Big Rip Brewing’s Taproom Brings Community Together

Published by Pete Dulin on

More than half a decade into Kansas City’s craft brewing boom, The Big Rip Brewing Company in North Kansas City is no longer the new kid on the block. Greater Kansas City now has more than two-dozen breweries across the metropolitan area. For Northlanders and other visiting guests, The Big Rip brewery remains a cozy neighborhood gathering spot for craft beer fans.

Josh Collins and Kipp Feldt founded Big Rip in May 2013 as a modest brewery and taproom, the first in North Kansas City. Since then, new owners Carl Hinchey of Black Lab Meadery and Shawn Nelson of Gambal’s Social Club and FireFly Lounge in Westport have assumed the helm. Collins retains a minority ownership stake. 

Big Rip’s long-running 237 Milk Stout, named for the haunted room of “Shining” fame, was re-released this last month with a cacao twist, and a peanut butter chocolate variety that sold out immediately.

The brewery’s original appeal remains. There’s a revolving lineup of fresh craft beer on tap, courtesy of talented head brewer Bri Burrows. Big Rip’s taproom maintains its warm feel and stylish look with sci-fi and horror film themes developed by the original owners. Part of the draw at Big Rip is seeing familiar faces in the taproom. Many regulars are members of the Mug Club and hang out to enjoy 20-ounce pours for the normal price of a 16-ounce beer. The club has many other benefits to enjoy.

Decor and beer names reflect sci-fi and horror film themes.
Regulars belly up to the bar at Big Rip Brewing.

Efficient and Cheerful

Rick, a Kansas City North resident for 20 years, has sipped his share of suds at Big Rip for the past five years. He says, “I started coming shortly after Big Rip opened. It’s close to my house.”

Rick, his wife, daughter, and son-in-law are all members of the Mug Club. Rick says, “Being in the club is a good value. My wife is a CPA. She figured it out. If you come here at least once a month and have a couple of beers, it pays to be in the club.”

Saving money always helps, but the quality and variety of the beer appeals as well. “They always have a beer I can drink,” Rick says. He favors pale ale, kolsch, and the Anti-Grabber Irish Red Ale, a spring seasonal. “I’m a purist. I am not into fruity or exotic beers.” 

Rick’s wife, who doesn’t drink beer, enjoys visiting to drink cocktails. The bar also serves spirits, gluten-free cider, house-made root beer, wide, soda, and kombucha from its NKC neighbor The Brewkery.

The staff at Big Rip are “efficient and cheerful,” Rick notes, drawing a smile from taproom manager Tabri Dickson. 

Special events like the Fourth of July celebration also keep Rick coming back. He says, “It’s the best place in NKC to watch fireworks on the other side of the river in Kansas City. I’ve been coming here for July 4th for the past five years.”

John Ceglenski has been a Big Rip regular for five years.

Laid Back and Relaxed

Another regular John Ceglenski sits in a stool at the end of the bar. John is such a frequent patron that other regulars declare he should have his name on that bar stool. He began visiting Big Rip regularly after the brewery’s first anniversary. 

“Hefe the Killer is my favorite beer,” John says. “I like wheat beers, Belgian beers, and stouts. Hefe has hints of banana and clove. Scotchlander Wee Heavy is a seasonal favorite.”

John also patronizes other NKC breweries such as Cinder Block and Callsign, and Boulevard Brewing and Alma Mader on the West Side. Big Rip remains a favorite. John says, “The people that come here are laid back and relaxed.”

One of his favorite taproom memories traces back to the 2014 Kansas City Royals team, when the boys in blue made a playoff run. John recalls, “When the Royals won a game, the staff and I did Irish Car Bombs.” 

It might be a few years before that celebration resumes. Meanwhile, John bides his time by attending Big Rip’s special events, such as the annual Ripper Halloween Party and the summer beer festival. Otherwise, John, a NKC resident since 2006, enjoys time off from work with a cold beer at Big Rip. 

Friends Steve Brewer (left) and Earl Atkinson enjoy a beer at Big Rip after working out at the YMCA.

Community at the Taproom

Steve Brewer and Earl Atkinson, both 69, drink beers and relax at Big Rip, other local breweries, Chicken N Pickle, and even at the YMCA when not spending time with their wives. Both retired, the friends met five years ago at the Y where they work out.

“I love the Y. It brings the world together,” Steve says. “I love to meet people at the Y from all over.”

“You hear so many people speaking different languages of their choice,” Earl adds in a worldly yet understated manner.

Earl has enjoyed drinking craft beer and import beer for many years. “Kansas City has had a renaissance in craft beer,” Earl notes. “There’s a good variety of beer here.”

“I was introduced to craft beer by Earl. And the beers here are different from Cinder Block and Callsign,” Steve adds. “Once you try craft beer, you don’t want to go back to mainstream beer.”

Earl began visiting Big Rip regularly with Steve and their recently departed friend Walter White, who was a former Chiefs tight end and Kansas City Ambassador. “Walter was a character. I miss him every day,” Steve says. 

“One beer Walter liked was the Velvet Elvis,” Steve says. Named after a black velvet painting of Elvis hanging above a doorway at the bar, the Velvet Elvis is a blend of Big Rip’s vanilla cream ale and sweet brown ale. 

Perhaps that is part of the low-key charm of being a regular, a part of the community that forms at a taproom, where customers grow to know each other and their lives intertwine ever so briefly.

Earl chimes in with another anecdote while Steve leans back to sip on his beer. The story revolves around Big Rip’s house-made root beer.

“I once brought an 82-year-old woman here after a water yoga class at the Y. She likes root beer. Said it was her first time in a bar,” Earl says with a grin. “She liked it. I corrupted her.” 

Steve and Earl laugh with gusto. 

“I like the staff at Big Rip. Tabri is good with people,” Steve says. “Brewer Bri Burrows is awesome.”

Steve mentions Josh Collins, co-founder of Big Rip. “Josh is a great guy,” Steve says. “He said it was no problem whenever he was asked to donate to a charity, if it was a worthy cause.” 

Steve, a union member of Laborers Local 1290, now teaches at a training center since he retired from construction work. He equips a new generation to learn how to build concrete highways, buildings, and other structures. Earl owned his own business and drove cabs. Since they met at the YMCA, the friends wind down after workouts with a couple of cold beers. As luck would have it, Big Rip is conveniently close to the YMCA and their respective homes. 

Earl and Steve return to the bar for another round of beers, banter, and stories.

Christmas Eve Beer Release and NYE Plans

Big Rip continues its annual Christmas Eve tradition with a bottle release. This year’s ORC (Oatmeal Raisin Cookie) will be available in bottles and on tap. The taproom will also have Davie Hogan’s Revenge Blueberry Cream Ale in bottles. Brewer Bri Burrows new as-yet unnamed New England-style IPA will be released in cans. 

Taproom manager Tabri Dickson explains the beer’s profile: “The NEIPA is 6.6-percent ABV and hopped with Citra for a tiny bit of bitterness, with late-additions in the boil and dry-hopped twice with Lemondrop and Lotus hops. Expect to find notes of citrus, lemon, orange, and more citrus.” 

Big Rip’s taproom opens at 8 AM and closes at noon on Christmas Eve. Tabri says, “People come in, get their bottles, and have a pint. It is always a lot of fun.’

The Big Rip will also host its first annual New Year’s Eve party ($40 per ticket, all you can drink; $15 for designated drivers). Buddha Belly Chef will handle catering. Food tickets are $8 for the first plate and $5 for refill plates. 

The Big Rip Brewing Company
216 East 9th Avenue
North Kansas City, MO 64116

Pete Dulin

Pete Dulin is a Kansas City-based writer who covers food, craft beer, wine, and business. His work has appeared in Zócalo Public Square, NPR, Feast, The Kansas City Star, River Front Times, Visit KC, Flatland, The Boston Globe, Thinking Bigger, and many other publications. He is the author of Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries Across the Heart of Kansas and Missouri, Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland, and KC Ale Trail.