COLUMBIA — Floor-to-ceiling silver tanks with 4,000 gallons of holding capacity line the back wall of an industrial building on the east side of Columbia.
The silver tanks are fermenters for Bur Oak Brewing Co., which is turning the 15,000-square-foot warehouse into a production brewing facility, tasting room and bottling line. The brewery is expected to have beer ready for the public in March and open the tasting room in early summer.
"We're brewing technical, well-executed beer," head brewer Kraig Bridgeford said. "The beer has a nice presentation with high drinkability."
Craig Stichter, president of Bur Oak Brewing, described the three staples the brewery will start with: Devine IPA — a citrusy, smooth IPA mild in alcohol content and blonde in color; Boone County Brown Ale — a brown ale with an after-note of dark chocolate; and Trail Bender Wheat — a clear beer with a German-style lager taste. Seasonal beers are already in the works, including a summer saison.
The brewery plans to distribute its beer to restaurants and bars in Fulton, Jefferson City, Boonville, Columbia and eventually outside the state, Stichter said. An on-site tasting room will offer samples, tours and growler fills.
Bridgeford is big on simple, consistent beer.
"I like showcasing ingredients," he said. "In a Belgian beer, let the yeast be the star. In an IPA, let the hops be the star. Less is more."
The three men in charge at Bur Oak Brewing have more than 30 years of combined professional and home brewing experience. Their creations range from classic ales and lagers to sour beers, a cupcake porter and a passed-down recipe called chocolate monster.
"We aren't looking to shock," Bridgeford said. "We're looking for our beer to be enjoyable."
Stichter, a former facilities project manager for MU, spent the last three years ironing out a business plan and looking for a team. Throughout the eight years he worked for MU, he knew he wanted to get into beer production.
"I wanted to marry my need of excitement for production with craft beer," Stichter said. He looked at breweries such as New Belgium, Goose Island and Boulevard for inspiration.
Stichter found his head brewer by way of California. Bridgeford grew up surrounded by craft beer and began working in distribution in northern California before becoming a brewer. He moved to Columbia in early August after months of phone conversations with Stichter.
Bur Oak's other brewer, Phil Fuemmeler, former kitchen manager of CC's City Broiler, had an informal sort of interview during a meeting of the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts club.
"I asked Phil, 'If you had your own brewery, what would it be like?"Stichter said. "His response was, 'I'd want a brewery where people could fill up a growler and feel connected.' "
Feeling connected is a part of Bur Oak Brewing's philosophy. The company logo, the iconic state champion bur oak near McBaine, stands for community for Stichter. He hopes to eventually make use of local products in the brewing process.
The business plans to brew about 6,000 barrels — 186,000 gallons— of beer in its first year of operation, Stichter said, and would like to increase annual production to 30,000 barrels.
A growing trend
As of June 2013, there were 1,165 craft breweries, 1,221 brew pubs and 97 regional craft breweries operating in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association. Of those, 409 opened in 2012. The industry grew 15 percent by volume and 17 percent by retail dollars in 2012.
Columbia has experienced this trend first-hand with three production breweries opening in two years.
Logboat Brewing on Fay Street behind Walt's Bike Shop is the brainchild of longtime friends Tyson Hunt, Andrew Sharp and Judson Ball. Logboat hopes to have its taproom ready in time for True/False Film Fest in late February and be distributing to local restaurants and bars by the end of March. Canning 12 ounce beers should start in April.
"We're ready for Columbia to be a craft beer town," Hunt said.
The brewery will start with four beers — Snapper IPA, Mamoot Mild Ale, Shiphead Ginger Wheat and Lookout APA. The business plans to eventually produce specialty beers and homemade sodas.
Logboat hopes to be more than a brewery — hosting a lawn croquet league, a book and record exchange and starting a greenhouse to produce ingredients for its beer and soda, Hunt said.
Rock Bridge Brewing has been producing beer for two years and is expanding to include a canning line and tasting room.
Last year, Rock Bridge Brewing produced 150 barrels of beer. This year, it expects to produce 2,500 barrels after moving to a new facility on Prathersville Road, Dave Brouder, founder and co-owner of the business, said.
"We should have cans in stores, like Hy-Vee and liquor stores, in March," Brouder said.
The brewery already has taps at bars and restaurants from Kansas City to St. Louis, he said. "We've been working for the last two years to build a demand and name recognition."
The brewery plans to begin tastings and tours before this summer.
Representatives of all three breweries said they were happy to see craft beer coming to Columbia, with the belief that more craft breweries will lead to more interest in their individual products.
"I've heard a lot of people ask if Columbia is ready for three production breweries," Stichter said. "I think the market is ready."