Stockyards Brewing Company will release Honey and Vanilla Bean Ginger Brew non-alcoholic soda on September 5th at the brewery’s Sunday Soulful Service. A portion of proceeds from sales will benefit art therapy at Children’s Mercy Hospital. Local artist, illustrator, and author Donald “Scribe” Ross created the artwork for the Ginger Brew label. 

Piloting in New Territory

Stockyards Brewing head brewer Micah Weichert (pictured right) first conceived of an idea in 2019 for a non-alcoholic ginger beer. The concept gained steam in 2020 during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. People were drinking less alcohol, or they quit drinking outright during the pandemic. Weichert says, “The idea of a non-alcoholic ginger beer popped back up as something refreshing to drink, especially in the summer, that my kids could also enjoy.”

Weichert researched, collected, and tasted commercial brands of “craft” ginger beer. He reverse-engineered and deconstructed the sodas. The brewer sought to develop a familiar yet unique flavor profile. Weichert envisioned a ginger beer that children, parents, and adults would drink, and one that craft cocktail mixologists could use.

“I brewed upwards of 50-plus quart-sized batches on my stove at home. I experimented with different sugars and ginger root extraction techniques,” Weichert explained. “The ultimate goal was to brew it on the three-vessel brew system that our Stockyards beers are brewed on.”

Brewer Micah Weichert of Stockyards Brewing

The Stockyards team brewed its first pilot batch on brewery owner Greg Bland’s old homebrewing equipment. Once the soda’s flavor hit its mark, the team completed a trial canning run. “Over 20 years in the craft beer business, I had never attempted to can or package a soda before,” Weichert says. “That part of the process was also successful.” 

Plans progressed to brew a pilot batch on Stockyard’s full-scale brewhouse. Bland and Weichert initially discussed brewing the ginger beer as a one-off specialty release. They eventually realized “that there could be a substantial and lucrative 

demand for a locally-made, non-alcoholic, craft ginger beer in the commercial market,” Weichert says.  

Honey and Vanilla Bean Ginger Brew is a limited-edition release that features artwork by Scribe. Pride of Genessee Ginger Brew, the working name for the forthcoming commercial ginger soda, is a nod to the West Bottoms street where Stockyards Brewing is located. Grady Keller at Mound Creative is developing a label for this version. Weichert says, “We are hoping to have something ready to go into the commercial market by the end of the year.”

Sweet Collaboration

Earlier this year Weichert shared his idea for an non-alcoholic ginger beer with full-time artist and author Scribe, who is currently working on his next book project The Resound Fields. Scribe and Stockyards Brewing teamed up previously to raise funds for art therapy at Children’s Mercy Hospital. The ginger beer provided an opportunity to join forces for another fundraising event. Scribe, who also works with The Rabbit Hole and other clients, began work on a separate label for the limited-release Ginger Brew. His discussions with Weichert also led to Ginger Brew’s flavor profile. 

Scribe regularly uses honey bee characters in his artwork. He mentioned to Weichert that he had done work with Messner’s Bee Farm. The idea to incorporate 

honey in Ginger Brew fell into place. Weichert suggested using Madagascar vanilla beans to complement the honey.

“The final product has the rich sweetness of locally-produced honey and the subtle yet exotic flavor of whole, pure vanilla beans,” Weichert says. “Using freshly-sliced ginger root adds a delicate spice that balances the sweetness perfectly. There’s a nice range of flavors that all complement each other perfectly across the palate.”

A pig with wings in a honey bee costume carries a grinning knob of ginger on the label artwork for Ginger Brew. Stockyard’s taproom provided inspiration for the character. “They have this pig statue behind the bar,” Scribe says. He created the pig character “to stay in theme with their brand and tie it into our use of honey from my favorite local bee farm Messner. The idea sort of came together.”

Healing Through Art

Scribe worked as the resident artist for 18 years at Children’s Mercy. “I was blessed to do artwork for such an awesome mission,” Scribe says. 

Years ago Scribe created Hearts Social Club. The artists group met as a community at Children’s Mercy to create art, sell work, and raise funds for art programming. Missy Stover, assistant director of patient and family support programs at Children’s Mercy, collaborated with Scribe to develop art shows. The events raised more than $11,000 to enhance guest services through art and to develop art therapy programs.   

Stockyards Brewing got involved with the events in 2017. “Scribe fostered this relationship between Stockyards Brewing and Children’s Mercy,” says Stover. “Scribe’s reputation as an artist and philanthropist is inspiring. People are happy to join the cause when he’s involved. We appreciate Micah, Caleb, and Greg at Stockyards for hosting the events and collecting art supplies over the years.”

art therapy at Children's Mercy Hospital

“I’m happy to say that between [these events] and the hard work of Missy, those seeds turned into an art therapy program with a full-time therapist,” Scribe says. “Even though I am not a Children’s Mercy employee anymore, I still want to help donate to this program with the right partners.”

Stockyards Brewing’s Ginger Brew enables these partners to once again benefit art programming at the hospital. The art therapy program uses art media and creative “prompts” to support coping during a child’s hospitalization. 

“Art therapy allows an individual to use creative self-expression for really big feelings like fear, uncertainty, shame, isolation in a ‘language’ that comes naturally for them,” says Kaley Wajcman, a registered art therapist in patient and family support services at Children’s Mercy. “Art therapy is not only a distraction for some patients, but their art is their voice. Especially in a time when we are more isolated from one another throughout COVID-19, it is important to feel heard.”

COVID-19 impacted the supply of art materials used in the program. To maintain sanitization, many supplies and art materials are now only able to be used for one patient. “We definitely go through a lot of materials like paints, brushes, paper, and canvases,” Wajcman says. “Having a steady supply of versatile materials for all ages and abilities allows us to individualize the opportunities we provide for patients and families.”

“Art therapy is such an important part of the holistic approach to healing we take at Children’s Mercy. It is so beneficial because all children, regardless of their age or ability, are able to participate and feel empowered,” says Jenea Oliver, PhD, senior vice president and Chief Development Officer at Children’s Mercy. “People may not realize, as a nonprofit children’s hospital, this type of unique programming is made possible by the community – by local champions like Stockyards Brewing and an artist like Scribe. We are grateful for their continued commitment to bring attention to and make special programs like these available to children and families in our community.”

Breweries have historically played an active ongoing role in supporting the community where they operate. Even when buzzing into unknown territory, Stockyards Brewing is no exception to lending a hand in Kansas City.

“Brewing and packaging non-alcoholic Ginger Brew is still a new thing for us,” Weichert says. “It is special to be able to branch into a new frontier and support such a great cause at the same time. We are extremely thankful to Children’s Mercy and Scribe for this opportunity.” 

Honey and Vanilla Bean Ginger Brew is a limited-edition release non-alcoholic soda that features artwork by Scribe. Stockyards Brewing will release Pride of Genessee Ginger Brew, the working name for its commercial ginger soda, later this year. The name is a nod to the West Bottoms street where Stockyards Brewing is located.

Art therapy Childrens Mercy Hospital

Pete DulinPete 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.