ROGERS — Trisha Bays and Paula Kronberg said they were enjoying the beers they drank while sitting on the patio of Brick Street Brews in downtown Rogers last week. By doing so, they joined a growing market for craft beers.
The national trend moved into Rogers and Benton County following a 2012 vote to allow beer and alcohol sales in the county.
Craft beer brewing is an expanding cottage industry.
Craft beer breweries increased production by 18 percent over the course of 2013.
Arkansas has 13 craft breweries with an economic impact of 211.6 million.
10,417 barrels of craft beer produced per year in Arkansas in 2012.
Overall beer market is $100 billion per year, craft beer is $14.3 billion.
The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.
Source: Staff Report
Bays and Kronberg were drinking Belgium golden beer brewed by Ozark Beer Co. of Rogers. It is the first and only brewery in Benton County. Washington County is home to several microbrewers.
Bays and Kronberg agreed craft beers are better than mass-produced beers.
“Craft beer has a much fuller, richer flavor. I love the Belgium beer Andy (Coates) brews. It’s the best beer I’ve ever tasted,” Bays said.
“We love to come here occasionally. It’s great to sit on the patio in the evening, talk and enjoy a really good draft craft beer,” Kronberg said.
Andy Coates, brewmaster and owner of Ozark Beer Co., 1700 S. First St., said craft beers are popular across the United States.
“Craft beers give beer drinkers more choices, and a variety of flavors to try. There is a good market for craft beers in Northwest Arkansas, and that market is growing,” Coates said.
Craft beer is made by small breweries with an annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. The beer is distinctive, and individualistic in taste and alcohol levels. Small breweries normally produce between four and six flavors of beer, and some seasonal beers based on fruit or grains grown locally, according to the Brewers Association.
Michael Langley, executive director of administration for the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control, said craft beers are making a strong showing across the state.
“Diamond Bear Brewing Company in North Little Rock is the oldest microbrewery in the state,” Langley said. The company opened in 2000, and since then, a total of 13 microbreweries in the state produce thousands of gallons of locally brewed beer.
“I think one of the reasons microbrewing is growing at such a rapid pace is the entrepreneurial spirit in the state. I also believe it allows brewers to be creative in the beers they produce giving residents a variety of choices other than the national beers,” Langley said.
The passion of the individual brewers to produce quality beer is another factor in the microbrewing industry, Langley added.
“You have to be passionate to brew beer commercially. It’s a lot of work. Brewers often put in long hours to produce their individual products,” Langley said.
Coates is typical of most microbrewers. He likes beer, and brewed beer at home before becoming a professional brewer. One thing that sets Coates apart: he worked for national brewing companies before opening his own.
“I love brewing beer. I helped the Ozark Mountain Brewery in Fayetteville get started. I opened this brewery late last year, and I brew four different beers. One of my most popular beers is a Belgium golden ale,” Coates said.
It takes about three weeks to brew a batch of beer. He brews about 15 barrels of beer a week. A barrel contains 31 gallons, Coates said.
“Brewing is work intensive, but it’s cleaning up after the brewing that’s difficult. I spend more time cleaning up than I do brewing,” Coates said with a laugh.
Core Brewing and Distilling Co., 3470 Lowell Road in Springdale, is the largest craft beer brewing company in Northwest Arkansas, producing six staple and 24 seasonal beers.
Founded in 2008 by Jesse Core, the microbrewery distributes draft, bottled and canned beer in Arkansas and Missouri. He delivers to more than 400 customers.
“People crave American-made products and enjoy locally crafted high-quality beers made in Arkansas,” Core said.
Core got the beer brewing bug two decades ago in college.
“I studied microbiology, and the professor said if I paid attention I would learn how to brew a great beer,” Core joked. Core perfected his craft at home before deciding to make brewing his profession.
“We put a lot of time and effort into brewing a top-quality beer. I want to continue to produce premium beers that Arkansas residents can be proud of,” he said.
There is an aspect of microbreweries that is often overlooked, he said.
“We are creating jobs directly and indirectly and that’s great for Northwest Arkansas. Craft beers also attract visitors to the area to try local brews. We have visitors from around the world visiting our plant and tasting our beer. Hopefully this will help develop a larger entertainment district in Northwest Arkansas. Rogers has the AMP, and the city is ripe for entertainment development, and we hope to play a part in that endeavor,” he said.
Brick Street Brews, 208 W. Walnut St., is an example of a business that was established as a result of the craft beer craze. In addition to beer from Ozark Beer and Core Brewing, they sell beer from Saddlebock Brewery in Springdale and Diamond Bear in North Little Rock, according to their Facebook page.
Bart Watson, chief economic director of the Brewers Association, a national organization that promotes craft beers, said craft beer brewing has taken off like a rocket the past 10 years.
“There are thousands of craft beer companies brewing a variety of beers, and the market is still wide open for more growth. People are looking for more full-favored beers produced locally by craftsmen. There were about 90 craft beer brewers in 2000, but by 2013, there were 2,822 craft beer breweries. It’s a fast-growing industry,” Watson said.
The craft brewing market is growing by 2.1 new brewers per day, Watson said.
Craft beer brewing is well established in Northwest Arkansas, but distilling is in its infancy.
Core operates the only distillery in Northwest Arkansas.
“Distilling is easier than brewing beer. You put your ingredients in the still, slow cook it and distilled spirits drip out of the copper coil,” Core said.
While the process may be easier, getting a permit for a distillery is more difficult than a brewing permit.
“It took me 19 months to get a distilling permit. In addition to state regulations, there are federal taxes and regulations that have to be dealt with, but it’s been worth it for me,” Core said.
He is shipping his first pallet load of whiskey to South Dakota this week.
“We make 160 proof spirits and lower the proof to 100 proof. I hope to be the best brewer and distiller in the state by continuing to make a premium product that meets the high standards of beer and whiskey drinkers,” he said.
Small distilleries like Core’s age spirits for a few months, compared to the years the major distillers age spirits.
Rogers resident Gene Hobbs received a conditional use permit in April to open a distillery at 707 S. Eighth St., but it hasn’t opened.
Hobbs said he ran into problems getting tanks and other equipment for the distilling process. He said is still pursuing his dream of opening a distillery, and hopes to be open for business later this year.