Creekside Taproom: Celebrating Arkansas’ Craft
Despite plentiful spring rains and an abundance of natural lakes, rivers, and streams, Arkansas has been a very dry state for a very long time – dry in the way of licensed brewed libations, that is. In fact, beer was commercially produced locally for only five out of the 75 years that followed prohibition (at Weidman’s Old Fort Brewery in Fort Smith, 1992- 97). But in 2000, a craft brewery was established in Little Rock, and the fermented floodgates have remained open ever since. Arkansas is now home to more than 15 commercial craft breweries and an ever-growing number of taprooms, brewpubs, and nano-breweries.
From zero to 15 craft breweries in 15 years is an impressive escalation. In fact, Keith and Rhonda Rutledge are so proud of the flourishing local beer scene that in September 2015, they founded Creekside Taproom in Siloam Springs to highlight the abundance. Creekside is the only taproom in the state that serves an intentionally diverse range of native craft beverages produced exclusively in Arkansas.
Their 15-tap lineup is constantly rotating through seasonal and traditional offerings from Arkansas breweries, and, for the non-beer drinkers, the taproom offers Arkansas wine and locally made non-alcoholic root beer. Some snacks also are available.
It might seem like a shaky business endeavor to open an establishment that sells mostly drinks from a limited region and in a rather young market. But for Keith and Rhonda, it was all-Arkansas or nothing. They knew they could sell domestic beer for much cheaper, but they wanted to cultivate a place where customers get to think about and connect to what they’re drinking, not just imbibe something familiar.
The Rutledges say they are proud of what Arkansas is contributing to the craft beer scene and believe in the quality of the beers as well as the growing interest in and support of small businesses and breweries. Though all of the breweries that Creekside showcases have their own taprooms, Keith and Rhonda wanted to provide a place to compare myriad Arkansas beer offerings side by side. That’s why they offer beer flights (four 4-ounce pours), served on an Arkansas-shaped platter, naturally, and have at least seven breweries simultaneously represented in their taproom.
The idea for Creekside Taproom grew in tandem with the craft beer industry in Arkansas. Keith and Rhonda have, for years, been making faithful pilgrimages to every newly opened craft brewery in and around the state. As they started considering retirement, they couldn’t resist the recurring conversation of creating one place that offered Arkansas’ best beers.
The prospect was so engaging that Rhonda finally drew a line.
She told Keith, “OK. We’re either going to do this, or we’re going to quit talking about it.”
The conversation didn’t stop. And though not many folks would consider becoming firsttime business owners in a niche market as an appealing goal for retirement, Keith and Rhonda loved community, connectedness, and, of course, local beer too much to let the opportunity pass.
Keith was a Siloam Springs high school band director for 36 years, and Rhonda taught language arts in the Siloam Springs intermediate middle school for 33 years, so the idea of a retirement without regular community engagement just wasn’t in the cards for them. That’s why they chose historic downtown Siloam Springs for the taproom’s site. They’d discussed other regional locations, but in the end, they just couldn’t fathom opening a business anywhere other than home.
In that same spirit of connectedness, Keith and Rhonda do everything they can to foster a spirit of collaboration and community in and through their business. They host social and community events (Beer and Root Beer Float Party with local Pure Joy Ice Cream, anyone?) and trivia nights, and they play every available local sports game live.
They keep a stock of local restaurants’ take-out menus in the taproom to encourage customers to buy food from outside and bring it in to enjoy with their beer. They’ve even worked out delivery deals with other nearby restaurants because they want Creekside to benefit its downtown neighbors. In fact, the taproom is conveniently located next to Ash & Ember: A Gentleman’s Shop, which features a selection of fine cigars, pipes, and pipe tobacco. Together, the neighboring businesses offer fun specials like cigar and pint pairings or specially blended pipe tobaccos that complement specific beers on draft.
“Our sole purpose in doing this is to expand people’s knowledge of Arkansas craft beer,” Rhonda says.
A generous and committed business ethos is certainly worth celebrating, so plan an outing to Creekside Taproom soon, and raise a glass to Arkansas craft beer.
Offerings: A rotating selection of beers from: Core, Ozark, Apple Blossom, Fossil Cove, Bike Rack, Diamond Bear, Saddlebock, Columbus House, Bentonville Brewing Company, Black Apple Crossing, and Post Family Wines.
Pints average: $5 to $6 a glass (tax included)
Growlers: $16 to fill
Beer flights (four 4-ounce beers): $8
100-2 E. Alpine St., Siloam Springs
Open Tuesday - Saturday. See website for details.