Travelers of the South Wind
As we left Hays and got back on I-70, the wind howled from the south and stayed with us all day. (Did you know that “Kansas” comes from an Indian word meaning “people of the south wind”? Now we know why.) By the time we reached Topeka, we were a little frazzled, not to mention thirsty. Fortunately, the Blind Tiger Brewery was easy to find from the interstate. It’s on a busy cross-street south of downtown and, as an aid to navigation, you can see the Kansas state capitol from the parking lot.
The name originates from the Prohibition-era custom of displaying stuffed tigers to alert speakeasy customers that booze was available. This Blind Tiger, however, doesn’t need to advertise on the sneak. Since opening its doors in 1995, it has become the largest brewery in Kansas, turning out more than 1,000 barrels per year. We entered through a reception area and saw a tiger—fortunately, not a real one—gnawing at a keg of beer. We passed him, and headed inside.
Walking around the eight-level building, we noticed that the Blind Tiger’s brewing equipment was scattered throughout it. The brew kettle and mash tun stood behind glass, and the brewery’s World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival medals were on display in a trophy case nearby. Interestingly, the fermentation tanks are placed in the open, so customers can mingle with them.
Returning to the O-shaped wooden bar, we made our selections from the nine beers on tap. This being Kansas, there’s a wheat beer on the menu; the rest of the range extends from a very hoppy IPA to a full-bodied Tiger Paw Porter, and includes a beer on handpump. Pints were only $3. And here’s a tip for travelers: at the Blind Tiger, you can buy beer to go, even on Sundays, when Kansas liquor stores and gas stations can’t sell it.