Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hank Is Wiser 5th Anniversary

Hank Is Wiser Brewery is located in downtown Cheney, KS. If you’re wondering where that is, you’re not alone. I was born and raised in Kansas, and until a few years ago I’d never heard of it. Then I heard of a brewpub that had opened up there, and that all changed. Located about 25 miles west of Wichita, Cheney is a classic small Kansas town. And Hank Is Wiser is located in the heart of its historic downtown.
This past weekend, they celebrated their fifth anniversary, and I was fortunate enough to have the time to travel down for the event. Even though it’s only three hours from where I live, I don’t get down there often. Unfortunately no other members of Beer Trip were able to go as it was a holiday weekend and they had family obligations. So I set out about noon on Friday. Cheney isn’t large enough for a hotel so I had to stay in Goddard, about 20 minutes east. I checked into my hotel and grabbed a bite to eat. The celebration didn’t start until 5:30 that evening so I left for Cheney around 5.

When I got there, there were quite a few people but nothing crazy. I said hi to Hank, the owner, and Steve, the head brewer. It’s a father and son operation and a true family business. I grabbed a barstool and ordered my first beer. Steve had brewed up a total of 29 different beers for the weekend. Their seven year-round beers were available all weekend, and then they had 11 special beers on Friday night and another 11 different for Saturday night. The first one I ordered ended up being my favorite, Tortured Toad Imperial IPA. I love hoppy beers, and this one was awesome. I wanted to order another, but with so much to choose from, I couldn’t limit myself.

By the time I finished that beer, the place started to get packed. And it never seemed to die down. It was really cool to see such a huge turnout. Before the night was over, I had tried their Crown Oak Aged Old Ale (OAOA), V-Stout, Buffalo Trace OAOA, Wisdom Wit, Cardinal Red, Utopias OAOA, and Mocha Man Imperial Coffee Stout (a close second to the IPA). Before you worry I had all those beers and drove, they offered all of their beers in 3oz “nips.” So I was able to limit my intake and it was spread out over time. Although, I did have 12oz glasses of the IPA and coffee stout. Too damn good for just 3oz.

When they got to the first drawing for prizes, the place was literally filled. I think most adults in Cheney were there. I sat next to a retired couple from Oklahoma, Mildred and Bob, and they travel around going to breweries and brewpubs, so of course, we hit it off. I was also next a local, Matt, who talked about how Hank Is Wiser had become sort of a community gathering spot for the town. I mentioned I was hesitant to come down alone, and he explained that you could come in, pull up a chair at any table and be welcomed, and you truly get that feeling. I’m a city guy, but small towns like Cheney definitely have their advantages. By 10:30, there was a line to the men’s room, it was five people deep at the bar. And Hank’s wife was sweating from how busy she was being kept. A couple of the special beers were starting to run out, and I decided to call it a night. I filled a growler with their year round Krippled Kangaroo IPA and headed back to the hotel.
Originally I had thought of only going Friday night, stopping by Saturday, and then heading home. I decided that was dumb and booked the room for another night the next morning. For lunch I drove to Wichita to visit River City Brewing Company in the Old Town district. I had their Ace’s IPA and a really good pizza. I filled my growler, then headed to Goebel Liquor which has a huge variety of beers and bought a few bottles to take home. I went back to the hotel, napped for about an hour, and then at 3 headed back out to Cheney.

When I got there, the seats at the bar were already filled as were several tables. Luckily I saw Mildred and Bob at one of them and pulled up a chair. They were there with a couple people from Wichita, Glenn and Rhonda. We talked about Bob and Mildred’s travels and the breweries and brewpubs they had visited. After an hour or so they all had to go, and a seat had opened up at the bar. This night, since I got there early and had more time, I was able to enjoy even more of Steve’s brews. The Wounded Wabbit Imperial IPA, 300th Batch Barleywine, Buffalo Trace Oak Aged Imperial Stout, Big Buckin’ D, Dark Wheat, Hop Shadow Ale (like an IPA, but dark, very trippy), Merlot OAOA, Noble Pale, and Stranahan’s OAOA.

My bartender for the night was Brett, Steve’s best friend, and he was very patient with my orders of water then beer. Hank’s other son, Henry, and his wife Sandra (sorry if that’s misspelled) had also come down to help, along with Brett’s wife. I talked to a few more people from the area, and I actually won one of the drawings, a beer glass and a Big Sky Brewing bottle opener. They weren’t packed full like they were on Friday, but they were still busy and the beer started running low. It was not crazy so I was able to talk to Steve for a bit. Again around 10:30 I decided it was best to call it a night and make the drive back to the hotel. On a sad note, I only got to enjoy half of my growler of Krippled Kangaroo and my dumb self left it in the mini fridge when I left. I’m telling myself the cleaning crew found it and finished it off and didn’t waste it. It’d be a damn shame if they didn’t.

We try to not make this a typical beer site where we praise places and knock others. We simply want to share our experiences and advocate for craft beer. However, I have a soft spot for Hank Is Wiser. My dad, whose name was Hank, owned his own business. My mom ran the office and growing up I spent a lot of time there, so I’m a big fan of family owned businesses. Kansas is referred to often as a fly-over or drive-thru state. If that’s the case, and you find yourself driving down to Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio, make every effort to detour off I-35 and visit them. Congratulations to them on five years and here’s to many, many more!


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