September 24th, 2012 | by Brian Yaeger Food & Drink | Posted In: The President of Beers

President of Beers: #19

Ad Astra Ale: Free State Brewing, Lawrence, Kansas

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We're drinking the flagship craft beer from every state in the Union, counting down from 50-1, to find which is home to the President of Beers.

#19 Ad Astra Ale: Free State Brewing, Lawrence, Kansas

State: Ah, Kansas. The first state to outlaw alcohol, the state where it took a US Supreme Court ruling to outlaw segregation in public schools, where 80 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial they still tried to outlaw evolution, and, if it were up to that “church” headquartered in Topeka, they’d follow God’s lead and outlaw fags, yet its very creation in 1861 was as a result of “Free Staters” intent on outlawing slavery. Tellingly, not only is it the geographic center of America, but when things appear less than American, we tend to state, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Brewery: Chuck Magerl opened Free State Brewing in Lawrence in 1989, in time for his own grandfather who’d served time in Leavenworth for violating Prohibition to taste his beer. It helped that Magerl walked the halls of the Capital to change state laws to allow a brewery in the first place. Built on the success of the brewpub, Free State now has a production and bottling facility as well.

Beer: Ad Astra Ale, named after the state motto Ad Astra per Aspera, “To the Stars through Difficulties;” is one of the less difficult amber ales to like thanks to a noticeable hop presence. That’s precisely why it fared as well as it did next to those other caramelized ambers.

Difficulty of Obtaining in Oregon: Extremely difficult. They do not distribute out here and good luck finding a place that will ship it out here.

Rating: 67

PHOTO: Cameron Browne
As detailed in Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, the state was founded by progressives and radicals, which is how it became synonymous with Free State in the first place. But it’s been a staunch red state for the last few decades. Having said that, while Free State Brewing was the first brewery in modern times, owner Magerl noted that it was the 114th in state history and he’ll never be confident that it, too, can’t be hacked apart a la Carry Natian (a Kansan)

As if to hammer home his point, when I met him at his brewpub, he spoke of his wife Joey (short for Jolene) from a small town in north-central Kansas that is “German Catholic to the extreme.” The biggest party and beer bash is the church picnic after the annual wheat harvest. “The street that the church is on,” Chuck slipped in, “is Gambrinus Street, named for the patron saint of brewers.” (Never mind the fact that Gambrinus is actually the patron saint of beer, whereas St. Arnold is the patron saint of brewers.) This set up the parable about someone opening a liquor store in town that quickly closed because the residents would rather drive 30 miles out of town to buy their beer than go two blocks and worry what their neighbors thought of them.

Who knows if today’s Kansas craft breweries will be tomorrow’s dust in the wind. 


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