Why North Kansas City's Water Is Perfect For Brewing Beer

Aug 5, 2015

Everything Bryce Schaffter needed to brew beer commercially, North Kansas City had.

“Mostly industrial buildings work the best, along with the utilities that come to the building,” says Schaffter, Cinder Block Brewery founder. “You need a lot of gas power, electrical and obviously, water.”

North Kansas City has what Schaffter calls “flat” water. He got used to working with it back when he was a homebrewer who lived north of the river.

“Water from areas of the city pulls from the river, which often has to be treated with some heavier sanitizing agents,” says Schaffter.

But North Kansas City gets its water from deep underground wells drilled straight into the alluvial aquifer. The city treats the water with chlorine, which Schaffter says is easy to remove.

“All we have to do is a charcoal bed filter,” he says, pointing to his filtration system.

It’s nothing like trying to remove chloramines, which Schaffter calls “the bane of a lot of brewers’ existence.”

“Chloramine is so small it cannot be captured as easily that way,” Schaffter says. “You have to slow down the water flow.”

It might sound like a lot of science for a cold one. But to Schaffter, it’s worth it. Chloramines affect the acidity of beer and can leave a batch with a “medicinal” taste. He’d need a completely different filtration system if North Kansas City used different chemicals to treat its water.

That’s why Schaffter has closely followed city council talks to drill a new well. Since 2000, North Kansas City has had to close two wells due to high levels of ammonia, likely due to industrial contamination. Now, the city is working with engineers and consultants to figure out where to drill next.

“The good news is this is not an immediate emergency,” says Director of Public Works Patrick Hawver. “We’re looking for new water sources for the future.”

Hawver says there continues to be “plenty of production” from the aquifer. He expects the council to select a new well site within the next few months. So far, the city has had to rule out drilling at 15th Avenue and Atlantic Street.

“The level of contamination is such that while a supplemental well at this location might yield sufficient quality water for some period, there is a strong risk of contamination of such a well within a relatively short time period after it is put into service,” according to a City Council memo.

Next, the city will investigate a possible well in the northwest quadrant of the city, or else south of the river near the downtown airport. For now, Hawver says the city is doing fine with four wells.

He laughs at the idea of North Kansas City having great water for beer brewing because so many municipalities use very similar processes to treat their water.

But, Hawver says, “We like the new breweries coming, so let’s just say we do have good water.”

In addition to Cinder Block, there’s Big Rip Brewing Company and a new distillery going in across the street from Schaffter.

“What really becomes,” he says, “it’s kind of like the very fine dial you turn to adjust a beer.”

So it’s good news for Schaffter that the water flowing from his taps – he uses about 1,000 gallons to brew 15 barrels of beer – will continue to come from deep underground wells.

This look at the Missouri River is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them.