The three co-founders of Manhattan Brewing Co., 406 Poyntz Ave., had dreamed of opening their own craft brewing location for years but a quick decision had to be made when their former employer, Tallgrass Brewing, shuttered its doors in 2018.
“We were kicked off a ledge,” said Garrett Paulman, head brewer. “We decided there was no better time than now to open a new brewery when we didn’t have jobs.”
Strong working relationships with his co-founders Adam Krebsbach, head cellar, and Jake Voegeli, sales director, and community support from Flint Hills Bank turned a vision into a business plan that led to the opening of Manhattan Brewing Company, on July 8, 2020.
Initial funding came through friends and family, and tax credits for the historic building made it more feasible.
“Our partnerships have been super positive,” Krebsbach said. “It took us about eight months working with a consultant to come up with a solid business plan but we complement each other’s strengths so well that it came together quickly.”
Connected to the Strecker Nelson West Gallery on Poyntz, the facility was designed by Manhattan-based Timber & Stone Architecture + Design. Construction on the new brewery began in 2019 and the co-owners did an abundance of the demo work themselves to save money on the historic building. All of the infrastructure on the structural work to support multiple 7,000-lb. tanks when full was new during construction. Manhattan Brewing occupies 1,500 square feet in the basement brewing room and 3,300 square feet at street level for brewing and retail.
“We all wanted something different but we knew from our previous experience that we wanted to make Manhattan the focus of our business and keep it local,” Paulman said. “We love this town and want to add a new element to the community.”
Construction began in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the local economy. Unlike many communities where construction was shut down altogether, many local construction workers who were unable to complete medical-construction-based projects became available and re-directed their energy on Manhattan Brewing Company. Labor was available and the team was ready to open their doors on July 8, 2020.
“COVID restrictions were in place but we were done with construction and didn’t have a choice whether or not to open our doors,” Krebsbach said. “It was a now-or-never scenario. Our lives were on the line.
“We were pumped on opening day,” he said. “We were selling beers to people and they were drinking beers that we made. We asked how we were going to make money with limited in-person beer selling opportunities so we bought a canner. Through the money that we saved by doing our own demo work we bought our own canning equipment. Our only source of income was through cans because we were going to make money in the bar even if we had to scratch and claw for it that first year.”
The first beers offered were Tasty IPA, Brut Porter and Lemon Saison.
“Saisons are popular nationwide but people say that you can’t sell a saison in Manhattan,” Paulman said. “Those people are wrong. We sell everything we make.”
Today Manhattan Brewing Company can produce up to 900 barrels of beer per year and regularly has more than a dozen varieties on tap. While 90% of sales are through the main establishment on Poyntz, cans and draft of their popular beers are available through local bars and retailers on a limited basis. The Townie American wheat beer is consistently the best seller.
“Manhattan has an expanding beer culture,” Krebsbach said. It started with Little Apple Brewing in the mid-’90s and Tallgrass grew it. We’re picking up the torch and encouraging more people to get creative and try more varieties.
Paulman estimates that 50% of their customers are willing to venture farther and try new types while the other half drink flavors that are already comfortable for them. Beers range from 4.2% ABV with the Cucacabra blood orange and cucumber sour on the lighter side and up to 11.3% for the powerful Space Whale Triple IPA. One thing that Manhattan Brewing has nailed where other start-up breweries suffer is consistency.
“We had an amazing quality inspector at Tallgrass that taught us how to provide consistent product that takes the guesswork out of it for our customers. We learned from that,” he said.
Community giving is fundamental to the Manhattan Brewing Co. owners. The Elle Belle Blueberry Sour Ale specifically was created to supported Children’s Mercy Hospital where Paulman’s daughter Ellie who was diagnosed in November 2020 with hydrocephalus had brain surgery. A dollar of every pint and Crowler (canned 16-oz beer) of Elle Belle goes to the Children’s Mercy Research Foundation. In addition, the brewery chooses a different not-for-profit to benefit through beer engine sales each month.
Now that COVID restrictions are lifted, Manhattan Brewing Co. is hosting events and can accept nearly 90 guests between the indoor seating area and outdoor street-side patio.
“The City of Manhattan has been absolutely helpful for us,” Krebsbach said. “The outdoor patio has been a huge success.”