Words and photos by Pete Dulin
Brewer Trent Wiegers of Rockcreek Brewing Company has a soft-spoken, purpose-driven voice that unfurls like morning fog past his bushy mustache and beard. The kind of friendly but gently authoritative voice and demeanor you might expect from a forest park ranger. Close your eyes and trade his weathered Master Brewers Association of the Americas ballcap and tan Duluth Trading Company work overalls with a ranger’s broad-brimmed flat hat and gray shirt. You can picture him reminding you to leave no trace at your campsite and, hey, here’s a tip to find this little-known spot worth your while.
FROM CORE BREWING TO CORNER BREWERY
A native Missourian, Wiegers began homebrewing as a 21-year-old with his father as a hobby. Later, he attended Missouri State University and joined a homebrewing group in Springfield, Missouri. A friend enrolled at the Brewing + Distilling Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, and encouraged Wiegers to join him. Wiegers changed academic gears and headed to The Volunteer State. After completing the brewing program, Wiegers promptly sent his resume to breweries across the country.
Wiegers landed at Core Brewing and Distilling Company, a production brewery established in 2010 and based in Springdale, Arkansas. The brewery’s beers, such as popular year-round staples Razorback Red American Red Ale, Los Santos IPA, and Heisenberg Hefeweizen, are produced at a sprawling multi-building site and distributed in multiple states. Wiegers advanced from shift brewer to lead brewer in 18 months.
“Then I went to Spencer Devon Brewing in Downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia, where I took my first head brewing job,” Wiegers says. “They have an interesting farm-to-table theme, seasonal beers made with local ingredients. ” The brewpub presented a wholly-different environment than Core’s production brewery. At Spencer Devon, Wiegers made beer with locally-sourced spruce tips, squash, and other foods.
Eventually, the brewing program director in Knoxville emailed Wiegers about a brewery-in-planning that sought a head brewer. Wiegers met and interviewed with Rockcreek Brewing Company’s owners in Washington, D.C., an hour north of Fredericksburg. Wiegers says, “I liked their focus on a neighborhood brewery, a place where people could go to a brewery located around the corner.” Established in 2019, Rockcreek Brewing opened in 2020 in Mission, Kansas, as another addition to the Johnson County Ale Trail.
EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
Wiegers learned and gained experience at each stage of his brewing career. As lead brewer at Core, he managed shift brewers. He learned how to schedule beer production and how to keep beers on tap. “I saw how the process works from base operations to packaging,” Wiegers says. “It was an in-depth experience working with anywhere from 20-barrel to 120-barrel fermenters, filtration, and a large packaging line.”
Spencer Devon Brewing afforded Wiegers the opportunity to learn the small-batch side of making craft beer. Wiegers performed a variety of tasks from pitching yeast and counting yeast cells to managing quality control so that beer didn’t become outdated. Outside the lab and brewhouse, he built relationships with local farmers to source berries, squash, hops, and other ingredients for beer. Before departing Spencer Devon, Wiegers taught the next brewer how to operate a direct-fire brewhouse system.
Rockcreek Brewing marks yet another setting to grow as a brewer. Rockcreek is a neighborhood brewery, first and foremost. Session beers make more sense here than boozy hop bombs. Understandably, Wiegers wants people to be able to visit, enjoy more than one beer, and safely make it home.
“My philosophy is to produce simple beers and make the most delicious beers I can,” Wiegers says. “I use that philosophy [of brewing lagers] when making IPAs. I keep my grain bill to three or four varieties. I try not to make the recipe be overly-complicated. My first and primary goal is to create quality beer that someone wants to drink over and over again.”
That statement about simplicity applies to all levels of experience. A novice might utter these words before discovering how little they truly know, whether it’s brewing beer or learning karate. The more-experienced practitioner gets experience under their belt, and learns to avoid mistakes, refine techniques, and improve their craft. Within a lifetime, the master understands and applies skill and knowledge to consistently make simple, delicious beers.
Far from a novice, Wiegers remains humble while being passionate and focused. Don’t let that soft-spoken voice lull you into complacency. He isn’t cranking out run-of-the-mill styles you’ll find at any suburban taproom. The styles available might be recognizable, but the beers offer a subtly sophisticated experience. Like any brewer worth their salt, or malt, Wiegers makes key decisions that elicit the best sensory experience while maintaining quality.
“I love all styles. I have a fascination with Belgian and French styles,” Wiegers says. Rockcreek’s Beverly Avenue Belgian Blonde Ale is brewed with Abbey Ale yeast and Tettnang hops. The result is a Belgian-style all with balanced flavors of spiced pear and toasted bread. Wiegers aims to make improvements on the recipe despite the popularity of the beer.
The Empress, a hazy New England-style IPA, is brewed with Ella, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops. Wiegers favors the tropical, juicy hop flavors of mango, tangerine, and pineapple that tumble out of this beer. He says, “I enjoy it. Consumers like IPAs. I want to give them IPAs they can enjoy.”
Above all other styles, lagers are a “passion project” for Wiegers. It’s not surprising given his laser-sharp focus on simplicity. “Lagers are my passion project,” Wiegers says.
Fans of lagers understand that it is a core style produced without smoke and mirrors and adjuncts that can mask flaws. A well-made lager is a beautiful experience that seems deceptively simple to make. Lager, which encompasses styles ranging from Mexican to German, is the most popular beer style in the world. Producing quality lager takes time. A true lager involves cool fermentation followed by lagering. This process of maturation in cold temperatures conditions the beer typically over six to ten weeks. Most small brewhouses don’t have the time or space to allocate tanks for conditioning lager that long.
Enter The Magician. Wiegers developed this “faux lager” as a way around storage and timing limitations. He used Lutra Kveik, a Norwegian farmhouse yeast, that produces clean lager-like flavors at high temperatures. Wiegers says, “The yeast produces clean, crisp flavors over four weeks versus ten weeks. It opens up opportunities to experiment with lagers.”
You can practically see a smile behind that bushy mustache and a glimmer in Wieger’s eyes. Magicians don’t seem to stick around long. Judging by the taste, The Magician will make a brief appearance on tap or in four-pack cans before it – poof! – disappears. Not to fret. Odds are good that Wiegers will produce more lager ahead. Meanwhile, watch for the upcoming release of an Oktoberfest Märzen-style. Also keep an eye out in September for a wet-hopped Belgian Golden Strong Ale made with fresh Kanook hops sourced from Kansas Hop Company. The ale’s hop profile romps with notes of “lime zest for a New World character versus the spicy pear phenols you might expect from a Belgian yeast strain.’
The brewing journey of Trent Wiegers led him from Springfield through the American South and back to the Midwest to be near his family. The city’s name of Mission seems apropos as a place for Wiegers to land and carry out his vision for brewing “simple” beers. The beers speak loud and clear, if you listen, or sip, closely enough. Head over to Rockcreek Brewing’s taproom and explore the beers on tap for yourself.
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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.