Days away from the launch of a major expansion project, Free State Brewing Co. sustained damage to its East Lawrence brewing and bottling facility early Sunday.
"When I pulled around the corner at 6:30 in the morning before daylight, I just had the sense this is a really bad dream," Free State owner Chuck Magerl said Sunday afternoon from the scene.
About 6:30 a.m. Sunday, fire crews responded to reports of flames and smoke to Free State's recently renovated facility at 1927 Moodie Road. The fire was declared under control about 8 a.m., according to Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical.
The department is expected to report on the cause and the damages of the fire today, officials said. The building was not occupied at the time of the fire, and there were no injuries reported.
The smell of smoke hung in the air around the building Sunday as fire crews investigated the scene.
Magerl said Sunday evening that he had not yet had a chance to walk through the building and inspect the damage.
Brewmaster Steve Bradt pointed to black smoke stains around a window at the back of the building, the area of a mechanical room that housed electrical panels and refrigeration equipment.
"That end of the building in general is where the fire seems to have gotten started," he said. "They still have to finish poking through the ashes to figure out where it started."
Bradt said the refrigeration equipment was the only equipment that was running at the time of the fire. The facility contained brewing equipment and a full supply of malted barley, wheat and hops.
Free State for months has been overhauling the 12,000-square-foot facility to expand the company's production capacity. The site, in the former A.B. Coker Building, had been renovated with everything from new floors to new plumbing and electrical work.
Free State currently produces about 2,700 barrels of beer per year at its downtown location, 636 Mass. The new site offers significant expansion potential.
"The capacity at this facility would allow us to produce more beer both in keg and in bottle form for distribution around the region, for sale at restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as into liquor stores," Magerl said.
It would enable Free State to increase capacity at least fivefold to sevenfold with the potential to go beyond that, Magerl said. It would also allow Free State to brew a greater variety of beers.
In the first months of the new facility's operations, plans were to focus on increasing production and distribution of keg beer and move into bottling by the spring, Magerl said. The brewery is anticipating distribution in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.
The company had planned to produce its first test batches this week, Magerl said.
The fire will delay those plans, and Magerl and Bradt said Sunday they didn't know how long it would take to get back on track.
"We really don't have any way of assessing at this point what the structural damage may be," Bradt said. "Until we have a handle on that, I don't want to even guess how long this will take to work our way through."
In the meantime, the company will continue to brew beer at its downtown site.
"We have a goal in mind," Bradt said. "We'll get to that goal. It's just going to take us a bit longer than we thought it would."