Seven years ago, Steve Sirois bought a one-gallon homebrewing kit and started making beer in his garage.
Sirois, an Air Force veteran who lives in Kansas City and works as a locomotive engineer for the BNSF Railway, quickly became addicted to his new hobby.
He started adding more equipment and experimenting with new recipes. Before he knew it, he had a one-barrel brewery in his basement and was making enough beer to share at local festivals.
This month, Sirois realized every homebrewer’s dream when he opened his own brewery at 1447 Gentry St. in North Kansas City.
Here are five things to know about Callsign Brewing.
1. Callsign’s beers honor military heroes
A few years ago, Sirois and his best friend Morris Loncon, also an Air Force veteran, were trying to come up with a name for Sirois’ basement brewery.
The men were reminiscing about friends who never came home from war when the idea hit them: They should name beers after the call signs of lost military aircraft.
They named an imperial IPA after Shell 77, a KC-135R that crashed in 2013 in Kyrgyzstan that killed three Air Force service members. A brown ale, Komodo 11, pays tribute to the six crew members killed in a 2013 helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
“Real heroes are people who put on that uniform every day, put their lives on hold for their country and don’t return,” Sirois says.
Callsign Brewing’s taproom invites visitors to show their support for the troops by leaving messages on a chalkboard wall. One message is from Steve’s wife Chandra to their son, Steven Jr., who is following in his dad’s footsteps by brewing beer and serving in the Air Force.
“Every day you impress me and make me proud,” Chandra wrote. “I am so thankful I get to be a mom to you.”
2. The taproom looks like a hangar
Callsign’s 10-barrel brewery and taproom occupies a former tire patch manufacturing plant. When Sirois saw the curved wood ceiling, it reminded him of an aircraft hangar — and he knew the space was perfect for his brewery.
The space seats 49 with tables, couches and bar stools next to a cherry-colored wooden bar with a propeller in the countertop. An American flag made out of reclaimed wood hangs on one wall; another wall is original brick coated in silver paint.
Construction was paid for in part by a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $25,000 from 195 backers.
The taproom does not serve food, but snacks such as popcorn and pretzels are available. It’s open from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday. Sirois says he plans to be open on Monday and Tuesday by fall.
3. The brews are approachable
You don’t have to be a craft beer snob to appreciate Callsign’s first batch of brews, which are fairly straightforward.
The bestseller, Fighter Pale Ale, has a light but pleasantly bitter edge from Centennial and Columbus hops. Bombshell Blonde is creamier, and at 6.5 percent alcohol by volume, more potent than its light flavor suggests.
Callsign also serves a brown ale with roasty coffee undertones and a hoppy twist on a classic amber ale.
Next, Sirois wants to make an easy-drinking beer similar to the Yuengling he used to get while living on the East Coast.
“It’ll be like a lager,” he says, “but with ale yeast.”
4. The vibe is “bipartisan”
Sirois says he wants Callsign Brewing to be “a place where veterans, police and firefighters” meet up for drinks.
He says Callsign is a “bipartisan” space for people of all backgrounds.
“Camaraderie is what I’m trying to bring back,” he says.
5. The founder is on a mission
Sirois says he’d “give my left foot” to open a Callsign Brewing taproom at Kansas City International Airport.
But because that prospect is pretty unlikely — at least for now — he’s eyeing two satellite locations, including one in Warrensburg, Mo.
The brewer says that once his business starts turning a profit, he’d like to donate money to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sirois says that about a dozen veterans struggling to adjust to civilian life have reached out to him since he started Callsign Brewing.
Sirois says that although he doesn’t struggle with PTSD, he understands the heavy emotional toll that military service requires. He’s been deployed more than 20 times to war zones in countries such as Bosnia and Iraq, and helped secure the perimeter of Ground Zero for a month after the September 11 attacks.
He hopes Callsign Brewing becomes a place where veterans feel at home.
“If somebody needs to talk,” he says, “we’re here.”