Hank, Esteemed Brewery Owner, Passes Away at 80

By | August 22, 2023

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death – Obituary News : Wichita Mourns the Loss of Hank Sanford, Pioneer of the Craft Brew Movement

Wichita, Kansas – The Wichita craft brew scene is mourning the loss of one of its founding members, Hank Sanford. The 80-year-old former salesman and homebrewer fulfilled his dream of owning a brewpub when he opened Hank is Wiser Brewery in Cheney 18 years ago. Sanford passed away on Saturday, just a few months after celebrating his 80th birthday in March, according to his son, Steve Sanford.

The brewery had thrown a massive party for Hank Sanford at their small building on 213 N. Main St. in Cheney. The event was well-attended, with friends and well-wishers gathering to celebrate Sanford’s milestone birthday. Little did they know that it would be the last time he would step foot in the brewery. Steve Sanford mentioned that his father had a great time at the party.

Sanford had been battling illness for some time, and due to his declining health, he was unable to visit the brewery frequently after it reopened in June 2021 following an 18-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Steve Sanford, who has been the head brewer for most of the brewery’s existence, had been managing the operations on his own for quite some time. In light of his father’s passing, Steve has temporarily closed the brewery to grieve and process the loss, unsure of when it will reopen.

Before opening Hank is Wiser Brewery, Sanford had a long and successful career in sales that required extensive travel. However, after retiring, he decided to pursue his dream of owning a brewpub. Although Sanford resided in Wichita, he couldn’t find an affordable building in the city, prompting him to explore neighboring towns. In 2005, he stumbled upon a 115-year-old building on Cheney’s main street, which had previously served as a drugstore with a lodge hall upstairs. Sanford saw the potential and seized the opportunity to make beer in this historic space.

At the time of Hank is Wiser Brewery’s opening, River City Brewing Company in Old Town Wichita was the only craft brewery in the area. As the craft brew scene began to gain traction, Sanford and his son worked side-by-side, participating in various beer festivals and establishing connections with other brewers. Sanford was highly respected among his peers and treated like royalty within the brewing community, according to his son.

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Dan Norton, owner of Nortons Brewing Company and former colleague of Steve Sanford at River City Brewing, expressed his sadness upon hearing of Hank Sanford’s passing. Norton described Sanford as a craft beer champion who believed in the importance of family, friends, and sharing good beer and conversation. Sanford’s absence will be deeply felt by many in the industry.

Hank is Wiser Brewery, which expanded its offerings to include barbecue about a decade ago, holds the distinction of being Kansas’ smallest brewery. Despite its size, the brewery has managed to attract a dedicated following. Steve Sanford attributes a large part of their success to his father’s personable nature and the sense of community he fostered. Customers were drawn to Hank Sanford’s warm personality, except when he had to kick rowdy patrons out of the bar.

Beyond his love for beer, Sanford was an educated man, holding a master’s degree in business from Michigan State University. His passion extended beyond merely drinking beer; he enjoyed learning about it, discussing it, and immersing himself in the camaraderie of the craft beer community. Sanford’s son fondly remembers his father’s infectious smile and his ability to strike up beer-related conversations with anyone.

In addition to his son, Sanford is survived by his wife, Jane, who played an integral role in running the brewery when it first opened. They shared 48 years of marriage together. The loss of Hank Sanford leaves a void in the Wichita craft brew community, but his legacy and contribution to the industry will not be forgotten.

About the Author:
Denise Neil, a seasoned journalist, has been covering restaurants and entertainment in Wichita since 1997. She is well-known for her Dining with Denise Facebook page, where locals turn to get information about local eateries. As a regular judge at food competitions and a frequent speaker on dining topics, Neil is a respected authority on the local culinary scene..