Free State Brewery looks forward to raised production limits

By Hannah Swank
KU Statehouse Wire Service

The Free State Brewery motto is, “Because without beer, things do not seem to go as well.”

With current legislature being considered in the Kansas House, there could be a lot more beer flowing from the Lawrence microbrewery in the future.

Senate Bill 346 would raise production limits of Kansas microbreweries from 15,000 to 30,000 barrels annually. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate in March and is now awaiting approval from the House Committee of Federal and State Affairs.

Free State Brewery, the first brewery in the state since Prohibition, opened its doors to its downtown Lawrence restaurant and 14-barrel brewpub in 1989. Free State has since expanded to provide draft beer to bars, build another location housing a 40-barrel brewery, and bottle and distribute to liquor stores.

“It allowed us to brew significantly more beer and ship it outside our own backyard,” said Steve Brandt, Head of Brewing and Bottling, “Our production levels and sales levels climb as our neighbors in Missouri and Nebraska continue to see growth and we continue consistent supplies to wholesale partners and businesses.”

Brandt estimates that 12,000 to 14,000 barrels of beer are produced each year between the two breweries. While the brewery isn’t quite up to the current production cap, Brandt said Free State worked with the Kansas Craft Brewers Guild to introduce the bill.

The bill originally requested production limits raised to 60,000 barrels, which is the federal benchmark for microbrewery production, but that amount was amended and reduced significantly by the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs in February. Brandt said since the higher amount couldn’t be achieved, it’s likely the group will request higher limits again in a few years.

“There’s always give and take in the process, but I expect this will last us a while and give us some breathing room,” Brandt said. “This bill allows us to get ahead of the game and make sure we don’t come up against the production ceiling. It allows us quite a bit of room to continue to grow.”

The two brewing facilities produce Free State’s four year-round flagship brews – Ad Astra Ale, Copperhead Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout and Wheat State Golden – and four seasonal brews – Brinkley’s Maibock, Octoberfest, Stormchaser IPA and Winterfest. The breweries also produce specialty four-packs of small-batch brews, Cloud Hopper Imperial IPA and the Iron Man Imperial Stout.

“Over the years, we’ve produced so many different beers and different beer styles, I haven’t even counted,” Brandt said. “There’s still space in the production brewery for room to expand.”

While the bill allows Free State Brewery to double its production, founder and proprietor Chuck Magerl said he doesn’t have national aspirations.

“We started out in Lawrence and have managed to sell beer in every county in Kansas that has a liquor license, as well Missouri and Nebraska,” Magerl said. “By the end of the year, we’ll start selling in Iowa.”

Magerl said the push to raise production limits is not because Free State has neared them but because he wants to continue to grow his business in the Midwest through community events, festivals and connection with beer enthusiasts.

“I see our business as a shining star in our region,” Magerl said. “We offer a local sense of identity and an opportunity for people to connect with our story.”

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