Brewery Local: Defiance Brewing
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.