Article by: Kyle Hampel
When Tallgrass Brewing Company announced it would be closing its doors indefinitely in August 2018, Garrett Paulman, former head brewer at Tallgrass, had only one word to describe the mood at the Manhattan-based brewery: disappointment.
Tallgrass Brewing Company was famous in several states for selling a variety of flavorful craft beers, including favorites such as Buffalo Sweat, 8-Bit Pale Ale and Raspberry Jam. While these beers can still be enjoyed today at the defunct company’s sister restaurant, Tallgrass Taphouse, those outside of Manhattan, Kansas, will have to travel if they want to taste their favorite beer again.
“It wasn’t like we had a shroud pulled over our eyes or anything like that,” Paulman says. “They were pretty transparent about what was going on at any given time…My entry into the brewing world was with Tallgrass for the most part. It was a little shocking, [but] there were definitely signs it was going to happen.”
Tallgrass was founded in 2006 by former geologist Jeff Gill, a local man who learned to brew beer at home as a hobby. After seeing years of initial success, the company moved from its original location in 2014 to secure a larger warehouse space capable of producing 3 million gallons of beer annually, making it the largest brewery in Kansas for a number of years.
By the time of its closing, Tallgrass distributed its beers in 18 states. However, another former employee says this widespread distribution was one of the key factors in the business’s downfall.
“I left in 2016, and honestly, the writing was on the wall then,” says Jacob Voegeli, former director of sales at Tallgrass. “They didn’t do a lot of the things that we wanted to do. One of them was focusing more on this town, and on Kansas…At that time, a lot of local breweries were popping up in a lot of the outer markets that [Tallgrass] was in, like Chicago and Minneapolis. Instead of learning from that and shrinking back in, they kept expanding out, trying to do more, trying to fill in the void that way. The sales were dropping in those towns.”
Paulman reiterates his disappointment regarding the closure of Tallgrass—but not without being hopeful for the future.
“It was a wide net instead of a deep roots type of thing,” Paulman says, “and that’s where we’re flipping the script.”
Together with their friend and business partner Adam Krebsbach, former head cellarman at Tallgrass, Voegeli and Paulman are starting a new business to fill the void left by Tallgrass’s surprise closure: Manhattan Brewing Company.
From Mr. Beer to Brewmasters
Krebsbach, Paulman and Voegeli all say they are excited to use the knowledge they gained from working at Tallgrass to create a new brewing company in Manhattan that they hope will be even better than the last one.
“We’re going deep with our roots,” Paulman says. “That’s essentially what we’ve learned from being at Tallgrass.”
All three of Manhattan Brewing Company’s founders have spent years living and working in Manhattan, and they say they plan to use this shared background to their advantage. While the founders have been close friends for the majority of the 2010s, their experience with brewing beer at home goes back even further. Appropriately enough, Voegeli, Paulman and Krebsbach all started their craft brewing journey with the same equipment: a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit.
“About whenever I turned 21, I asked my parents for a homebrew kit, and they bought me a Mr. Beer kit,” Krebsbach says. “It didn’t take long after when I just started upgrading the system and…brewing beer a little more frequently.”
Meanwhile, Voegeli says he prefers to handle sales and leave the brewing to Paulman and Krebsbach after a few mishaps brewing beer at Kansas State University. Still, his appreciation for the art of craft beer has never waned.
“I started drinking craft beer early on in college,” Voegeli says. “While my friends were all buying cheap beer, I would buy a different craft beer each week…I actually saved all the six-packs that I was drinking so I would remember what I had.”
Even with a common background, the three men are easy to distinguish between each other. Voegeli has a thick beard, Paulman has stubble and Krebsbach has a bare face with dark hair down to his shoulders. Krebsbach’s long locks actually earned him the nickname “Tasting Room Jesus” during his time at Tallgrass.
“I started volunteering at Tallgrass back in about 2012 or something like that,” Krebsbach says. “I was in the tasting room every Friday, and yeah, that’s where I got the name ‘Tasting Room Jesus.’ Then I graduated from K-State, asked them for a job and they hired me.”
Voegeli interjects with a joke, barely able to contain his laughter.
“What’s funny is that, at Tallgrass, he turned water into beer all the time,” Voegeli says.
By December 2019, the trio had already secured funding, construction contracts, a space downtown and even baseball caps sporting their logo. Voegeli can occasionally be seen wearing one of these caps, although he is more of a football fan—only natural for a former Kansas State offensive lineman.
“I did play football up here,” Voegeli says. “I was lucky enough to be on the team in 2003 and win the Big 12 Championship, be there for Snyder’s first retirement game and graduate in 2007.”
Because he knows full well how packed Manhattan is during K-State football games, Voegeli says he hopes Manhattan Brewing Company will be open for business in the summer of 2020 before the next football season begins.
“We’re not a sports bar, and we don’t want to compete against sports bars, but we will have TVs,” Voegeli says. “Obviously, we’re in Manhattan and K-State is king.”
What kind of bar is Manhattan Brewing Company going to be, then? Krebsbach, Paulman and Voegeli all agree they want it to be a casual bar for responsible adults who want to enjoy drinking beer for reasons other than getting drunk—but that’s the simple answer.
The space itself is located at 406 Poyntz Ave. within the Strecker Nelson Art Gallery building in downtown Manhattan. It’s quite roomy thanks to its tall ceiling and long central corridor, and it will only be getting roomier throughout 2020 as more of the superfluous walls get demolished. Manhattan Brewing Company doesn’t look like much now due to the piles of wooden debris littering the floor, but Voegeli, Paulman and Krebsbach are already inviting people over for beer thanks to a single wooden seating area and operational brewing equipment. Somehow, even among all the splinters and refuse, the three founders act as though they’re right at home.
Brewing with Pride and Purpose
Now that they have years of experience—both in brewing beer and doing business—the three founders are confident Manhattan Brewing Company will be a success due to quality products, affordable prices, a casual atmosphere and a heavy focus on their community niche.
“When Tallgrass closed down, there was this huge hole in the town waiting for another brewery to come in and do something,” Voegeli says. “We are just solely focused on beer…We have a lot of experience brewing, a lot of experience selling. We know how to make really good beer, and we know how to make a ton of it in a ton of different styles.”
Manhattan Brewing Company will be offering a wide selection of brand new, original recipes created by Paulman and Krebsbach when it opens in 2020. They will be offering India pale ales, English stouts as well as more original offerings like the delicious Peachy Wheat beer and the Cucacabra, described by Voegeli as “a blood orange cucumber tower.” The brewery will also be selling snacks to accompany these drinks.
One of the trio’s other company goals is to help bolster Manhattan’s beer drinking culture and provide better education on craft brewing. Part of this will come from selling a variety of beers and making frequent new additions to the menu, but there will also be community drinking events hosted at Manhattan Brewing Company, such as a “beer versus wine” night and other similar shindigs focused on light, responsible drinking.
“The craft beer market here is incredibly young,” Paulman says. “There’s great beers at all the liquor stores around town, but the market is really underserved right now…We want to help create this craft beer culture that Manhattan can be proud of. We drink because we like the flavor and we respect it.”
The trio acknowledges that the citizens of Manhattan are no strangers to beer, but most of the city’s bars and alcohol-serving restaurants are in the Aggieville business district. Voegeli says they originally wanted to open shop in Aggieville, but they decided to move to the downtown area.
Although they have their worries about the location, Voegeli says he and the other founders are confident they can succeed downtown because they think the area is a better fit for the business relationships and customer base they want Manhattan Brewing Company to have.
“It’s not just another bar opening up to get you drunk down in Aggieville, and it’s not another restaurant in town competing against everyone else,” Voegeli says. “We are filling a need right now in Manhattan, and we’re just going to have fun while we do it…We want to have a place for young adults—or anybody—to come out and have a good time with their friends.”
Paulman adds that the craft beer community is notorious for a willingness to collaborate and give back to surrounding businesses, and he says he thinks this is Manhattan Brewing Company’s unique selling point.
“In as many cases as possible, we use local ingredients,” Paulman says. “Once you start showing that you care about the community and use ingredients like honey and wheat and things like this that are grown right here, people react to it…We’re embedding ourselves in the lives of the people here by using ingredients they’re making themselves.”
The founders all agree community support is the key to their business’s success. Manhattan Brewing Company’s opening is currently being financed by investments from members of the founders’ families and the Manhattan community in addition to a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“Hardly any of it is coming from outside sources,” Voegeli says. “We’re incredibly lucky to have that.”
In addition, Voegeli says he has been hard at work building as many relationships with other local businesses as possible to establish suppliers for beer ingredients and food. He remarks that some of the local restaurant owners seem just as excited as he is for the opening of Manhattan Brewing Company.
“They believe in us, and they know we can do well,” Voegeli says.
For now, Manhattan Brewing Company is more of an idea than a business. Walls are actively being torn down, decorations are being put up and a thin layer of dust covers it all. But later this year, Voegeli, Paulman and Krebsbach are certain the space will be a sight to behold: a few couches in the corner, board games on the shelf beside them, a long counter that can seat a dozen guests at the bar. People from every corner of the Manhattan community, all sharing drinks that taste like the town itself.
Kyle Hampel is a freelance writer and journalist with immense passion for art, storytelling and a good barbecue. He graduated from Kansas State University with a creative writing degree in 2019 and is currently writing his first novel. He’s also surprisingly good at playing the saxophone.