Free State Brewing Company, based in Lawrence, Kansas, will begin distributing its beers in Iowa this week. On Wednesday, Nov. 12, brewery representatives will be at John’s Grocery from 4–5:30 p.m. offering samples and later at Reds Alehouse from 5:30–7:30 p.m. for keg tappings. On Thursday, Nov. 13, they will be at Waterfront Hy-Vee from 3:30-5:30 p.m. and Parlor City in Cedar Rapids 5:30-7:30 p.m. for tastings.
The brewery’s founder, Chuck Magerl, says Free State brews–including Copperhead Pale Ale, Ad Astra Ale and Old Backus Barleywine Ale–should start appearing on store shelves and in drinking establishments later this week.
According to Magerl, the expansion of Free State to Iowa is part of the brewery’s organic growth process. Instead of aspiring to coast-to-coast distribution, he wants Free State to maintain a regional footprint to ensure that their beers are as fresh as possible. In addition to Iowa, Free State also distributes to Missouri and has “tip-toed” into Nebraska.
Free State takes its name from Kansas’ Free-State, anti-slavery movement that took place before the Civil War. Lawrence was the movement’s capital and also a battleground for Free-State Kansans and pro-slavery militias, which often invaded from Missouri. There is still a low level of animosity between the two states, says Magerl, adding that the Free State name has not served the brewery well in the Missouri market.
“Sometime when things become neighbor against neighbor, memories linger,” he said.
Magerl feels that Iowa and Kansas, on the other hand, have a lot in common.
“We see Iowa as having a lot of similarities in terms of culture and attitude,” Magerl said. “We think we will have a good match in Iowa with our beers.”
Much like Kansans, he says that Iowans drink a variety of different styles, and there is also a growing interest in beers with a lot of malt presence, including classic lagers, bocks and more adventurous pilsners. Another commonality is each state’s place in the history of modern craft brewing. When it opened in 1989, Magerl says that Free State was one of only two micobreweries between Chicago and Denver. The other was Millstream in Amana, Iowa.
Free State is working with Johnson Brothers of Iowa for distribution. Magerl says distribution will begin in the state’s major metropolitan areas, such as Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Ames. Free State beers will reach Sioux City, Dubuque and Davenport later.