Some things are just so Kansas: the sweet, spicy flavor of barbecue; the jump blues of Kansas City; and Dorothy, Toto and the rest of the “Wizard of Oz” characters—including those evil flying monkeys.
But for Robert Eilert, founder of Flying Monkey Brewery, the latter was something he wasn’t too keen on identifying with. Not that he didn’t enjoy the movie—he just wasn’t certain about being associated with something so, well, Kansas. However, it would take an exodus from his home state and an occupational rebirth before he embraced some of the most terrifying henchmen in movie history.
Back in 1992, Eilert made the big leap: He traded in his Kansas City banking job for a chance to pack bottles into boxes at Breckenridge Brewery, located in Denver. Three years later, he returned to Kansas City with the know-how to start his own brewery. After raising enough money, Eilert was ready to brew. Well, almost: He had recipes, a facility and the capital, but no name.
“It was a marketing firm that offered to help us come up with the name and logo,” remembers Eilert. “The instructions we gave them were ‘no animal or ‘Wizard of Oz’ references.’”
Much to the initial disappointment of Eilert, the marketing team didn’t heed his demands.
“I wasn’t pleased at first, but now I can’t imagine being called anything else,” he says. “We’ve come to embrace it.”
So have others: According to Eilert, the “Wizard of Oz” museum in Wamego, Kan. keeps a selection of his beers on display. Once a year, thousands flock to the city for OZtoberFest weekend, a time that Eilert says is one of his top-selling weekends.
Despite the success of the “Wizard of Oz” references, Eilert has occasionally strayed from his winning formula. On the label of Flying Monkey’s Four Finger Stout, dedicated to Jerry Garcia, the monkey is drawn with a large beard, a shock of grey hair and a missing middle finger.
With four styles of beer available in Kansas and Missouri—including stout, amber ale, unfiltered wheat and light American ale—Eilert is looking to expand distribution to neighboring states, but for now, he finds enough joy in serving the local community.
“Our intention is to know our customers really well,” he admits. “We’re able to service our customers, get to know them and even have a beer with them. I like that.”