Southwest Brewing News October/November 2014 : Page 1
By Bev Blackwood II By Darren Morrissey ntil only a few years ago, the tide of the craft beer revolution only made a few splashes in Arkansas. As late as 2010, the Diamond State was home to only one brewery and three brewpubs as the rest of the country was exploding with craft beer expansion. Arkansas is now home to 14 breweries and brewpubs, with that number expected to keep growing. How did the one of last bastions of mass-market b beers change from Anheu Anheuser Busch to Sam Adam Adams? Above-Diamond Bear's Russ & Sue Melton (third & fourth from left) at the opening of the new brewery in North Little Rock. PHOTO COURTESY OF DIAMOND BEAR. Rebel Kettle Brewing’s Tommy McGhee (L) and John Lee sampling beers at Boulevard Brewing. PHOTO COURTESY OF REBEL KETTLE. Assistant Brewer CJ West (L) and Brewer Hayden Winkler will run the new North By North-west brewhouse in south Austin. R-NXNW Assistant Brewer Joel Edwards [L] and Head Brewer Kevin Roark. PHOTOS BY BEV BLACKWOOD II. S Slow News a and Bland B Brews Those interviewed for fo this article included some so who are long fa familiar with the market an and also a few who are just now getting involved. They were inv asked why it took so a long for the craft beer revolution to plant its fermenters here and take off. T o say that North By Northwest is a brewery with some history is a bit of an understatement. Founded with Texas’ original craft brewer, Don Thompson in the brewhouse, the north Austin restaurant and brewery celebrated 15 years in business in September while simultaneously opening a new location some 17 miles south, at the opposite end of the MoPac Expressway. Located in the Circle C Ranch community, the new restaurant and brewery retains the look and feel of the original location while resurrecting See NXNW p. 3 From the Editor .................................. 2 Event Calendar ....................................4 Homebrew Beer Stylist .........................6 Directories & Maps .........................12-15 Oklahoma ......................7 New Mexico ...................8 Nevada ........................ 10 Arkansas ......................11 S/C/E Texas ................. 16 Austin ......................... 18 N/W Texas ................... 19 Northern Arizona ........ 20 Southern Arizona ........ 20 Central Arizona ........... 21 Southern California .....22 San Diego ....................23 See Arkansuds p. 5
Until only a few years ago, the tide of the craft beer revolution only made a few splashes in Arkansas. As late as 2010, the Diamond State was home to only one brewery and three brewpubs as the rest of the country was exploding with craft beer expansion. Arkansas is now home to 14 breweries and brewpubs, with that number expected to keep growing. How did the one of last bastions of massmarket beers change from Anheuser Busch to Sam Adams?
Slow News and Bland Brews
Those interviewed for this article included some who are long familiar with the market and also a few who are just now getting involved. They were asked why it took so long for the craft beer revolution to plant its fermenters here and take off. one of the simplest answers came from the central Arkansas beer blogger John Wells who produces a weekly newsletter under the guise of “John the Beer Snob.” Wells notes, “Arkansas is notoriously cautious to follow the latest trends.”
Popular culture in Arkansas seems to run five to 10 years behind the rest of the country and the craft beer revolution was no exception. James Spencer, who has produced weekly episodes of “Basic Brewing Radio” for the last nine years, sees a similar cause, adding, “Craft beer wasn’t available, so most of us didn’t know what we were missing.”
Russ Melton, president of Diamond Bear Brewing, brought up an issue with the regulation and distribution of craft beer. “I do think the laws in Arkansas were an obstacle, but also the dominance of the big three breweries and their distributors.” He further remarked, “Distributors in the southeast resisted the craft industry and in many cases it cost them brands that their competitors have now.”
So whether the blame lies in lack of knowledge, a dearth of good craft beer availability, or simply being located in the buckle of the Bible Belt, it’s a well-known fact that craft beer in Arkansas has long followed behind the national trends.
Diamond State Engagement
Even though Arkansas was late to the craft beer party, there have been significant gains made in the past five years. A state where you could once count all of the breweries with one hand and have a finger left over can now boast a thriving beer culture with multiple breweries producing a wide range of beers. How did this happen so quickly?
Many credit outside influences for the growth. As beer becomes more popular in the world around them, Arkansas will follow. John Wells says, “To me, this means that once the public is educated about the world of beer, they choose quality over advertising.” John Lee, one of the co-owners and brewers at Rebel Kettle Brewing, a soon-to-open brewery in Little Rock, agrees by stating, “Technology is playing a huge role in the growth of craft beer.” This includes an exposure to local beer enthusiasts of beers and breweries from across the country and world through beer rating websites. “Craft beer is becoming more than just a hobby; it’s a culture,” adds Lee.
Lee also credits the increased popularity of homebrewing as a factor in the growth. This is echoed by James Spencer who agrees, “Homebrewing is at the root of most of the local craft beer movement, if not all of it.” Most of the growth in breweries has come from those who started homebrewing and then took their brewing to the next level. The homebrewer to professional track is evident in recent brewery openings like Stone’s Throw, Tanglewood Branch and Flyway Brewing, and should continue with breweries on the horizon like Rebel Kettle, Superior Bathhouse and Leap of Faith.
Related to this is the belief that the local growth is directly related to the national trends and beer distribution. A “chicken and egg” causation developed where nationally-distributed breweries didn’t come to Arkansas because they believed craft beer wouldn’t sell here. Or as Spencer puts it, “Since there was no big demand, distributors may not have wanted to take a chance.” National breweries like New Belgium, Boulevard and Avery helped prove that wrong by taking a chance distributing in Arkansas markets. Exposure to these well-regarded beers only helped to expand the demand for good beer in Arkansas.
Arkansas brewers also credit a favorable regulatory environment for local brewers. The Arkansas Native Brewery Act of 2003 included many provisions helpful for breweries including the ability to self-distribute and sell their products directly to customers at the brewery. Brewers also find that it’s relatively easy to obtain the required state permits.
Razorback To the Future
Craft beer in Arkansas is better than it’s ever been with the growth in local breweries and national breweries distributing across the state. No longer are breweries locating in highpopulation areas like Little Rock and Fayetteville, but are also finding homes in small towns like Hot Springs and Big Flat. How far can the craft beer revolution carry in Arkansas?
The answer depends on whom you ask and some have their doubts. Diamond Bear’s Russ Melton informs, “There are positives and negatives, with the positives being the growing awareness and share for local and craft beers. The negative is that we are in fact competitors and there are only so many tap handles and placements in the market.” He also believes that increased competition isn’t the only risk, adding, “Hardly anyone does not see a bubble coming, it’s just a matter of when and how much shakeout there is. I caution people about being too aggressive and to keep themselves in a position to weather this when it happens.”
Rebel Kettle’s John Lee isn’t as skeptical. “The last report I heard is that the craft brewery growth rate will continue for the next five years and then the bubble will burst. There are also rumors that there will be a hop and grain shortage. I refuse to believe any of this. Yes, there will be a lot of new breweries opening and sure, there will be some closing. This is the nature of any business,” he opines.
The optimism is shared by a brewer who has had long experience with craft beer in Arkansas. Omar Castrellon was the brewer at three brewpubs in Little Rock in the late-1990s. After the last one closed, he moved to Indiana and built an impressive résumé during his time there. He recently returned to Arkansas to be the head brewer at the new Lost 40 Brewing Company that is scheduled to open in October.
When asked about the changes he sees in the market, Castrellon notes, “There is still a lot of room for craft beer growth in Arkansas. Because the craft beer explosion came late to Arkansas we feel that this is one of the best markets in the country to open up a craft brewery.”
Whatever the reason for the growth, Arkansas craft beer drinkers are reaping the benefits and it only seems to be getting better. Castrellon says, “We see Little Rock becoming one of the best craft beer cities in the South. We are on the cusp of having a great craft beer scene. It’s an exciting time to be in the beer business in Little Rock, Arkansas!”
Read the full article at http://swbnonline.brewingnews.com/article/Arkansnds/1835971/228950/article.html.
To say that North By Northwest is a brewery with some history is a bit of an understatement. Founded with Texas’ original craft brewer, Don Thompson in the brewhouse, the north Austin restaurant and brewery celebrated 15 years in business in September while simultaneously opening a new location some 17 miles south, at the opposite end of the MoPac Expressway. Located in the Circle C Ranch community, the new restaurant and brewery retains the look and feel of the original location while resurrecting an Austin brewhouse that pre-dates North By Northwest itself and has spent the last decade in storage. “It’s like finding a 1964 Mustang that’s been sitting under a tarp in a barn for years,” smiles Kevin Roark, the current head brewer at the original location.
While it’s new to North By Northwest, the brewhouse is an old friend to more than a few Austin area brewers. Rob Cartwright of Independence Brewing and Erik Ogershok of Real Ale brewed on it when it was producing beer for the former Coppertank Brewing Company back in the early ‘90s. Davis Tucker, co-owner of North By Northwest, bought it after Coppertank closed and has been waiting for a chance to bring the system back to life in a new location. “There’s been at least four false starts on North By Two,” notes Tucker, using the in-house name for the new location. The new North By Northwest location keeps much of the original’s character. “I want people, when they step up to the building to say, “Oh, that looks like North By Northwest,”” Tucker states. Despite outward appearances, not everything will remain the same. He adds, “Having the two locations gives us the chance to do more and different things and that’s what we intend to do.”
A new brewery means new brewers, with Hayden Winkler stepping into the head brewer role after working as a lead brewer at Real Ale and CJ West joining him as assistant brewer after working at both Uncle Billy’s and The ABGB. Assembling and commissioning of the vintage brewery has been a group effort, with both locations’ brewers working together.“We didn’t have anyone contracted to come out and set anything up; it’s all been the brew team,” Winkler notes. Both of the North By Northwest brewhouses are organized vertically, keeping the footprint small while maximizing the visual impact of the equipment, as seen from the restaurant and from the exterior. “The challenges that presents are when you have to carry thousands of pounds of grain, bag by bag, up four flights of stairs, ” observes Roark, prompting West to laugh and quip, “We’ve got the largest leg muscles of most brewers.”
Despite the physical similarities between the two breweries, some differences are inevitable, if only because their neighborhoods are so different. The community of Circle C Ranch surrounds the new location and lies on the southern outskirts of Austin, echoing the setting of the original North By Northwest. “Back in ’99 when [the original location] was built, this was kind of considered the edge of town on the north side,” Roark notes. While northern Austin has become more urban and upscale, the south side is where development has moved over the intervening years. That younger vibe is a difference both Winkler and West look forward to brewing for. “I think learning the clientele is going to be a big key in determining what kind of beers they want,” Winkler notes. West interjects, “It’ll be interesting to see if there’s more IPA drinkers, more high gravity drinkers.” Despite the 17 miles between them, the two breweries do anticipate sharing some of their beers, since the southern location lacks barrel storage for such popular offerings as Blackjack, their Okanogan Black Ale aged in bourbon barrels, or their award-winning sour beers.
One thing that’s already shared is the camaraderie of having opened North By Northwest’s new brewery as a team. “The synergy is incredibly important. The fact that we work well together is awesome,” West observes. “I’m real happy with the team we’ve got. I just wanted to make sure we found the right guys,” Tucker affirms. With the opening of their new location, North By Northwest opens a new chapter, one that reaches out to a different part of the city while resurrecting a piece of Austin’s brewing history to brew for a new generation of beer lovers. “There’s a lot of good vibes in that system. We’ve just got to release them,” grins West.
Read the full article at http://swbnonline.brewingnews.com/article/NXNW/1835972/228950/article.html.