A long time ago, way back in history
When all there was to drink was nothing but cups of tea
Along came a man by the name of Charlie Mops
And he invented a wonderful drink, and he made it out of hops.
– from the popular drinking song, “Beer, Beer, Beer”
Ozarkansas is drinking a lot more beer these days, or at least a lot more craft beer. In just a few years, Ozarkansas has become home to at least nine craft breweries in Washington and Benton counties, with two more in the planning stages in Fort Smith and Bentonville. This number far outpaces the neighboring cities of Little Rock, Tulsa, and Springfield.
While the explosion in craft brewing is a recent development in our region, it has been several decades in the making nationwide. The growth in the popularity of craft beer comes along with the growth in the local foods movement. Locavores like to say, “Know your farmer. Know your food.” In the case of craft beer, it goes, “Know your brewer. Know your brew.” People are starting to pay attention to where their food – and beer – comes from. At local breweries, customers often get to know the brewers personally, and the brewers have distinctive flavors and signature recipes. For example, Core Brewing & Distilling Company is known for its ESB, and Saddlebock Brewery is known for its Dirty Blonde, both of which can be found at bars and on menus across the region.
Small breweries in the United States were originally hyperlocal, with each town and city having at least one brewery of its own, often more. Beers were also local in taste. Before refrigeration, beer could spoil in a month or two, so it had to be made locally in order to keep it fresh. Furthermore, the barley, the base ingredient, would have been grown locally, meaning it would have flavors and qualities unique to its geographical region. Much of this beer was consumed in local taverns and pubs or at local festivals and family events, making it a cornerstone of local culture and communal life.
Beer quickly became the beverage of choice in the early days of our country, especially with an influx of immigrants who brought their taste for it and their recipes for brewing it with them. Historians note that George Washington even entered a beer recipe into his journals. In The Audacity of Hops, Tom Acitelli reports that from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the beginning of World War I in 1917, American beer production increased from 3.7 million barrels a year to nearly 60 million barrels a year. Americans also increased their per-person consumption in that same period from three gallons a year to an average of 18.7 gallons a year. This remarkable growth in beer production came to a screeching halt, however, in 1919.
The Eighteenth Amendment that banned the production and sale of alcohol in 1919 and ushered in Prohibition had consequences for the beer industry that reached far past its short life. Prohibition decimated small breweries, and they virtually disappeared. Fewer than 700 breweries survived from a peak number of more than 2,800 in the late 1880s. Those that survived managed to do so mostly by producing “near beer.” When the Twenty-first Amendment repealed Prohibition in 1933, the beer industry found itself in the midst of a much more industrialized economy. Beer could now be made on a larger scale, kept fresh longer because of modern bottling and canning methods, and could be shipped farther from its origin.
Then came Big Beer. According to Acitelli, Big Beer companies such as Schlitz, Anheuser-Busch, and Pabst bought up many of their smaller competitors or shoved them out with their homogenized brands. Consumer tastes changed and moved toward these larger brands, and, by 1959, the five largest brewing companies owned 28 percent of the beer in the market. By the 1970s, it would be more than 50 percent.
Brewery historians widely recognize Anchor Brewing as the heart of the craft beer movement that took hold again in the 1970s. Gottlieb Brekle, a German brewer, opened what would later become Anchor in 1871. Anchor suffered many setbacks over the years – the deaths of its owners, fire, Prohibition, the Great Depression, and Big Beer – but always managed to escape its own death. In 1965, Fritz Maytag, a young Iowan and heir to Maytag Dairy Farms (makers of the famous Maytag blue cheese), bought 51 percent of Anchor Brewing after just one visit. Anchor was within days of closing its doors and was at the time this country’s last craft brewery. Says Acitelli, “Maytag’s decisions throughout the late 1960s, though he could not have realized it, set the ground rules for the craft beer movement to come and were collectively a milestone in American cuisine.”
The Brewers Association published a definition of craft beer in 2005, all of which Anchor had going for itself. Beer is considered a craft brew if it is made in a small brewery, defined by production of less than 6 million barrels a year. Craft beer is also independent in that at least 75 percent of the business is independently owned. And finally, a craft brewer must be traditional, meaning that the majority of its production is done with traditional fermentation processes and ingredients. Against all odds, Maytag managed to keep Anchor alive and inspired the craft brew movement for decades with its unique flavors and traditional methods.
As Anchor was hitting its stride in San Francisco in the mid-1970s, Jack McAuliffe was nearby in Sonoma starting the first start-up American craft brewery since Prohibition. McAuliffe had been home brewing for many years by the time he and his partners, Suzy Stern and Jane Zimmerman, opened New Albion Brewing Company in 1976. They arrived on the scene in the midst of a local foods renaissance inspired by Alice Waters and her San Francisco restaurant.
In the last three decades, Maytag’s and McAuliffe’s investment in craft brewing paid off, and the United States is now home to more than 2,500 breweries, according to the Brewers Association. Fayetteville’s Fossil Cove Brewing Company is one of those breweries. Owner Ben Mills opened Fossil Cove in 2012 after much practice and study as a home brewer. Mills has a degree in biology and is a certified brewer. The brewery has a small tasting room with a glass wall between the tasting room and the brewery so visitors can see exactly where their brew is coming from. Being tucked into a metal building in an industrial part of town hasn’t slowed traffic. People are going out of their way to find local brew, and Fossil Cove is often packed with regulars. Core Brewing, Arrow Brewing Company, and Saddlebock are also in out-of-the-way locations – in north Springdale, Tontitown and rural east Springdale, respectively – but tasting room visits continue to operate at a brisk pace. These funky locations lend themselves to the communal culture that was a hallmark of early American breweries.
Mills believes the culture of Fayetteville, in particular, is responsible for the explosion in the craft beer movement in Ozarkansas. Fossil Cove and the other breweries draw an eclectic crowd, and Mills says the population is large enough to support all of our breweries and more. Most of the breweries opened before Benton County voted to allow alcohol sales a couple of years ago, which is starting to change the landscape of craft beer in our region. Ozark Beer Company recently opened in Rogers after its owner started up the long-awaited brewing at West Mountain Brewing Company in downtown Fayetteville.
Craft brewers are a friendly bunch, and most belong to the newly revived Arkansas Brewers Guild. Mills says that their competition with each other is really only for tap space in local restaurants and bars. With a limited number of taps, some having to be reserved for the Big Beer brands, bar owners have to decide which brewers to work with and which have the capacity to serve their clientele. Some restaurants, like JJ’s Grill in Fayetteville, have long menus of craft beer, including many local brands. Core and Fossil Cove brews can also be found in southern Missouri and Little Rock.
Ozarkansans can celebrate the craft beer culture in a number of ways. The Fayetteville Visitors Bureau started the Fayetteville Ale Trail as a means for locals and visitors to experience craft brewing in our region. People can pick up a trail passport, map, and Ale Trail Silipint at the Fayetteville Visitors Center on the downtown square. Participating breweries also have passports on hand. Trail goers get their passports stamped at each location. Some, like Apple Blossom Brewing Company on Zion Road in Fayetteville or Fossil Cove, are located near bike and walking trails.
Fayetteville Foam Fest is another opportunity to indulge in beer culture. This year it will be held in the Walton Arts Center parking lot on May 3. Proceeds from the event benefit Feed Fayetteville, and dozens of brews will be available for tasting, including seven of the region’s local breweries. This year, several local restaurants will be doing food and beer pairings in the VIP tent, and many local food trucks will be on site, as well.
Special thanks to Fossil Cove Brewing Company for allowing us to illustrate craft beer in their fine establishment.
Ozarkansas Craft Breweries
Apple Blossom Brewing Company
1550 E. Zion Road, Fayetteville
Arrow Brewing Company
1161 W. Henri de Tonti Blvd., Tontitown
Core Brewing & Distilling Company
2470 Lowell Road, Springdale
Fossil Cove Brewing Company
1946 N. Birch ave., Fayetteville
Hog Haus Brewing Company
430 w. Dickson St., Fayetteville
Ozark Beer Company
1700 S. First St., Rogers
18244 Habberton Road, Springdale
Tanglewood Branch Beer Company
1431 S. School Ave., Fayetteville
West Mountain Brewing Company
21 w. Mountain St., Fayetteville