The worn hatchet blade and shattered handle mounted in the bar at Broken Hatchet Brewing did not belong to Carrie Nation, the infamous Prohibition-era saloon buster buried less than a mile away at Belton Cemetery. Don’t worry. Nation will no longer rise up, swing her hatchet, and deliver an anti-alcohol message of temperance. The owners of Broken Hatchet respectfully nod to Nation’s legacy and then knowingly turn their heads away and serve fresh craft beer in Downtown Belton.
Broken Hatchet Brewing (422 Main St.) opened in May of 2021 in the former location of the Cass County Public Library’s Belton branch. Brewery owners Cara and Brad Steele purchased the 4,800 square-foot building, gutted it, and initiated extensive renovation. The Steeles sought property in Downtown Belton for a reason. The brewery owners wanted to align the business with their personal ties to the community. Cara, a Belton native, taught in the Belton School District for 31 years. Brad says, “Cara grew up here.”
The Steeles also sought to be part of Main Street’s economic resurgence. Downtown Belton’s recent grassroots growth is spurred by new mom-and-pop businesses, investment, renovation, and community-oriented redevelopment. Combining sessionable beer, references to local history, and a family-friendly taproom made sense to the Steeles as a way to bring together their community and beer fans from afar.
Broken Hatchet’s owners worked closely with the Belton Chamber of Commerce to get their project off the ground. The city even amended an ordinance on the books so that the Steeles could open the business. Prohibition-era stipulations typically prohibited the manufacture, sale, and distribution of locally-produced alcohol in many communities at the time.
As noted, the brewery’s name is a not-so-subtle reference to the city’s history. Before she became Carrie Nation, the Kentucky-born future activist’s birthname was Caroline Amelia Moore. Her family moved around Kentucky before settling in 1854 in Belton. Moore met and married her first husband Charles Gloyd, a physician who died from alcoholism. Now a widow, Carrie (Moore) Gloyd’s anti-alcohol activist stance began to emerge. She later married attorney and minister David Nation, took his name and become Carrie Nation, eventually divorced him, and launched her temperance crusade across the country by the early 1900s.
The Steeles believed that they could “create a story for the brewery and the community” by paying homage to Belton’s history. Beer names include references to the city’s distant and recent past. Dewey Decimal IPA is a callback to the library once housed in the building. Dicky Goober’s Double IPA gets its name from the nickname for Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base that once operated between Belton and Grandview, Missouri. Gunslinger Wheat, Order #11 Oktoberfest, and Burnt District Blonde with Coffee – a standout on the taproom menu – allude to the city’s midwestern frontier and Civil War days.
Other selections rotating on tap include a blackberry seltzer, hazy IPA, crisp Mount Pleasant Pilsner, English pale ale, and oatmeal stout. There’s something to entice just about anyone’s palate.
Before brewing professionally, Brad began homebrewing in 2014 and later joined local homebrewing group ZZ Hops. He worked briefly with Windshift Brewing co-owner and brewer Tony DiPlacito to get more brewing experience under his belt before opening Broken Hatchet. The brewhouse is a modest 3.5-barrel system with a pair of fermentation tanks. There’s ample space for Broken Hatchet to add equipment as demand grows, especially if Main Street activity and foot traffic continues its steady rise.
“We’ve been well-received by the community,” says Brad. He admits spending some time to “educate people about craft beer” and persuade local light beer drinkers to give his brews a try. “Once they do, they often end up drinking several beers.”
Signs of community support are evident. Workers and neighbors from all backgrounds visit the bar at day’s end to quaff a beer or two. Next-door restaurant Rich and Rich’s walks orders from their kitchen to the taproom. Young mothers get out of the house, chit chat, and bond while their kids safely frolic in the taproom’s gaming section, where unused cornhole boards await competitors.
Another part of the cavernous space features a pair of cozy overstuffed chairs, coffee table, bed springs transformed into a chic light fixture, and a corner section of seats. A life-size black-and-white cutout of Carrie Nation with her hatchet silently greets guests willing to line up along the wall and pose for a photo.
Mounted on a wall, Founders Nation is a display of bricks inscribed with the names of people and businesses that invested funds to help get Broken Hatchet’s operations off the ground. Nodding at the wall, Brad says, “We’ve received great support from local breweries like Windshift, The Goat Brewing, Diametric Brewing, Grains and Taps, and Apex Aleworks.”
A painted slogan on another wall sums up the spirit of Broken Hatchet Brewing and, by extension, Downtown Belton: “Proud Past, Bright Future.”
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Pete Dulin is the founder and editor of kcaletrail.com. His most recent book is Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Distilleries and Wineries Across Central Kansas and Missouri. Pete’s other books include Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland (The History Press, American Palate series), KC Ale Trail (out of print), and Last Bite: 100 Simple Recipes from Kansas City’s Best Chefs and Cooks.