Everywhere I went in Kansas people seemed surprised to see me– not in a rude or suspicious way, but just like I was an unexpected phenomenon in their day.
My first stop was Goodland, where I admired their real-life sunflowers and the giant Van Gogh replica perched in a field behind “Bill’s Shootin’ Shop,” but their liquor store was lacking, so I headed south through wan tan farmland to the astonishingly well-stocked Thirsty Store in Sharon Springs. I don’t know the circumstances that might bring anyone to Sharon Springs, but I have no doubt they offer the best craft beer selection in the western half of the state.
I traversed 25 miles of rough dirt roads past brown fields. Starlings stirred and flocked from the fields to arc gracefully through the sky as I crumpled the corduroy roads.
The highpoint was a barely-discernable swell in the smooth tan landscape, and I stepped out into the smell of sunflowers and sunshine, warm western air on my face and tiny red ants on my toes. Heavy humid clouds lined the sky in the distance. Mount Sunflower was decorated with a seating area and some pretty wrought-iron art around a family memorial, and I turned my face to the sun like a flower to soak it all in.
About the beer:
I’d had some great Tallgrass brews before, but when I asked around Kansas the locals pointed me to Ad Astra, a classic altbier from Free State Brewery and they say the first beer brewed in the state. It’s a malty nutty amber, like a chewy rich bread with a touch of orange and caramel and an odd herbal flavor that I couldn’t quite place– not quite tea, almost like the flavor of a tobacco leaf. It’s an unusual combination and I’m certain I’ve never had anything like it before, but somehow it triggers a feeling of nostalgia, and for a instant in a wide bright field of Kansas I picture my grandpa in his tiny general store thirty years ago, sipping Old Milwaukee and tamping Granger into a pipe while Bob Uecker called the Brewers game on the radio, and the sunflowers and I all smiled at the memory.