by Michael Smith
Growing up in the town he was raised in, life-long Grain Valley resident Jason Fenstermaker had a dream of becoming a head football coach.
He was a three-sport athlete at Grain Valley High School and ended being a teacher there and an assistant coach for football and wrestling after he graduated from University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kan.
Now he’s realizing an alternative dream as a co-owner of Iron Kettle Brewery along with fellow Grain Valley grads Brian Fenstermaker, Ben Call and James Nelson. It’s a Scottish-themed pub that opened on St. Patrick’s Day this year and is located at 508 Main St. in downtown Grain Valley.
That wasn’t originally his dream coming out of high school. When he was a young athlete, his dream was to become a professional football player.
“I wanted to be the next Derrick Thomas,” Fenstermaker said of wanting to be like the former Chiefs linebacker. “When everyone else started growing I realized that I wasn’t as big as I needed to be. My focus changed, but my love of sports didn’t.”
That’s when Fenstermaker chased his second dream of becoming a head football coach. He admitted the main reason he wanted to be an educator was so he could coach football.
He started out as an assistant coach at Grain Valley before becoming a running backs coach for the University of St. Mary. He decided he wanted to start a family so he left college coaching to become a head football and wrestling coach at the now defunct St. Mary’s High School in Independence.
“It’s really hard to have a family, and be a college football coach,” Fenstermaker said.
His last stop was at Lone Jack High School where he was the head football and wrestling coach along with being an activities director and principal. This school year was his last one as he will be focusing on growing his business full time and spending more time with his family.
“I am doing more with my degree now, then I have for the last 12 to 13 years being an educator,” Fenstermaker said.
During his time at Lone Jack, Fenstermaker and his co-owners opened the Iron Kettle. The idea to start the brewery began when Fenstermakers’ mother passed away In December 2019. She left behind an inheritance to her two sons, who have a brick on the building dedicated to honoring her. The money they received aided them in realizing their dream of opening up a pub in their hometown.
Fenstermaker wanted to introduce a new kind of beer to patrons of the city. Growing up he said that he was a Miller High Life or Miller Lite drinker and that many citizens in Grain Valley mostly drank domestic beers.
He’s now converted to a craft beer drinker.
“That’s like picking your favorite child,” Fenstermaker said when asked what his favorite beer is at the Iron Kettle. “If I had to choose it would be the Merlin’s amber ale. When my brother brewed it, I said, ‘This is it.’”
“I will put our Irish ale against any ale in Kansas City. We want to convert one domestic beer drinker at a time.”
He was converted to blonde ale and amber ale drinker by his brother Brian, who has been brewing beer for 12 years. In recent years, the Fenstermaker brothers are now closer than they were before. It was the brewery that helped them develop a stronger relationship and they now call themselves “The Brew Brothers.”
“Once I tasted his amber ale, I looked at him and said, ‘We can sell this.’” Fenstermaker said. “He’s the master of potions as we call him,” Fenstermaker said. “We also call him the kilted brewer because he wears a kilt while he’s brewing.
“Slowly over time, it became what we wanted to do. We actually weren’t close growing up. It wasn’t that we didn’t like each other, we just didn’t have anything in common. What brought us together was the love of beer and the love of brewing beer.”
So far, Fenstermaker said he likes the direction his business is going and is glad he made the decision to leave the education field.
“The business is doing well,” Fenstermaker said. “It can do better. That’s my job to make it do better. I put my career above my family my entire professional life. I made them sacrifice. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be there for them.
“Even if I have to work here at night, I can still be there in the morning to make my kids breakfast. I have never been able to do that before.”