On any given night, the Free State Brewing Company bar and restaurant is packed. On a Monday night I went to grab a pint with my friends and celebrate my friend Chris’s birthday, only to find the porch and bar already packed wall to wall with people. People flock to Free State for good food, amazing beer, and local pride.
Free State began as the first legal brewery in Kansas in over 100 years. Strict liquor and alcohol legislation had prevented breweries from operating in the Sunflower state for decades. But in 1987, the Kansas Legislature relaxed the laws and allowed the establishment of "brew-pubs" (which must also serve food) and microbreweries that produce less than five thousand gallons of beer a year. In 1989, Free State became the first licensed brewery in Kansas since 1881. (For an in depth history of breweries in Kansas, check out this article by Cindy Higgins.)
If it’s your first time at Free State, order the Ad Astra Ale because it is the original Free State beer. The name comes from the Kansas state motto, “Ad Astra per Aspera,” which means, "To the Stars through Difficulties". Free State describes this original ale: “We've blended Pale, Caramel, and Munich malts for a rich amber beer. The hops balance this malty sweetness, and we've chosen Northern brewer and Fuggles hops for their flavor.”
I’ll be honest that I’m not an Ad Astra Ale fan. But that is mostly because I drink wheat beers and pilsners, so it is just a little too dark for my light tastes. When I go to Free State, I order Wheat State Golden. It is the lightest beer at Free State, but is also very popular. For those unfamiliar with Kansas agriculture, we are a big wheat producing state. That makes wheat cheap and plentiful around here, so it’s only natural we’d try and find a way to get drunk with one of our greatest resources. That is why you’ll find some great wheat beers around here – especially Free State’s Wheat State Golden and Kansas City Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat.
If you want to take some Free State home with you, you can buy it by the keg or the growler (for those who don’t know, a growler is a glass jug that can carry about a half gallon of beer). But soon you may be able to find it in the grocery store. Free State has just started bottling and selling beer in Lawrence. For now, it’s a local treasure. But who knows, in the future people may be sipping Ad Astra Ale around the country.
Total Time Traveled: 10 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 6 miles
Soundtrack: “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan