Kendall Culbertson has a cigar in hand as he oversees work at Outlaw Cigar and Brewery (309 E. 10th Ave., NKC, MO) hours before today’s soft opening. The COVID-19 pandemic has long delayed the debut of Outlaw’s spacious cigar lounge, craft beer taproom, and whiskey bar. Culbertson (pictured above), who co-owns and operates two other locations of The Outlaw Cigar Company with his wife Leecil Culbertson, has been developing this concept for two years.
“There’s been a long delay to get supplies. There’s no help,” Culbertson says. A shortage of skilled workers, such as electricians and other contractors who couldn’t retain workers, impeded progress of the buildout. Culbertson waves his hand and points around the lounge. “We built these table tops and bar. We couldn’t get everything accomplished yet, but we’ll eventually get everything done.”
Ten new employees have been recently hired. Culbertson cites the challenges of finding staff during the pandemic. He underscores that it will take time to train new hires on the nuances of cigars, more than 80 whiskeys in stock, and the slate of craft beers on tap.
Chunky slices of burled walnut harvested from 400-year-old trees have been fashioned into table tops and a sprawling bar. The finely-sanded surface and rough edges have been coated and polished to a glossy sheen. Live-edge cedar panels cover the walls. “We tried to stay true to the things that existed in the 1800s,” Culbertson says. “It’s what you might find in a high-end saloon.”
For instance, he nods to the bar’s foot rail made of iron instead of steel. You can practically imagine gunslingers in the distance as a piano player tickles the ivories.
Of course, modern amenities abound. The lounge features scores of low-slung cozy leather chairs with tables and cigar ashtrays close at hand similar to the setup at other Outlaw locations. Massive screens mounted on walls display sports and other programming. A 1,500-square-foot humidor houses thousands of cigars for sale.
Plenty of work awaits to complete the finishing touches. Delays due to the pandemic enabled Culbertson to get creative. Mounted high on a wall, two vibrant scenes show skeletons in Wild West garb wielding smoking pistols with a lit cigar between clenched teeth. The images are reproductions of fantasy artist Boris Vallejo’s “Gunslinger” western psychedelia.
The building was once a cavernous warehouse. A second unfinished room next to the lounge has served as a makeshift workshop. In time, this room will also feature a stage for live music, lounge chairs, widescreen television, pool tables, games, and more. A growing wall of Union Horse Distillery barrels partially encloses the nanobrewery.
Brewer Gene DeClue, former co-owner and brewer at defunct Rock and Run Brewery, brews multiple batches several times a week on a one-barrel system. He double-batches beers in a single day to keep production flowing and beer in stock for the upcoming opening. Outlaw has no intentions to distribute or plans to scale up beyond meeting taproom needs and canned to-go sales.
Current beers available for the soft opening include beers with a western theme. Black Bart Porter is a solid example of the style with medium body and chocolatey roasted malt notes. Cleverly-named Will Rogers Wit refreshes with aromatic hints of banana and clove followed by a kiss of sweet orange and coriander. Decibel Up Super Fan, a bold IPA with West Coast-style chops, racks up 7.1% ABV and 71.9 IBUs for hop fans that like a beer with bite. Upcoming beers to be tapped this weekend include Annie Oakley Belgian Blonde and Wagon Wheel Pale Lager.
Aforementioned Decibel Up refers to a term coined by Lynn “Weirdwolf” Schmidt (pictured above), a Chiefs “Superfan” and friend of Culbertson. Schmidt produces graphic design for Outlaw’s T-shirts, beer and cigar imagery, and other needs. “Decibel Up” itself refers to the 2014 Guinness world record set by Kansas City Chiefs fans at Arrowhead Stadium. Fan noise hit an ear-splitting 142.2 decibels. Of course, 71.1 is half of that record-setting number and the inspiration for the Superfan IPA. Culbertson, who owns the trademark on “Decibel Up” for clothing, cigars, and beer, wants to roll out a “quad IPA” with a whopping 14.2% ABV and 142 IBUs. Time will tell if Outlaw Cigar and Brewery releases a hoppy banger sure to gun down anyone who drinks more than one.
Meanwhile, Outlaw will slowly ramp up its selection of house beers on tap in coming weeks. Ten guest taps round out the offerings in the early days of the taproom’s launch. The Outlaw Cigar Company reaches its 25th anniversary in January of 2022 with yet another outpost for cigar smokers, whiskey lovers, and craft beer fans to gather north of the river.
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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.