A narrow opening between two old brick buildings along the main street of Lawrence, Kansas is now home to Free State Brewing Company. At the turn of the century trolley passengers used board here under cover from weather that only OZ residence can truly appreciate. The weathered upper façade looks unimposing amidst the rows of beige brick buildings but beneath it the front wall composed of all windows allow passers by to peer into the very modern open and airy interior. The second story seating offers a view foreword of drivers hopeless looking for parking as well as one rearward to stainless steel serving tanks and stacked grain bags poised over the glass-walled brewhouse below. Wall-side booths and a dozen wooden tables and padded chairs serve diners and drinkers in a comfortable atmosphere. Framed prints populate the beige stucco'd walls where the neighbors' stone and mortar exterior walls now contribute to the brewpub's textured interior design. The high ceiling sports dark wooden beams that support electric fans, together they draw away any suspected carcinogenic clouds from the young chain-smokers. Pipes and cigars are not allowed. Toward the rear lies a small banquet room seating up to twenty and available for private parties. The stone floor projects sounds from the beer garden outward. Above, a red-bricked room features a ceiling of painted clouds with a retractable skylight. Downstairs a small bar stands between a dozen more tables and the shiny brewhouse. Two six-tap brass towers pour the house brews while light Rock & Roll music accompanies the visuals on the bar's one silent TV. Seating can accommodate 231 and the first floor is wheelchair accessible.
The food menu offered a good variety of flavorful treats with the vegi dishes, pastas and breads early standouts. Prices are accommodating for both the college crowd and trendy shoppers alike. Appetizers run $4 to $6 and include Chipotle Chicken and Madeira Mushrooms; Soups like cheddar Ale are $2 to $4; Sandwiches that feature Roasted Pepper Foccacia, Chicken, Ham and Beef, along with Burgers, are about $5.25; Lunch and Dinners Entrees range from $6 to $15 and include Pastas, Pork, Curry Shrimp as well as Fish & Chips; Salad attractions such as Brewers Chicken and Portabello Spinach are $7; and side orders ($1.50) and Desserts such as Pie, Coffee, Cheesecake and Ice Cream round out the line up, all for $2 to $4. The fresh baked goods originate just a short distance away at the award-winning Wheatfields Bakery & Cafe, named by USA Today as the best artesian bakery in the U.S. On display and available for consumption are 64 brands of mustards from around the country. House wines join a full liquor complement which includes ten Single Malt Scotches.
The flavors featured on the beer menu are no less assertive. The Ad Astra Ale (1052) is copper colored with a fine head, medium body, smooth mouthfeel and even balance. The 27 IBUs of hops are slyly cloaked in this 1052 Original Gravity (OG) beer's dry malty character. The Populist Porter comes in at 43 IBUs with its creamy rendition of a well-balanced, creamy porter with a mild chocolatey flavor. The Oatmeal Stout (1061) is equally opaque but topped by a thick head and features a rich, dry malty flavor where an almost smoky character begins just before finishing clean and dry. The Invigorator Doppel Bock boasts a 1091 OG for is deceptively clear, ruby color. The creamy mouthfeel is matched to a rich malty flavor with alcohol peaking through in the finish. The wintertime special Old Backus Barleywine packs a sweet and alcoholic punch but one very well balanced for its young nine month age. The Wheat State Golden (1047) starts with a light hop aroma and follows with a similar delicate but pleasing wheat flavor. This clear straw-colored brew offers a great flavor/body combination where the fine white head and lace last 'til the end. The Copperhead Pale Ale (1058) boasts a respectable 50 IBUs for its clear amber color, lithe hop aroma and light body. The smooth mouthfeel matches well with the light hoppy flavor and subtle maltiness. This one should be very popular. The Spring seasonal Maibok, at 1070, is a clear gold with a medium body and smooth malty flavor that finishes cleanly. Well done! After two years of aging, the 1999 Old Backus Barleywine appears a clear dark amber with a thick tan head, very big alcohol and malt flavor combo that comes across incredibly smooth, with just enough supporting hops. Also aged two years, but in whiskey barrels, is the '99 Owd Mac's Imperial Stout. With intense aromas of whiskey and alcohol, the thinning laces betrays the high alcohol content. The silky smooth mouthfeel accompanies a big roasted flavor that is mellowed by age and alcohol. This one goes down all too well. One Winter seasonal is the opaque Bison Dark Ale. The tan head leads to a thick and lasting lace over the dark brown liquid. Rich dark malt flavors create a robust and hearty brew to help overcome the chills of March.
In time for St. Patrick's Day 2002 was the Grace O'Malley's Irish Ale. This medium-bodied brew poured a dark copper color with a lasting white lace. The rich, dry, malty flavor had a slight toasted character and smooth mouthfeel - very nice!
Together, the food, beer and ambiance show that Kansas' oldest brewpub knows how to do it right. Stop in for a $2.25 pint or enjoy a growler to go for a hard-to-beat $8.35 new or $6 refill (Doppel Bock is $12). Don't feel guilty about leaving with it in a brown paper bag, it's just one more of the anti-alcohol laws still on the books in the last state in the US to repeal total prohibition. The staff is beer-aware and friendly while the beers full-flavored and affordable. It's enough to make you think you were transported to another place and time via a whirling funnel-shaped weather phenomenon. Visit Free State soon before the Carrie Nation is resurrected. Hours are 11 AM to Midnight Monday through Saturday and Noon to 11 PM on Sunday. Souvenirs on display and for sale include pint glasses, T-shirts, long-sleeve shirts and ball caps.
Breath easy in Lawrence, Kansas - it's now SMOKE FREE. The arrival of showcased seasonals are best discovered via the website. New Year's Eve 2007 saw the reappearance on tap of the Old Backus Barleywine. Likely the 2005 production, it poured an opaque dark brown with aromas of raisins and molasses. The light-to-medium body combined with a soft mouthfeel to deliver the sweetish malty flavor that featured a slight hop bitterness and finished toward dry. Overall, well-blended and smooth, where the flavors were not overpowering and the alcohol not "in your face". Winter also saw the brief appearance of the Thunderhead Pale. It appears a deep cooper color with a thick white head. Hop aroma is the signature here and is matched by a great hoppy bitterness throughout. A nice American-style pale ale.
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Free State Brewing Co.
630 Massachusetts (downtown at 7th)
Lawrence, KS 66044
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - November, 1998; June, 1999 & March 2002; December 2006
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