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Brewer Feature for January 12, 2006
Free State Brewing of Lawrence, KS
January 12, 2006
Written by Oakes
Last spring I did interviews with, and wrote short profiles on, a number of the best and most interesting craft brewers in the United States. These were intended as complements to other information, but that never came together so I will be publishing them weekly over the winter here at Ratebeer. They are not complete by any means, but do give some insight into what makes the best brewers tick. First up, Free State Brewing of Lawrence, Kansas.
Free State Brewing opened in 1989 in Lawrence, the first brewery in Kansas in over 100 years (since the state enacted Prohibition in 1880). Like a lot of early brewing companies, Free State had to have the laws changed to allow their existence. Located not only in a college town but near Fort Leavenworth’s Army Officer Training School, Free State met with immediate success.
Current brewmaster Steve Bradt started with Free State as a bartender when they opened and within two months was training to be an assistant brewer. As Free State’s business expanded, Steve grew into the role of brewmaster.
Free State is not one of those breweries whose success relies on bombastic specialties that enthrall beer geeks and scare regular folk. Rather, Free State is an archetypal small-town brewpub, making a solid lineup of beers to suit all palates. Consistency, not experimentation, has always been the key component of their long-term strategy. Another component of Free State’s formula for success is their mission to achieve an advanced level of control over their yeast supply. The purpose of this is to get away from what Bradt terms the "house character" that other brewers gain wherein all of their beers have a similar character because they are all made with the same yeast.
Flowing from one of the most fundamental components of beer diversity is another – brewing a lot of different styles. With dedication to using different yeasts for different beers, Free State has been able to make around fifty different beers, all with unique characters. This was not a conscious decision, but rather the cumulative effect of years of learning about brewing and gradually adding to the pool of recipes that they make for their pub.
The most successful of these recipes is a barrel-aged imperial stout called Owd Mac. When Bradt decided to do a bit of barrel-aging at Free State, he sourced whisky barrels from the nearby McCormick distillery. They tried a few of their beers in the barrels but were not satisfied with the results. So they decided to brew a special beer designed specifically to benefit from barrel-aging. The result is Owd Mac, rated on Ratebeer.com as one of the Top Fifty Beers in the World.
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