Continuing my look at sustainability and the craft brewing industry, I recently interviewed Chuck Magerl, founder and owner of Free State Brewery in Lawrence, KS. Free State is significantly smaller than the other brewers I have interviewed, but maintains the signature sustainability trademarks that seem to be such a part of this industry. In addition, Magerl has a unique story to share regarding the key role he played in making it legal to bring back the German brewing tradition that was once prevalent in the state, but was almost entirely lost during prohibition.
Don’t miss Sara’s other brewing sustainability feature:
Q: How did you get into the brewery business?
Magerl: I was writing an article on the history of brewing in Kansas, which had a large German population that settled here. Beer was a part of the community, and there were 113 breweries in Kansas in the 1800s. In 1880, Kansas became the first state to have constitutional prohibition and ended this vibrant tradition for a time.
Learning about the history of beer in this state inspired me to experiment, myself. There were small breweries that had opened on the West Coast, and I took some classes at the University of California-Davis, which had developed a brewing program.
I came back to Kansas and got the law here changed by lobbying the state legislature. In 1984, there was a push to reform Kansas liquor laws to allow liquor by the drink, and I saw this as a chance to ride the wave and get breweries to become legal as well. Our company is the first legal brewery in Kansas since 1880. Eventually, I dropped my civil engineering background to pursue this.
Q: What does sustainability mean to you?
Magerl: To me, it suggests a continuation into infinity, and yet, nothing lasts forever. Sustainability has to do with tinkering with some of the ingredients and processes, yet making sure that we don’t lose any of the critical pieces while we tinker with other solutions to continue the product in the face of challenges. Sustainability means an active involvement with natural systems and having a sense of balance.
There is a desire of the consumer to know a story as a way of forming an emotional alliance with that brand. If there’s a sense of that, it can help build a bond with consumers. Even stores like Walmart that haven’t traditionally had that are now pursuing it because having a sense of being connected to real people is important.