Tallgrass Brewing founder, Jeff Gill, is not shy. In fact, some might even call him “unflinching” or “prescient”. He is, after all, the fellow who opened up a craft brewery in the heart of the mid-west in 2007 where Coors and Bud Light reign supreme. Tallgrass also creates cask-conditioned beers and sweet brews flavored like Key Lime Pie and Raspberry Jam. But that’s all part of the game when you’re innovating.
Manhattan, Kansas, (where Tallgrass is located), is also the home of Kansas State University, where Gill earned a degree in geology. He grew up on a farm about 60 miles outside the 60,000-person city and upon graduation he decided to move around the mid-west, trying to find his eventual purpose. Gill later found himself in Oklahoma, where he received a master’s degree in geology. As time progressed, rock science, he could tell, was not where his heart was located. Instead, he says, he began home brewing and indulging ideas of owning a business.
“After about six years of home brewing extensively on the weekends and learning more about myself and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Gill says, “it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a craft brewery started.”
So, two months after paying off his student loans, he quit his job and opened up Tallgrass. Gill, who says he is something of a “typical” CEO in that he is a “jack of all trades but master of none” says opening the new business was exciting but not without its difficulties
“Besides us, there really wasn’t that much else in the mid-west, in the middle part of the country here,” Gill admits. “That was a significant hurdle. It was difficult to overcome, but we did it. Would it have been easier to start a brewery in Colorado or in California? Yeah for sure.”
And while Gill may not be a “master” of certain aspects of the business, he was smart enough to see that the brewery would succeed. “When I really put my mind to it, I can make observations in the market and figure out what’s going to be occurring in the future,” he says.
So what, then, does Gill see on the craft brewing horizon?
“I see thousands more breweries starting in the U.S. within the next six-to-eight years,” he says. “That’s the more natural state of breweries pre-prohibition.” (Quick history lesson: the U.S. had been saturated with small, family-owned breweries pre-prohibition. During and after prohibition, though, those businesses couldn’t last and so the beer market was dominated by major players.) “But in terms of packaging beer and getting beer on the shelf, that window is closing a little bit.”
And it’s this concern, says Gill, that peaked his interest with PicoBrew.
“PicoBrew,” he says, “is a way for breweries with a small circle of influence to share what they do with people on a grand scale from their initial location. I think that’s really cool. You can brew our beer literally anywhere in the world. If somebody wants ffalo Sweat in Florida or New York City or San Francisco or Tokyo, they can experience that. That’s why I started the brewery back in the day. I love having people over, sharing beers with them.”
So what kind of beers does Tallgrass like tomake? Well, along with IPAs and Brown Ales and the more traditional fare, the business also makes and promotes odd beers like the aforementioned Key Lime Pie and Raspberry Jam. And it’s their Buffalo Sweat, made with sweet milk sugars, that’s featured in a PicoBrew PicoPak.
“If we don’t start to see better innovation like we see in the spirits industry,” Gill says, “the consolidation we could see with breweries and wholesalers will narrow the choices for our consumers out there. For Tallgrass, we don’t shy away from anything. If we like it, we’ll brew it.”