The biggest KC Nanobrew Festival yet is Saturday in the West Bottoms


The search for rare beers has become one of KC’s most popular amateur sports. And Saturday’s sixth annual KC Nanobrew Festival, in the West Bottoms, makes it easy not just to get into the game but also to win it — at least for an afternoon.

From 2 to 6 p.m., some 750 people are expected to rubberneck, sip and compare notes in the parking lot outside the former Golden Ox (the building soon to be home to Stockyards Brewing Co.). A $30 ticket buys unlimited tastings, a 16-ounce IPA session glass, water, and a food voucher to one of the food trucks (Jerusalem Café, Detroit Coney, Back Rack BBQ or Helen’s on Wheels).

“It’s literally like having 150 limited-edition beers on tap,” says Robert Rys, one of the festival’s five organizers. Together, they’ve grown it from a Brookside backyard party with about a dozen kegs to a curiosity seeker’s paradise that taps about 150 5-gallon kegs from 60 home brewers.

“You have all of these people home-brewing, and nobody can taste their beers,” organizer Frank Rydzewski says of KC Nanobrew’s roots. “So let’s have a festival that’s not commercial at all. We have a bunch of home brew — invite your friends and family. It’s a fairly reasonable ticket price. And you get to taste 100 different home brews, if you can. You’ll have beers there that you’ll never be able to find again.”

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We’re talking over drinks at the Belfry — Rys and Rydzewski, joined by Tim Sady. (The other two organizers, Chad Moats and Chad Cummings, couldn’t make it.) Inevitably, our conversation turns to the beers that got away, such as Rydzewski’s coffee stout.

“I’ll never make that coffee stout again,” he admits. “It’s a mistake that turned out awesome.”

Not that a brewer can count on most mistakes yielding a drinkable outcome. But without duds, there’d be less thrill in the hunt.

“Out of 150, there are going to be some bad beers,” Rydzewski concedes.

Rys adds, “There may be a bad beer there, and we’re fine with you dumping it out. But I’ve had better-than-craft there.”

It’s the chance to be among the first to try — or even to be — the next big small thing that’s at KC Nanobrew’s heart. Cinder Block brought a keg one year. And things have gone pretty well for that brewery ever since.

“I was right next to Bryce [Schaffter] from Cinder Block three years ago, and he was serving out of trash cans,” Rys says. “And now he runs his own brewery.”

“Anyone who comes to this could be a brewer next year,” Rydzewski says. “We have no qualifications. We don’t taste your beer. You just sign up and say, ‘I’m going to bring a keg.’”

Cinder Block, as an emeritus figure, is bringing its beers Saturday but isn’t serving them from trash cans. So are Big Rip, Rock & Run, Red Crow and KC Bier Co. (Crane Brewing reps are slated to appear but not to serve.)

“Some of them will come back and sponsor us because we don’t have a big corporate backing,” Rydzewski says. “We operate pretty close to break-even, for the most part. We’re not in it for big profits. It’s more like, how do we get the community together at this big event.”

“We thought about being a nonprofit, but it was too much paperwork,” Sady says.

“Every year, we grow,” Rys says. “We don’t make any profits, so any revenue that we get, we literally put it in the next year’s [festival], making it bigger and better.”

But not too much bigger. “It still feels like you know everyone there,” Rydzewski says.

There soon may be more people among that “everyone.” In late May, the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to allow nanobreweries to operate in business districts. Rys, Rydzewski and Sady say that’s the dream, even if realizing their own version of that dream doesn’t happen overnight. The organizers have looked at spaces to set up their own operation, but they haven’t yet found a cost-effective location.

“It’s still an option, but we all have full-time day jobs,” Rydzewski says.

“And wives, too,” Rys adds.