Former Wichitan opening craft brewery in Dodge City

Friday, August 5, 2016

I grew up in Dodge City in the 1980s, and it was huge news when we got an Arby’s on Wyatt Earp Boulevard.

All these years later, Dodge City has significantly grown up, and it’s about to become an adult-beverage drinker’s destination.

This weekend, the new Boot Hill Distillery, owned by three farmers who intend to put their grain to good use, will officially open with a day full of festivities that includes live music and vodka and whiskey samplings.

Then, this spring, former Wichita resident (and Rob Miller protege) Larry Cook will open Dodge City Brewing, which will become the only craft brewery in southwest Kansas.

Boot Hill Distillery is opening in the historic municipal hall building at 501 W. Spruce St. on top of Boot Hill. It’s owned by farmers Roger and Hayes Kelman of Sublette and Chris Holovach of Scott City, who say they will produce all the grain that the distillery uses to craft its vodka, gin and white whiskey.

The distillery has a tasting room that will be open daily, and the owners are lobbying to change a law that requires that drinking establishments have 30 percent of their sales come from food. If they’re able to, they hope to eventually turn the tasting room into a craft cocktail bar.

The grand opening festivities will last from 1 to 8 p.m. on Saturday and will include tours every half hour, samples of vodka and white whiskey and live music. After that, the tasting room will be open for samples from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. In about a month, people also will be able to purchase bottles on site.

Nearby, Larry Cook and Jason Byer are preparing to start building Dodge City Brewing, an 80-seat craft brewery that will also serve brick-oven pizzas.

It’s being built in downtown Dodge City at 701 E. Third, which is northeast of Boot Hill. Cook is aiming for an April 2017 opening date.

Cook, an accountant, lived in Wichita in the late 1990s, where he became friends with Goebel Liquor’s owner Rob Miller when their kids played on the same baseball team. Miller introduced him to craft beer, and Cook started making his own. He’s been brewing for 12 years.

Cook, who moved to Dodge City in 1999, is ready to retire from his accounting career, he said, and his family encouraged him to follow his brewery dreams. He was encouraged by several of his beer friends in Wichita, including Central Standard Brewing’s owners, he said.

Cook plans to brew several types of beers, including an IPA, an Imperial Stout and a cream ale. He has a brilliant name for his red ale, which I think will appeal to all my fellow graduates of Dodge City Senior High School, home of the Red Demons. He’s calling it “Red D-Man Ale.”

Dodge City Brewery, whose mascot is a cowboy with a beard made of hops, will sell its beers only on-site but will have growlers and crowlers to-go. Eventually, he said, he may provide taps to a few of his bar-owner friends in Wichita.

Cook said he’s hoping to draw crowds of thirsty southwest Kansans, who don’t have many craft beer options nearby.

“There’s no brewery between Wichita and Pueblo and between Hays and Amarillo,” he said. “Southwest Kansas is wide open.”