By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
The two co-founders of Defiance Brewing Co. hopped on the chance to craft their own beer.
Matthew Bender and Dylan Sultzer, both Hays residents, worked for a combined eight years as brewers at Gella's Diner & Lb. Brewing Co. The two collaborated with managing partners Ken and Diane Gottschalk, filed for their license in April and moved into a building on Old U.S. Highway 40 in July.
Bender said he and Sultzer seized the opportunity to launch the venture.
"This was just a dream," Bender said. "We would of been stupid if we wouldn't have followed it."
Defiance's flagship sessionable beers, Gutch and Thrasher, suit those with a busy lifestyle.
"You're a nine-to-fiver, and you get off work, and you busted your tail all day," he said. "You can sit down and have two or three 4.5- to 5-percent beers and still go home and play with your son or cook dinner or any work you have at night."
He attributed his passion for brewing to the atmosphere the product breeds.
"Beer is more of a sociable product as opposed to spirits or wine. It's more of a community drink," Bender said.
Sultzer, a Fort Hays State University graduate, said they get a unique sense of satisfaction from building a business from scratch.
"It's awesome. We couldn't ask for more. It's been a lot of work. ... Everything we had a part in," Sultzer said. "I think that we kind of take a little more pride in it now that we're actually involved."
Defiance's debut, a mild English ale with a hint of caramel and chocolate, will be distributed for the first time Dec. 20. It soon will flow on taps in Hays and southwest Kansas, and it also will be available in liquor stores in 2014. Their distribution company, Western Beverage Inc., can ship beer to 14 states.
A session IPA, a beer with low-alcohol content, will follow in January, and the product will be canned in February.
The microbrewery's warehouse reflects the fresh perspective the brewers bring to their craft. Four of the vats are named after characters from the 1990s television show "Saved by the Bell," because it is a brewing tradition to name tanks. Although 12 recipes will be rolled out over time, Defiance has the capability to produce countless seasonal and novelty flavors.
"It's very exciting. They're so young and energetic, and they have a great product," said Diane Gottschalk, co-managing partner.
Making the beer is a labor-intensive process. One batch can take eight hours to prepare, fermentation can last from 16 to 28 days and filling all 440 kegs requires at least 12 hours. For each hour of brewing, there are six hours of cleaning.
Defiance's logos and can designs were created by FHSU graphic design graduate John Stadler.
Surveying the warehouse, Bender said he was fortunate to achieve his dream alongside his friend.
"It's hard to believe," he said. "We hit the lottery."