Flyway Brewing is expanding its canned beer lineup this December with the addition of Free Range Brown Ale in cans. Flyway owner Jess McMullen tells me the first cases will be ready to sell around the first week of December. For McMullen, this canning is a celebration of the beer that gave Flyway its start.
“Free Range means a lot to us as a company,” said McMullen. “It was our first beer that we brewed as Flyway on a small basis. The first time we brewed it was fall 2012 on the back porch with a turkey fryer and a burner.”
McMullen says his partner Matt Foster served Free Range at events around Little Rock through 2013, including beer festivals and charity dinners. It was then that Matt Bell, who was still planning the opening of South on Main, got his first taste of the brown ale, a taste that was apparently good enough for him to sell in his new restaurant before Flyway had its own location.
“When they opened, we were on tap,” said McMullen. “Well before we were ever open, we were on tap in November 2013 at South on Main, and we opened here December 19, 2015. So Free Range has been around for a long time.”
Were it not for the surprise, brilliant success of Bluewing Berry Wheat, Free Range would likely be Flyway’s flagship brew. Made with chocolate, biscuit and caramel wheat malts, Free Range has a depth of flavor more commonly associated with a porter ale. That profile makes it an ideal beer for enjoying with food.
“We call it a roasty toasty brown,” said McMullen. “So if you’re drinking a brown ale on its own, you’re going to get chocolate and coffee notes. It’s our number one food beer. So with a grilled steak or a pork chop or roast chicken, you’re going to get that roasted flavor to it.”
As far as the can itself goes, fans of Bluewing will instantly notice the similarity in the art style. The colors are slightly different, but the can is unmistakably Arkansas with the image of Hawksbill Crag and a buck with a rack of antlers. The Arkansas tie is important, as McMullen’s goal is to continue helping to turn the Natural State into one that supports craft beer more and more.
“We believe that our job as craft brewers is to introduce beers to non-craft beer drinkers,” said McMullen. “The Bud Light drinkers, domestic beer drinkers, and introduce approachable beers, and once they’re drinking Bluewing and Free Range, they’re more willing to try Migrate Pale Ale, or our very approachable Early Bird IPA. That’s kind of how it starts.”
As for what comes next, McMullen said that Free Range is the final beer Flyway will can in Memphis. Flyway is making plans to install its own canning line at its North Little Rock location, allowing it to can brews like Early Bird IPA and Coffee Cake Stout. That is in the works for 2018; for now, Flyway fans can go ahead and add a case of Free Range to their wish list for the holidays. It will be available at the taproom first, then at grocery and liquor stores around town soon after.