BBQ and Beer: Due Diligence Part I (Kansas City)
Howdy Baird Beer friends, Bryan here.
As most of you know, we are preparing to open our fourth Taproom pub (Bashamichi Taproom), and first in Yokohama, this upcoming January. The Bashamichi Taproom will be an authentic American-style barbecue restaurant and beer pub.
What is authentic American-style BBQ, you ask? That is a very good question. To find out, we asked our soon-to-be Bashamichi Taproom Manager/Pit Master, Chuck Morrow, to lead us (myself, partner John Chesen, and carpenter Nagakura-san) on a due diligence tour of American barbecue culture. While we were at it, we hit a few craft breweries along the way and combined the arduous study of BBQ with the strenuous research of beer. I know, I know … “Tough job but ….”
America has several pockets of passionate barbecue culture, which include the Carolinas, Memphis, Kansas City and Texas. All are similar in that the crux of the barbecue process is the low-temperature, long-duration cooking/smoking of meat (mainly beef and pork and some chicken) in pits fueled by wood-burning fires. “Low and slow” is how Chuck likes to describe it. All are different in subtle points of emphasis, history and pride. Our BBQ and beer journey began in Kansas City before moving to Houston, Dallas and the greater Austin, Texas area. Today’s blog will introduce our Kansas City experience.
The fact finding started at 10:30 am on a Tuesday morning when we showed up at the historical Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue restaurant 30 minutes before the doors opened. That in no way inhibited us from poking around back where we ran into one of the pit masters collecting wood (unlike most places, Arthur Bryant’s uses a blend of two types of wood) for the pit fire.
Well, at this point the smokey smell of barbecued meat was wafting appetizingly in the air and we were famished. The doors opened. A menu board never looked so good!
The board quickly yielded an amazing spread of barbecue (beef brisket, sliced pork, pork ribs, pickles, bread, an assortment of sauces, and fresh, local craft beer — Boulevard Pale Ale!). At 11:00 am, one’s taste-buds are at high alert. Our anticipation level, too, was great. Still, the consensus was that these were the best pork ribs that we devoured all trip. Thank you, Arthur Bryant’s.
BBQ culture in Kansas City has roots which run deep in the African-American community. Our second stop was just a few miles down the road from Arthur Bryant’s and it, too, is an old and storied African-American barbecue restaurant: Gates Bar-B-Q. The founding Gates originally worked as a waiter on train cars and became so frustrated by his inability to achieve promotion to head steward because he was a black man that he quit and started up his own business. Blessed with unrelenting drive, Gates succeeded and currently the business is in the hands of the third generation.
Gates is renowned for its barbecue sauce which it manufactures in a facility directly across the street from the restaurant. It is marketed and sold broadly in the area. We enjoyed a very light lunch (as you can see in the picture) and we were so staunchly disciplined that we even held off on beer. While the energy and charisma that we experienced at Gates was laudatory, the overall vibe smacked a bit too much of “fast-food” barbecue for our tastes. “Low and slow” became “fast and efficient” and that good old laid back feel disappeared in translation.
At this point, our stomachs needed a few hours respite. What better way to fill the time than to visit midwestern America’s largest and most successful craft brewery — Boulevard Brewing?
Boulevard go its start back in the late 1980s and it is yet another example of great beerleading to big success. Lead Brewer, Craig Pijanowski, spent two hours of his busy day showing our team around the beautiful and constantly expanding brewery. Just as in the niche world of American barbecue, passion, dedication and a sense of community are hallmarks of American craft beer. I can’t wait to return the favor to Craig when he makes his first journey to Japan.
I also can’t wait to have a brewhouse like theirs. It is not the size that impresses, but the sophistication of the system and the efficiency that it yields.
Finally, our hunger had returned and Chuck knew just the spot — Oklahoma Joe’s on the Kansas side of the city’s divide. This was a good ol’ boy sort of place, its walls lined with awards garnered by its barbecue over many years. While the ribs were great, the pulled pork sandwich – topped with a mountain of freshly made tangy coleslaw (sort of Carolina-style) — was simply sublime. Quaffed down with an unfiltered Boulevard Wheat Ale, I have experienced few better beer and food combinations. It was so good that I forgot to snap a picture of it. At any rate, expect to see me regularly at the Bashamichi Taproom counter snarfing down one of Chuck’s pulled pork sandwiches and washing it away with a pint of Wheat King Ale.
The Pit Master of Oklahoma Joe’s was kind enough also to show us his pits and to talk a little BBQ with us. He even is considering a trip to Japan now that good, authentic American-style barbecue will be available.
All for now. I will post part II (Houston) in the upcoming days. In the meantime, mark your calendar for January 15 (the official opening of the Bashamichi Taproom)!