Defiance to open family friendly eatery downtown

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Defiance Brewing Co.'s Matt Bender and Dylan Sultzer, who own the craft brewery with Kenny Gotschalk and a group of investors, stand in front of the beer menu board at their Old Highway 40 location.

There’s a lot left to decide about the downtown Hays location for Defiance Brewing Co., but one thing is for sure, all the brewing will be done in barrels, say two of the owners.

Pediococcus lactobacillus,” explained Matt Bender, saying the scientific name without a stumble.

Bender on Wednesday was describing the new barrel fermentation program the popular Hays micro-brewery will use at its new downtown location, the former Gutch’s Bar & Grill, 111 W. 7th.

“People just loosely call them fermentation bugs,” said Bender.

That’s where barrels previously used to ferment wine, whiskey, tequila and other spirits are repurposed to ferment a barrel-aged beer, added Dylan Sultzer, also a Defiance owner.

The resulting tastes can vary, he said.

“It depends on what was in there before,” Sultzer explained. “If it was a tequila, you’ll get a nice tequila flavor without being too overbearing. The types of beers that we’ll age in these barrels will definitely accent each other.”

This will be a welcome first for Defiance, made possible by having a second location. That avoids taste-altering contamination from the barrel process to their tank-brewing operation in the big metal building at 2050 Old Highway 40 on the southeast edge of town. 

“We can’t actually bring those different types of cultures into this building,” Bender said as the two sat in the tap room on Old 40, “because it would affect our entire production out here. By having a separate off-site location, we can get into mixed fermentation sours, and stuff like that, that we weren’t able to do before. It’s a very, very old process, but it opens up a new form of fermentation for us.”

Downtown Defiance

In opening downtown, Defiance joins the growing list of new eateries on the historic red brick streets.

“We definitely look forward to being a part of downtown,” Bender said. “That was one of our biggest draws, going down to that community. There’s a great resurrection over the past 15 to 20 years downtown, and to be a part of that would be fantastic.”

A Fort Hays State University graduate in graphic arts, Sultzer sees opportunities to be part of downtown’s popular quarterly Art Walks, for example, with Defiance featuring FHSU student art. 

Bender and Sultzer’s plans for a family friendly restaurant mean this will be Defiance’s first time offering food with its beer.

But don’t expect another Gutch’s. The casual Italian-accent grill, best known for its brick-oven pizzas, closed up shop in December.

While Gutch’s owners Kenny and Diane Gotschalk also have some ownership in Defiance, Bender and Sultzer said downtown Defiance will be entirely different and will establish its own unique identity. 

“One thing we wanted to make sure when we took this over, Gutch’s had been around for 16 years, and everyone was very familiar with the atmosphere there. We don’t want people to go in there and think ‘It’s just Gutch’s with the Defiance name on it.’ We want to be our own selves,” Sultzer said.

“We want to create a new entity,” Bender added.

Starting with the name: Defiance Brewing Co. Downtown.

“If somebody is driving on I-70 from out of town, we wanted them to realize it was still the same business,” Bender said. “We get quite a bit of highway traffic and tourism.”

What’s the look?

The Highway 40 Defiance operation will continue as it has.

Downtown Defiance will have a different look from Highway 40, which is more industrial, with repurposed wood, rough textured floor, open ceilings and interior glass windows to see the big, shiny, steel brewing tanks.

Downtown will be more modern, and “nothing too crazy,” he said.

“There are a lot of restaurants you go to that are just sensory overload,” Sultzer said. “We want people to come in, enjoy their time, keep it simple, just a nice clean, environment. The barrels we’ll be fermenting the beer in, those will be on display, so that will still kind of give that brewery aspect to the place without having a bunch of stainless steel tanks around.”

There’s a lot of work to be done inside the building yet, but the owners are hoping for a mid-Spring opening. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has made it hard to get materials, slowing construction.

And it’s hard to say when customers will get their first sip of the new barrel beer, they said, depending on how construction comes together, and the timing of the barrel arrival and fermenting process.

“It all depends on the style of barrel, the style of beer going in it,” Sultzer said. “It can take anywhere from a month to five years.”

In the meantime, Defiance downtown will serve a full line-up of Defiance Old 40’s core craft beers, as well as its slushies, and craft seltzers.

More beer

That means customers get more beer variety, the two said.

Highway 40 Defiance serves about 10 beers on tap at any given time, and two to four canned options with seasonal offerings and one-off beers. Downtown Defiance will offer all that too and more, so about 20 beers, and different hard seltzers, as well as non-alcoholic flavored sodas for the kids.

For food, the restaurant will offer a rotating menu with what Bender calls elevated pub fare, as well as options for kids. The brick pizza oven is still in place from Gutch’s, but Defiance will have its own signature pizzas, the owners said.

There will be a house dough crafted into different varieties of pizza new to the area, such as Detroit-style pizzas, Sultzer said.

Keeping the noon-hour crowd in mind, there will also be pizza by the slice to make a nice, fast, casual dining experience.

“You can be in and out in 15 minutes if you like,” Bender said.

But lots of details for the new restaurant are yet to be worked out, said the two.

“We really don’t have a whole lot of stuff planned out yet,” said Bender. “This is all a work in progress.”

No changes on Old 40

Meanwhile, everything at the big metal building on Old Highway 40 will stay the same, said Sultzer. 

“We’ll still have our production facility open out here,” said Bender. “The tap room will stay open, and offer just like we have been doing, a wide variety of different beers, seltzers, and obviously once the weather starts warming up again, alcoholic slushies. Last year those were a big hit, so obviously those will be coming back.”

Customers like the original location on the Old 40 blacktop, where there’s still a lot of wide open big sky around the railroad tracks, warehouses and truck yards that serve the oil field and various industries, a Budweiser’s distribution plant, the Pepsi bottling company, Roofmasters roofing, a car body shop, and other industrial providers. 

“As far as this place, it’s kind of become a nice environment out here, because it’s kind of out of town and out of the way,” said Bender. “It’s a slower pace. A lot of people enjoy coming to a smaller area, it’s not so congested with the traffic and everything downtown. We’re still going to be able to do live music out here and keep it more of a social tap room atmosphere.”

Pandemic slow down

Defiance, which sells its beer throughout Kansas and in Kansas City, Mo., saw its production decline 47% with the pandemic, Bender said.

While the tap room and the local market have been doing great, said the owners, the slow down has come with retail outlets in the eastern part of the state. Restaurants and bars in Wichita and Kansas City have closed or hunkered down to buy local.

“Kind of like we’re saying the local community has supported us here, the local communities are supporting their local breweries also,” said Bender. “So the past 2020, people have become really hyper-focused on ultra-local beer and products.”

There are about 65 breweries in Kansas now, almost all of them opening over the past 10 years. That growth continues. Just in the past six months, another three have opened, they said.

“There are 4,500 breweries in the United States. Those 4,500 collectively only make up about 20% of the market,” said Bender. “So even though breweries keep popping up, it’s more or less just taking away little nips at Bud, Coors, Miller, the big three, the macro breweries.”

Looking up for ‘21

Defiance production pre-pandemic was about 1,200 barrels a year. In 2020 it was about 650 barrels. They expect 2021 to be better.

 “We are extremely excited,” Bender said. “Having the ability to be downtown and in that community, we’re anticipating a good amount of production coming out of there. Now that vaccines are starting to role out, we’re really hoping that the hospitality industry in the largest metropolitan areas rebounds. A lot of our partnerships with different restaurant entities, retail side, we’re really hoping it will come back.”

In Hays, Defiance sells draft and canned beer everywhere in town.

 “This just opens a lot more doors for us to offer our customers,” Sultzer said of downtown, with Bender adding, “More variety and creativity.”