and transformed glasses of beer into ingots of liquid gold. 
I didn’t think much about the scene while pressing the shutter-release button. I discreetly pointed the camera, took three shots, and then concentrated on my beer. Later, I edited photos at home for the story but didn’t include this irrelevant shot. Cropped here, it’s the best of the three of them that I snapped.
I find myself thinking about this photo and the scene. These three guys, who appeared to be retired, spoke to each other with the closeness of friends. While I didn’t eavesdrop, I heard them mention the Sixties, the time they served in the military, and where they were based. Their old stories seemed fresh in the telling, full of warmth, earned wisdom, and conviction. Exact words eluded me, but their voices were mellow and rounded, even-keeled mostly, passionately delivering a phrase here and there. They spoke without bitterness or anger, any raw edges of yesteryear had been burnished by time.
Their words were a form of time travel, bringing the past to the present. Their younger bodies were long abandoned. Their former deeds and experiences, memories uttered as personal truth, carried forward on faint wind flowing from their lungs in patterns that circulated between them.
They slid their chairs closer to me after a spell and, later, moved farther away. One man explained with a laugh that they were trying to get out of the path of a sunbeam that temporarily blinded the vision of the guy on the right.

I found myself slightly envious of them. They seemed more than drinking buddies. They were at ease in each other’s company, sharing the weight of lives spanning decades that bound them together more than politics or sports on television.

More than once, I’ve observed how beer helps to strengthen bonds between people. Without romanticizing beer itself, I am reminded by this photograph how the ritual of having a beer with others facilitates conversation and connection. Far more powerful than a photograph, these fleeting moments create a time capsule.

Three guys and their beers. It’s a timeless scene. Eventually, the conversation dries up and the glasses empty and it is time to go. Parting ways is not a goodbye. Rather, the parting is a lull between occasions for gathering once again, to share, to drink, to live fully with each brief moment.

Enjoy a Hot Scotchy or Hot Worty at Brewery Emperial This Winter

Enjoy a Hot Scotchy or Hot Worty at Brewery Emperial This Winter

In a recent “Tap List” beer column on Flatland, I wrote about a beer cocktail, the Hot Worty, served at Brewery Emperial on brewing days. Similar to a hot toddy, a hot worty (also known as a Hot Scotchy) is made with fresh warm wort from the brewery kettle served with a shot of Scotch whiskey. The article goes into more detail about wort, hot worties, and how master brewer Keith Thompson and chef Ted Habiger, two of Brewery Emperial’s co-owners, first encountered the drink at 75th Street Brewery two decades ago.

The article was edited for length. Here’s more background on the drink and its origins.

Thompson and Habiger first encountered hot wort as a beverage at 75th Street Brewery, where the two friends first met and worked. Artie Tafoya consulted with the owners of 75th Street Brewery during the Nineties. Tafoya introduced hot wort as a drink to 75th Street’s  brewer Tom Ricker and the brewery’s staff.

Brown Ale: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes by Ray Daniels and Jim Parker further explains the drink’s murky origins.

“The origins of the following ritual are rather sketchy, but the late Russell Scherer is often credited with introducing it to the craft-brewing scene. Jim learned about hot scotchies from Artie Tafoya on a very cold, snowy day when he was brewing at the Hubcap Brewery in Vail, Colorado. The process is very simple. Once you have recirculated and clarified your wort, draw off about a pint of first runnings, leaving enough room in the glass for an ounce of good single malt whisky. Add the Scotch, mix well, and drink. The rich malt sugar of the wort combines wonderfully with the whisky – particularly a peatier Islay or lowland Scotch – to make a delicious warm drink that gives you a nice energy boost during your brew day. A hot scotchie at the beginning of the lauter can help prevent stuck mashes – or at least make them easier to cope with when they occur.”

Kansas Public Radio Review of Expedition of Thirst

Kansas Public Radio Review of Expedition of Thirst

There are a number of independent breweries, wineries and distilleries across Kansas and Missouri.  Author Pete Dulin has been to more than 150 of them in the course of researching his new book, Expedition of Thirst.  Kansas Public Radio commentator Rex Buchanan took a look and turned in this book report.

Listen to the review on Kansas Pubic Radio.


This is a great time to be a beer drinker.  There are so many high-quality local beers out there, so many brewpubs, keeping up with them is an almost-impossible but highly desirable task.

Fortunately, the University Press of Kansas has just published a guide to the breweries, wineries, and distilleries of eastern Kansas and western Missouri.  Called Expedition of Thirst, it’s by Kansas City writer Pete Dulin.  The book covers more than 150 locations in the two states.  Putting it together, he drove more than 1500 miles.  Researching this book had to be good duty.

Dulin covers all the local breweries he can find.  That includes the Free State Brewing Company here in Lawrence, the granddaddy of the modern brewpub business in Kansas.  Established in 1989, it was the first local brewery in the state since Prohibition, and remains one of the most popular.  Dulin covers other long-time establishments like the Blind Tiger in Topeka, the River City Brewery in Wichita, the Little Apple in Manhattan, and the Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Missouri.

But Dulin doesn’t just cover the older places in the larger towns.  He finds the breweries in little towns, like Sylvan Grove, population 279, and the unincorporated town of Beaver, both out in central Kansas, places that seem too small to support any businesses, let alone a brew pub.  Even if you’re somehow not a beer drinker, this is valuable information, because many of these brewpubs are also good places to eat.

While I claim some hard-won beer expertise, I readily admit that I know far less about wine and spirits.  But Dulin’s book seems just as comprehensive when it comes to wineries and distilleries in both states.  Once again, he covers not just those wineries that you might know about, like the Holy-Field Winery in Basehor, but all sorts of others, like the Smoky Hill Vineyards and Winery north of Salina, the Holladay Distillery in Weston, Missouri, and the Shiloh Vineyard and Winery way out west in WaKeeney.

This book isn’t just a comprehensive guide to all these establishments.  It’s filled with color photos and the story behind each place and its owners.  It includes suggestions of drinks you should try.  The book even has a waterproof cover in case you happen to, uh, spill something on it in the course of your own research.

I know lots of people who brew their own beer and make their own wine.  And some of it is pretty good.  But with all places described in this book, many of them producing incredibly interesting, really drinkable products, it seems like a shame to take a chance on something homemade.  Especially when Pete Dulin has already done much of the work for you.

Kansas and Missouri may have their differences, but this book makes it clear that the two states share common ground on the beer, wine, and distillery front.  I can’t think of a better way to bring us together than by crossing state lines for a cold one.  I know I’m willing to do my part.

Sneak Peek: Expedition of Thirst cover

Sneak Peek: Expedition of Thirst cover

Expedition of Thirst

I’m excited to share the cover for Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries across the Heart of Kansas and Missouri. Any guesses on where this photo was taken? Hint: It was shot in Missouri.

Published by University Press of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, and due out in October 2017, my fourth book is a regional travel guide. Expedition of Thirst maps routes that crisscross eastern Kansas and western Missouri. In summer and fall 2016, I made many trips and stops at most of the 150 breweries, wineries, and distilleries in the book. Yes, the research was tough as I sipped and sampled beer, wine, and spirits.

In the book, I introduce the men and women behind the craft. You’ll meet interesting characters and gain a sense of place in each locale. During my travels, I explore varied landscape from the Flint Hills of Kansas to the plains of Missouri and Ozarks. Between reading the travel entries and expedition notes, you will find some insight into the history, culture, and geography of the territory I traveled. A wide range of color photographs also bring these people and places to life.

I look forward to retracing my routes in fall 2017 and spring 2018 with the book in hand. Hope you will too. Meanwhile, I hope you will pre-order a copy now. I’ll sign copies and ship them direct to you, beginning in October once the book is available.

Watch this site and sign up for my newsletter to learn about upcoming author events and book news.

Until then, safe travels. Cheers.

Author Talk at Kansas City Central Library

Author Talk at Kansas City Central Library

Kansas City BeerAuthor Talk – Pete Dulin
Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland
Sunday, April 23, 2017 | 2 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

As part of the Missouri Valley Speaker Series, I will present a talk about my most recent book. Stockyards Brewing will also serve beer at a reception before the talk.

About the talk: To the delight of local beer aficionados, Kansas City has seen a proliferation of new breweries in recent years, building on a history that dates to the 1850s. In a discussion of his new book Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland, author Pete Dulin explores how factors such as advancements in transportation and technology, European migration, and industry competition fostered early growth in the local brewing industry. And how the rise of major breweries of the post-Prohibition era – including Muehlebach, and more recently Boulevard Brewing – led to a modern wave of craft brewers that continues today.

Above image: The former Heim Brewing bottling warehouse and plant located in the East Bottoms.

Field Notes: A Visit to Fair Share Farm

Field Notes: A Visit to Fair Share Farm

I visited Fair Share Farm in Kearney, Missouri, in late March. There, I met with long-time friends and farmers Tom Ruggieri and Rebecca Graff. They grow crops for their community-supported agriculture (CSA) members and canned fermented foods like kim chi and sauerkraut. The trip’s purpose was to research and gather information for a story in the June issue of Feast magazine. The story focuses on farming techniques that enrich the land and preserve the environment. This audiovisual journal provides a behind-the-scenes look at some of the farm’s operations not covered in the print story. (Image above provided courtesy of Fair Share Farm.)

Through audiovisual journal entries like this one, I will share a peek into my work as a writer. In this case, it is literally in the field. I plan to use similar journal entries to explore and expand different forms of storytelling. Please look, listen, and leave a comment about what you like and what could be improved.

Hopefully, you will enjoy this visit to Fair Share Farm. I enjoyed tromping through the fields and discussing the role of small-scale farmers like Tom and Rebecca. As the sun set, we settled down in their home for a truly farm-to-table dinner with ample conversation, wine and beer. But that’s a story for another day.

The chicken pen. Guess which one rules the roost?


Tom and Rebecca cover starter plants before cool evening weather sets in. The passive solar energy greenhouse design uses natural heat to help the growth of seedlings into starter plants.


The high tunnel is used to extend the growing season and produce a wide range of crops. At times between plantings, the chickens are rotated to the high tunnel and let loose to feed on insects, seeds and plant matter, till the ground through their pecking, and leave manure as fertilizer for the soil. This integrated system of biological farming (rather than chemical-based farming) improves the health of the soil. It also helps to sequester tens of thousand of carbon dioxide through consumption by cover crops, such as oats and field peas, instead of being released into the atmosphere.


Below, the high tunnel with full beds of lettuces, greens, herbs and other crops.

Image courtesy of Fair Share Farm.


Females on Fire at Jax Restaurant

Females on Fire at Jax Restaurant

The second annual Females on Fire event at Jax Fish House brought together a collection of talented female chefs and restaurant industry professionals for a five-course dinner with amuse bouche and drink pairings.

benay-shannon-females-on-fireHeld on October 11, 2016, this year’s featured chefs include Julian owner and chef Celina Tio, Bluestem pastry assistant Elise Landry, Krokstrom Klubb & Market chef Katee McLean, chef Kelly Conwell with Stock Hill Kansas City Steakhouse, Novel pastry chef Jessica Armstrong, and chef de cuisine Theresia Ota and executive chef Sheila Lucero from Jax Fish House. Drinks were prepared or selected by Clare Gillette with Pinnacle Imports, sommelier Jennifer Daugherty, Jax Fish House assistant general manager and cicerone Margaret Adams, cicerone and BackNapkin marketing director Erica Schulte, Restless Spirits Distilling co-owner Benay Shannon and Ça Va sommelier Caitlin Corcoran.

Also held annually at Jax Fish House in Denver, the Females on Fire event creates a showcase for the female talent in an industry where the top talent is predominantly white and male.

Rather than interpret the meaning of Females on Fire from my perspective, I invited several of the women involved in this event to share their thoughts on its significance and value.

Chef de cuisine Theresia Ota, Jax Fish House

What does participation in the Females on Fire dinner mean to you as a professional in the restaurant industry?
Bringing Females on Fire to Kansas City was one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when I got hired at Jax Kansas City. My boss and mentor Chef Sheila Lucero was hosting these events in Colorado when I was a brand-new cook. I always aspired to be invited to attend, and now I get to host them! It’s a thrill and an honor.

What do you think Females on Fire signifies or communicates to the public in attendance?
The Kansas City restaurant community is super talented, welcoming and supportive. I hope Females on Fire showcases all of those qualities.

Favorite aspect of the event?
I love getting to work with these women. We all manage kitchens. We all have a somewhat similar experience making our bones in this industry. I view Females on Fire as a celebration of making it, and achieving the goal of becoming a titled chef. I want more women to be involved and experience camaraderie; that we can all achieve and be successful.

Pastry assistant Elise Landry, Bluestem
In my career so far, I’ve worked a handful of events with a similar layout as Females on Fire with a group of chefs coming together and each having a course and a pairing. However, I’ve never worked a dinner where I’ve gotten my own course! I see it as a huge step in my career, and it means a lot that those I’ve always seen (and continue to see) as mentors are starting to become my peers.

I think the Females on Fire dinner represents a shift in the once male-dominated industry. More and more I see kitchens with an equal number of men and women. This dinner was a way to showcase (some of) the female talent in KC (because there is a lot!) to the public. The dinner sold out, so I think it’s safe to say we are a force to be reckoned with!

Erica Schulte, Certified Cicerone
General Manager, The Rockhill Grille
Marketing Director, Back Napkin Restaurant Group
I participated for the second year in the Females on Fire dinner. It’s an honor for sure! There are a ton of women in KC constantly raising the game in the industry so it’s a huge compliment to get asked. It’s such good networking as well as an easy way to build new friendships.

I hope that the attendees see it as collaboration as well as an experience they look forward to every year. Local women coming together to present something collectively shows respect and passion. It’s such a fun and laid-back event. Hopefully they see it as a chance to be introduced to new food or spirits/beer/wine that they didn’t know about. Educating is always a big thing for me and putting it into such a fun dinner is a blast.

My favorite aspect is that it’s just plain fun. Preparing for it has never felt like work, because it’s something I love. The experience both years has been memorable. At the end of the day, that’s more important than anything – creating the experience they won’t forget.

Chef Celina Tio, owner of Julian and The Belfry
What does participation in the Females on Fire dinner mean to you as a professional in the restaurant industry?
We’re all so busy. It’s awesome when we get to cook and share best practices with other great chefs.

What do you think Females on Fire signifies or communicates to the public in attendance?  
I think that it show exactly that – community. We all work hard to do great things but when you can support one another, that is extra special. I know people aren’t going to dine with me every day of the week. I like to be able to suggest other great places throughout the city. When we come together and work together, we show everyone that teamwork is key.

Favorite aspect of the event?
Finally meeting some people whose places I haven’t yet been because of my schedule.

Sommelier Jennifer Daugherty
As a woman in industry, dinners like this are really exciting because I’m used to being one of the few women in the building. In fine dining, the standard still seems to be put a cute girl at the door and that’s it. In the last decade, I haven’t worked with more than four other female servers at a time. To spend an evening with knowledgeable women at the top of their game was invigorating.

I’m excited to have been part of the event to show the public we are out there. It may take pooling from different restaurants to fill a room, but that’s another story. Despite my pin, I often have guests who don’t seem to believe I’m a sommelier. The chef I was paired with, Katee, has people assume she must be front of house when she says she owns a restaurant. People automatically assume chefs are men and women work in diners and call you “hon” as they serve you pie. I sometimes have people googling food info at my tables because they don’t think I know what I’m talking about.

My favorite aspect was listening to how collaborative everyone was. We tried each other’s courses or pairing and discussed in thoughtful detail how we felt about it. We immediately started spit balling off each other about future adventures we’d like to make happen.

Females on Fire dinner at Jax Fish House

Chef Kelly Conwell of Stock Hill prepared an amuse bouche of Fanny Bay Oyster with apple, cucumber, ginger, and Champagne mignonette. Restless Spirits distiller/co-owner Benay Shannon paired the course with a cocktail of Builder’s Gin, lavender and lemon.

Chef Jessica Armstrong of Novel created a crab eclair with caviar. Clare Gillette selected Champagne Extra Brut NV Pierre Gerbais from France for the pairing.

Females on Fire dinner at Jax Fish House

Chef Katee McLean of Krokstrom Klubb made smoked scallops served with roasted and pickled cauliflower, celery, and sour cream. Sommelier Jennifer Daugherty opted to serve Sancerre, Chaumeau Balland 2014 from France.

Chef Celina Tio of Julian accented tai snapper crudo with raspberry, wakame, and yuzu. She paired the course with Jolly Pumpkin’s O Saison beer.


Chefs Sheila Lucero and Theresia Ota of Jax Fish House composed a dish of abalone with hand-folded rice noodle, cha shu, scallion, black vinegar, and dulse. Erica Schulte’s beer cocktail featured J. Rieger gin, Blossom of Peace plum sake, Hitachino wit beer, and ginger.

Females on Fire dinner

Chef Elise Landry of Bluestem prepared brown butter tart with roasted plums, buttermilk ice cream, and thyme. Caitlin Corcoran of Ça Va served Champagne Demi-Sec NV Premier Cru, A Margaine, from France.

Kansas City Beer: Rochester Beer a Hit in England

Kansas City Beer: Rochester Beer a Hit in England

While researching Kansas City Beer, I came across some interesting facts and trivia about Kansas City’s breweries, including the maker of Rochester Beer.

In 1897, Kansas City-based J.D. Iler Brewing Company, also known as Rochester Brewing Company, sent a shipment of its Rochester beer to Yorkshire, England, customers on demand for “holiday entertainments.” Previously, a group of Brits toured numerous breweries and sampled beers across the U.S. They were referred to Joe Iler’s brewery in Kansas City. The touring Brits preferred the superior quality of light Rochester beer to heavier English ales, porters, and stouts of the era. They had Rochester beer shipped across the Atlantic to drink it with guests at holiday parties.

Also, J.D. Iler Brewing Company promoted its Rochester Beer through unusual advertising. It sponsored a set of color lithographs depicting exotic scenes from around the world for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The name of the brewery and beer were both displayed on the artwork created by Harper’s magazine illustrator Charles Graham.

To learn more about this Kansas City brewery and others, pick up a copy of Kansas City Beer.

Kansas City Beer Now Available

Kansas City Beer Now Available

Kansas City BeerKansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland is now available. Since the official book release date of Oct. 24, 2016, the book is available at many local retailers and online. The History Press published this brewery history book as part of its American Palate Series.

Official Book Description

Westbound immigrants, pioneers and entrepreneurs alike arrived in Kansas City with a thirst for progress and beer. Breweries both small and mighty seized opportunity in a climate of ceaseless social change and fierce regional competition. Muehlebach Brewing Company commanded the market, operating in Kansas City for more than eighty years. Built in 1902, the iconic brick warehouse of Imperial Brewing still stands today. Prohibition made times tough for brewers and citizens in the Paris of the Plains, but political “Boss” Tom Pendergast kept the taps running. In 1989, Boulevard Brewing kicked off the local craft beer renaissance, and a bevy of breweries soon formed a flourishing community. Food and beer writer Pete Dulin explores Kansas City’s hop-infused history and more than sixty breweries from the frontier era to the twenty-first century.

This book was fascinating to research because it involved finding “facts” in several ways. I studied old city records from the mid-1800s and dug through publications and marketing brochures of yesteryear. I contacted historical societies and reviewed digitized copies of books on Google. For any brewery that existed prior to 1989 when Boulevard began, research involved sifting through print and online sources. No one from the late 1800s to early 1900s before Prohibition was alive to interview!

For more contemporary breweries, such as Boulevard Brewing which was founded in 1989, I was able to interview key people including founder John McDonald and others. I reached out via social media to track down people that once worked at former breweries and brewpubs in the 1990s. Again, I perused online articles, websites, and other resources as well as reading book and print material. Perhaps the most fun part was interviewing the modern generation of Kansas City brewers from the 1990s to present, knowing that their stories fit in the sequence of history I was assembling as a book.

In the introduction to Kansas City Beer, I link the history of the city with its brewery history. The latter is innately tied to the former. During the process of writing and after completing the manuscript, I felt keenly aware that I was recalling, defining, and recording history from past and present. In a short span of time, my book will seem like ancient history. Even now, I find myself observing and thinking about current events, whether it is brewing or politics or social change, through the lens of history to provide a long-term perspective.

I’m pleased with the final result of Kansas City Beer. It’s easy to read with short profiles of nearly 70 breweries from roughly the 1850s to 2016. Much has happened in the history of Kansas City and its breweries.