Defiance Brewing Company
18th century Russia may seem an incongruous starting point for a story about a small town Kansas brewery, but when Catherine the Great issued her 1763 manifesto encouraging emigration from Germany, a chain of events became the grist that would ferment over generations and seas into a scrappy upstart brewery in the heart of America.
Tired and destitute from the Seven Years' War, Catherine promised defiant immigrants freedom from taxes and exemption from military service to colonize the underdeveloped regions along the banks of the Volga River. In search of a new life, the industrious German immigrants brought modern Western farming techniques, established their own communities and achieved prosperity for over a hundred years. They would come to be known as the Volga Germans.
But when in 1871 Czar Alexander II revoked their exemption from military service, they responded defiantly once again by uprooting stakes and heading for America. Encouraged by the Kansas Pacific Railroad to settle on cheap land owned by the railroad, many of the Volga Russians wound up in Ellis county and the county seat of Hays, Kansas.
In 1881, Kansas became the first state to prohibit alcohol. Since prohibition hadn’t been enacted throughout the country (that would come in 1919 with the passing of the 18th Amendment), this meant that federal lands were exempt from Kansas prohibition. Keeping with their tradition of cultural defiance, the Volga Germans would head down the road to Fort Hays after a long day of work and drink.
Today, at the terminus of Old Hwy 40 intersecting East 8th Street, the endless horizon stretching flat in both directions, much of this history passes by unseen. But on an inconspicuous building hangs a humble sign that reads: Defiance Brewing Co. Here, that history lives on in the unique beers being crafted inside.
We spoke with brewmaster and co-founder of Defiance Brewing Dylan Sultzer to hear their story.
From left to right: Travis Reynolds Assistant Brewer & Marketing -- Jared Englert Assistant Brewer -- Matt Bender Brewmaster & Co-founder -- Dylan Sultzer Brewmaster & Co-founder
Who is Defiance Brewing?
Defiance Brewing Co. is a production brewery located in the small college town of Hays, Kansas. We are a younger group of guys trying to stand out from the crowd. I met Matt Bender working at a brewpub and quickly realized we both shared a passion for craft beer. We hired a couple of locals, Travis Reynolds and Jared Englert, to be assistant brewers and run the taproom. We work with a local Fort Hays State University graduate, John Stadler to create our artwork. These guys are a huge part of what this company has become. We’re a small tight-knit operation and plan on keeping it that way.
When did you open?
We brewed our first batch of beer on December 2, 2013 and released to the public the beginning of January 2014. The taproom opened May of 2015.
What are the brewery specs?
- 20bbl JVNW brewhouse
- Five 40bbl fermenters
- Two 40bbl bright tanks
- Wild Goose canning line
Defiance Brew House
What's the reception been like of the locals?
The locals have been a huge asset in making Defiance what it is today. They show a huge amount of support for what we are trying to accomplish with our business. This is why we only offer certain one-off beers in our taproom; to give them a chance to experience the variety of beer you would find in a larger city. We are proud to be a part of this town and the growth that we are experiencing. As you can see by our ‘D’ logo, we want people to know where we come from.
How has the community been important to your success?
Hays is rural town in Western Kansas and is not the first place you’d think of for craft beer. But this town has shown us nothing but support. Liquor stores, bars and restaurants have been pushing Defiance since day one. We’ve teamed up with local Union Station Roasterie to supply us with fresh coffee for our upcoming fourth year-round beer Fuzzy Knuckles, an imperial stout with cocoa nibs and coffee. It’s great to be working with a local business that takes their art as seriously as we do ours.
We’ve far exceeded our production expectations for our first two years. We are at a comfortable pace right now, but plan on venturing out once we take care of our home state. They are the reason we started this, to put Kansas on the map for craft beer along with all of the other great breweries before and after us.
What is the one thing that caused you the most difficulty in opening that you didn't expect?
Dealing with hop contracts was kind of tricky in the get go. That and predicting the future. If you know anyone that can, let me know.
How has your experience been working with BSG?
BSG is great. We couldn’t ask for more. Everyone I’ve dealt with through BSG have been nothing but helpful. This is the main company I deal with and I’m glad we chose to work with BSG.
What does your slogan "Ambitious beer - proudly served" mean?
Ambitious beer is who we are and what we do. We don’t want the same routine every day at work and we try to push our boundaries. Of course we have our year round beers that please a lot of people, but we also brew a lot of one-off beers. This gives us a chance to do whatever we want.
Any exciting upcoming plans?
We plan to add a barrel program to begin dabbling in sours. We also are in the works of creating a bomber series that can only be purchased at the brewery. We have some other cool ideas up our sleeves but we’d like to keep that a secret for now.
For more history on the area explore http://www.elliscountyhistoricalmuseum.org/
Photos courtesy of Defiance Brewing Co.