With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. The fourth state we’re getting the skinny on is The Natural State, Arkansas. Known for it’s dense timberlands as well as two mountain ranges (Ozark and Ouachita), it ranks 32nd in total population (2.97 million), is backed by the Arkansas Brewers Guild as well as the Arkansas Craft Distributors and at last count houses roughly 20 breweries. The bulk of the state’s breweries are found in Little Rock and Fayetteville and as of 2013, the state ranked 41st in total breweries and 40st in breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Assocation.
Much like its neighbors in the region, Arkansas has had an interesting history of brewing with a late rebirth due to the national resurgence of craft beer over the last 30 years. The oldest documented brewery we were able to find in the state was that of Joseph Knoble, an immigrant from Wittenberg, Germany, who settled in Fort Smith circa 1850. He built his home and brewery on the same plot (which still exists as a restaurant) all out of native stone, which operated until his death in 1881. The Little Rock Brewery, which lasted until 1920, is the only other known pre-prohibition full-scale brewer in the state.
In 1950, there was a failed attempt to restart the brewing industry with what was called the Ozark Club and thus the state continued to go with without a legitimate brewer for a full 72 years. In 1992 Wiedman’s Old Fort Brewery, again in Fort Smith, broke the drought in offering their regionally popular “Arkansas Ale” and “Hell on the Border Porter,” yet the suds only flowed till 1997 when they closed up shop.
Then in 1993, Arkansas’ oldest brewpub Vino’s, which has flown under the radar since it’s founding, reignited the brewing scene. The location, readily found on 7th St. in downtown Little Rock, still has 13+ active creations in production with sales only done on site, though growler sales flourish. Vino’s is one of the three brewers in the state who’ve been recognized at the GABF, winning twice. The vast majority of the state’s breweries have all opened since 2010, though they’re still vying to compete with out-of-state producers in a crowded marketplace.
Three More Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Core Brewing & Distilling Company (Springdale, AR) – Founded in 2010 with just two employees, Core has set itself apart from the crowd by increasing production over 10 times what it was a year ago, in part due to having opened a second taproom in neighboring Rogers. They’re already exploring the possibility of exporting to Mexico, have already seen great success with a robust canning operation and have produced at least 18 styles of beer in their short history.
Diamond Bear Brewing (Little Rock, AR) -In 2000, Russ and Sue Melton, transplants who’d fallen in love with Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing, set up shop in North Little Rock. Arkansas’ first commercial brewery, they’ve garnered 4 medals at the GABF, more than any other brewer in the state combined and are an employee-owned partnership. While their beer was once bottled and brewed under contract in Minnesota, they’ve bottled on site since 2006 and still regularly produce 10+ styles.
Ozark Beer Company(Rogers, AR) – One of the state’s newest brewers on the scene, having only opened in late 2013, Ozark has always been about the results that come from hard work. Headed by Andy Coates and Lacie Bray, they’ve followed their dream of operating their own brewery after working for both Great Divide and Goose Island, then exploring the Northwest brewing community and spending a brief stint in South America. These two are already finding great success with a great variety to be found among their six current offerings found on tap and in cans.