Rachel Finn’s initial unfamiliarity with craft beer seven years ago was offset by curiosity and a willingness to explore. Finn says, “I’m interested in the people with a passion to make beer, the homebrewers and professionals. I go to local breweries when I travel and try their beers.”
Her interest has grown in tandem with the rapid proliferation of breweries across the U.S. and throughout Kansas City. The number of U.S. craft breweries rocketed from 3,162 in 2013 to 8,884 as of last year, according to the Brewers Association. While traveling, Finn has visited Anchorage Brewing and Denali Brewing in Alaska, Taft’s Brewing Company and Rhinegeist in Cincinnati, Ohio, Evergreen Brewery in Evergreen, Colorado, and Pinthouse Pizza Brewpub in Austin, Texas. Finn says, “I have also explored breweries in Cleveland where my daughter lives now.”
Finn cites several favorite breweries in Kansas City and North Kansas City. Her list includes Cinder Block Brewery for their Pavers Porter, Double Shift Brewing, Green Room Burgers & Beer, Kansas City Bier Company for their Dunkel, Brewery Emperial for Biscuit and their food, and Stockyards Brewing for their Breakfast Stout and atmosphere. Finn adds, “Casual Animal Brewing has a great hangout room.”
In recent years, a slew of new breweries have opened closer to her home. Nearby breweries include Sandhills Brewing, Rock Creek Brewing, Transport Brewery, Limitless, Servaes Brewing, Lost Evenings Brewing, and Brew Lab.
“I am reaching my goal of learning about the owners, brewers, and staff at each of these breweries. The passion, the drive, and the final products have been so present at all the breweries,” Finn says. “My son Chacko and I have had a weekly check in during the pandemic. We meet at either Sandhills, Rock Creek, or Pathlight to try something new, such as hazy blondes, dry hopped beers, milkshake IPAs, ESBs, and pils. I also love the atmosphere generated by food trucks and special events with customer engagement. My son also plays with Back Alley Brass Band and they have had gigs at Limitless. Beer and live music has been so good for the soul.”
Finn values the diversity of craft beer styles. A wide selection enables people to hone in on their individual preferences rather than drink a default beer on tap or limited choices of bottled and canned beer. She says, “Socializing at a brew pub also allows everyone to enjoy their own tastes.”
Finn’s ongoing interest in craft beer was preceded by her long-time appreciation for wine. A career change also gradually led to her exploration of craft beer.
Wine Before Beer
Finn owned and operated Chacko’s bakery and eatery for 17 years in Mission, Kansas. Over many years, she cultivated an interest in wines at Chacko’s, where she hosted wine dinners and served wines to accompany her popular dishes. Personally, Finn also enjoys wine at home and sharing bottles with friends.
“Most of my friends that come over for dinner are not beer drinkers,” Finn says. “I don’t know how to pair food with beer. I’m more comfortable with wine. I’m not educated about what makes up beer. Once I get more comfortable, then I can learn how to pair and serve beer with food.”
Finn’s horizons broadened once she closed Chacko’s. Previously, Finn didn’t have much time to spare for socializing and developing interests outside of the restaurant. Now, Finn has expanded her tastes to craft beer as something to enjoy and discuss with her adult son and daughter.
“My daughter Liz once worked for BeerKC at Char Bar and McCoy’s Public House,” Finn says. “Liz and my son Chacko are more into exploring food and beer. It’s fun to see what my son brings home.”
As her kids grew knowledgeable about the growing array of craft beers, Finn also began learning about different craft beer styles and flavors and trading notes with them. Finn says, “Craft beers are to be sipped not chugged, and enjoyed slowly as conversations deepen with intent.”
Finn is a fan of stouts but didn’t care for them while growing up in Kansas. Her family resides in southern India, where Kingfisher was the only readily available beer then. “My family did not drink beer,” Finn says. “It was more socially acceptable to drink Scotch whiskey. Now, apparently there are microbreweries all over India geared to the 20- to 30-something crowd.”
As for Finn, she has expanded her style preferences and studies each beer with more consideration. “I try to sit down and figure out the individual flavors,” Finn says. “I went from being a snobbish consumer to being open to trying craft beers, and learning to understanding the structure of styles. I’ve learned to be okay with what I like, and not fitting into what others like. Craft beers allow you to find your style of beer.”
A Door Opens
Finn closed Chacko’s in 2013 and didn’t have immediate plans for the next stage of her career. A contact from Children’s Mercy, one of her former lunch catering clients, reached out and inquired about Finn’s future. Her culinary experience came in handy. “A door opened,” Finn says. “They wanted me to work with families that have teens and kids on a ketogenic diet and teach them how to cook.”
A ketogenic diet consists of eating foods that are high-fat and low-carbohydrate with adequate intake of protein. The diet is prescribed to treat youth with epilepsy.
Finn works with approximately 70 patients and their families to teach them about the diet and how to prepare foods at home that adhere to the guidelines. “Kids come in, help with the recipes, and weigh and measure ingredients,” Finn says. “They learn how to change how to eat in three days. Afterward, I watch their growth and monitor changes.”
Finn works with kids and families on an individual consultation basis. They experiment with recipes to develop dishes that kids will approve and eat. “It’s very challenging but fun,” Finn says. “It takes lots of energy and time. In my downtime, I just want to relax and enjoy myself.”
In addition to working at Children’s Mercy Hospital, Finn also opened Chacko’s Studio Kitchen to teach cooking classes in her home. “These classes are all hands-on and feature what people want to learn to make,” Finn says. “The Studio Kitchen is where I also produce wine jellies and Indian chutneys. After eight years since closing Chacko’s, the cravings are still there. People need a Chacko’s fix. I offer pop ups for certain products that we sold at the bakery, such as bars, brownies, sandwiches, cookies, and cakes. I have enjoyed keeping the business name alive.”
Finn devotes her off-work hours to sharing time with friends, and trying craft beer around Kansas City and on her travels. “There’s a great history of brewing in Kansas City,” Finn says. “I like to learn more about the people who started breweries.”
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.