The Kansas City craft beer community is in mourning after 3 Halves Brewing Co. head brewer Rodney Beagle unexpectedly passed away recently. Friends, co-workers, tight-knit members of Kansas City’s brewing community and many others shared an outpouring of support and grief on social media as news spread of his death.
Beagle began homebrewing in 2013 and quickly earned a reputation as an innovative brewer in homebrewing circles and as a medal winner on the local beer festival circuit. He then decided to pursue a career as a professional brewer, amassing an extensive network of friends, fellow brewers and fans. His devotion to craft beer and his friendliness were trademarks just as much as his wildly inventive creations.
“He rode his bike around North Kansas City and started chatting with The Big Rip Brewing Co. founders Kipp Feldt and Josh Collins,” recalls Bri Burrows, head brewer at Big Rip Brewing Co, where Beagle worked as a bartender and assistant brewer. “Rodney acquired his first homebrew system from Kipp. He brewed a beer and put it into a corny keg that once held the brewery's housemade root beer. The beer came out as a weird root beer-flavored beer. Rodney and his friends still drank the entire keg.”
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While working at Big Rip, Beagle's friend Tim Elliott brought in a Velvet Elvis painting to hang on the wall, which the two took as inspiration to create the Velvet Elvis beer. “It’s one of our most popular beers to date, which combines Hathor's Sweet Brown and Zelda's Vanilla Cream,” Burrows says. “The painting is still in the same spot on the wall in the taproom.”
Colony KC, a former coffeehouse and taproom in North Kansas City, hired Beagle to establish and run its nanobrewery, Colony Handcrafted Ales. Beagle steadily released a new beer on tap each week during his 18-month stint. “Releasing one new beer weekly keeps us relevant with fresh new beers as we push the envelope with flavors and ideas. I find inspiration in different places, such as food flavor combinations and cocktails,” Beagle told Feast in December of 2017.
Since September 2017, Colony has steadily released a new beer on tap each week.
Beagle considered himself an artist expressing his countless ideas in liquid form. “While some create with paint and palette, my medium is beer. I manipulate physical objects into a palatable drink, and love to make a radical idea into a reality,” he said. Take his Rainbow Road series of sherbet-influenced fruit and lactose sour beers, for instance, which were inspired by Mario Kart.
Once Colony KC ceased its brewing operation, Beagle worked under the name Beagle Brewing on limited-release collaborations throughout Kansas City. He brewed beers at Callsign Brewing, Brew Lab, New Axiom Brewing Co. (now Diametric Brewing) and many other local breweries. His creativity and work ethic never ceased as he searched for his next long-term opportunity.
“When I first started the concept to open up my own brewery, Rodney was here quite a bit,” Callsign Brewing co-founder and brewer Steve Sirois says. “Some days I had no wind left in my sails. Rodney knew how to push me forward. When Callsign was getting ready to open, he was at Colony. He always called us North Kansas City 2.0.”
“Rodney brewed about six or seven beers for us, and he just kept on pushing on,” he adds. “Even through the roughest of times that he and I both had in our personal lives, he always knew how to make things okay. Just his whole thought process and demeanor were to always put a smile on your face. We brewed together, we worked together and we played together.”
Beagle once rented an inflatable pub to serve his Beagle Brewing creations at the 2016 KC Nanobrew Festival. His beers tapped out quickly at the fest during an insufferably hot day. Community-minded, Beagle also founded the annual Spring Fling festival in partnership with Colony KC and the NKC Rotary Club. He launched the fest to highlight local homebrewers, and funds raised were donated to scholarships for North Kansas City high school students.
“We were honored to bring Rodney into the Crane Brewing family during the spring and summer of 2019 as our pilot brewer,” says Chris Meyers, co-owner of Crane Brewing Co. “Of course, he jumped in everywhere to help with bartending and packaging.”
Beagle collaborated on brewing Fungus Amongus, a morel mushroom ESB at Crane with Burrows and chef Chad Tillman. He collaborated on a Lemon Balm Grisette with Powell Gardens. “He loved being called a 'beer chef,'” Meyers says. “Rodney had an exceptional understanding of how ingredients could work together to impact flavors and aromas, and at layering to create complements to reach his desired goal for a beer. He was always going to do it the Rodney Way.”
Beagle took his craft seriously while representing craft brewing with a sense of joy, wonder and humor. His affable nature and creativity was evident in the names and variety of beers he created throughout his career. Fan favorites included Royal Gose, Coffee Kölsch, Hatter and Hare Hibiscus Tea Ale, Cinco Wheat Ale, Salted Caramel Latte Porter, Blueberry Truffle Stout, Samsquanch Dark Sour, a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal-inspired stout dubbed Raised By TV, Hop Chowdah IPA, Unicornasaurus Rex NEIPA and Unchartered Territory Grilled Pineapple Pepper Ale.
“Rodney was such a huge part of the homebrew community and later the brewing community. He always greeted you with that smile followed by a handshake or a hug,” Wind Shift Brewing Co. co-owner and brewer Tony DiPlacito says. “I don’t think I ever heard him say an unkind word. Due to the timing of Wind Shift and 3 Halves opening, we worked together to solve solutions to deal with the mountain of reporting we had to get through.”
The brewpub will open in the former Rock and Run Brewery space.
3Halves Brewing Co. owner John Kennebeck hired Beagle as head brewer in the summer of 2019 to lead brewing operations.
“It’s incredible how we evolved over the past year and a half. When we started this project, Rodney impressed me so much with his confidence and drive to succeed,” Kennebeck says. “His smile was infectious and his positive attitude a breath of fresh air. Pulling in the reins on Rodney right up front and asking him to brew beers that weren’t necessarily his style really helped him hone his craft and is truly what has made us successful.”
Kennebeck worked closely with Beagle to discuss the production schedule. “It always was so thrilling to see his face when we would sit down. As we described what we were looking for, he would sit back and this look would come over him, very quiet,” Kennebeck says. “The next words out of mouth were almost exclusively, ‘I can already taste it, and it’s perfect.’ I have met few with the passion Rodney had for his work, almost obsessive. He was a special young man, loved by so many and taken way too soon.”
Beagle and Erica Schulte are the parents of sons Kayden and Coldin. He affectionately referred to his sons as his “Beagle pups.”
“When I met Rodney in 2006, I immediately recognized that his love for all things Kansas City was like no other,” Schulte says. “His passion that grew for beer showed how much he wanted to cultivate an experience, not just brew beer. His obsession with the Royals and Chiefs has passed on to our boys, reminding them to be loyal and love your team, even when they’re bad!”
“Rodney was a proud and loving father to our boys,” Schulte adds. “He boasted about them to everyone he talked to. I know they will continue on in life remembering his contagious smile. There is peace knowing how much he impacted our community and how collaboration with others is the true reward. I look forward to the day when I can sit down with our boys and enjoy a beer in his honor.”
Nearly three-dozen breweries throughout greater Kansas City have initiated plans to brew, package and sell a mixed six-pack of beers based on Beagle’s recipes from his days at Colony KC. All proceeds from beer sales will be donated to a fund on behalf of Beagle’s sons. More details about the Beagle Brewing beer bonanza will be released this summer.