The brewing hot streak continues in Benton County next month with the arrival of Bentonville Brewing Company. Located at 1000 SE 5th Street, the brewery will become the second to open in a town that once frowned upon fermented beverages (the county was dry prior to a 2012 vote to allow alcohol sales).
Managing partners Lee Robinson and Gavin Edwards are leading a team of investors with the assistance of brewer Beau Boykin and wife Katie Boykin, who will handle marketing and administrative duties for the brewery.
Robinson – who maintains a full-time job as a mortgage loan officer – said he first got the idea for the brewery while making beer in his garage with friends. He laughed when asked how many batches it took before he thought about going pro.
“I still don’t think I can do this for a living,” he said. “It may just always be a small local taproom where you can get some good, quality craft beer. But if we ever decide to scale it up, maybe I’ll quit my day job and manage it full-time. As of right now this is just an expensive hobby. Hopefully it will be a little more than that one day.”
Finding a place close to downtown Bentonville that was affordable was important to the management team at Bentonville Brewing Company. The brewery is located in one unit of a large warehouse facility, next to a modest residential area. The Razorback Greenway passes close by – which makes the square, Crystal Bridges, and other Bentonville attractions a short ride away.
The taproom is a communal space with long wooden tables that sit at bar height. The walls of the room are wrapped in corrugated metal, and lights hang from the ceiling high above. The bar, which is also adorned with tin, dominates the side of the room opposite the entrance. The brewhouse itself can be found down a hallway behind the bar, and is for the most part out of sight, out of mind.
Katie Boykin said she envisions the space as a place folks can come to relax and hangout with family and friends.
“It’s not going to be a dark, seedy place to just get drunk,” she said. “You can sit outside on the patio and have a few beers with your friends. It’s almost like what pubs used to be before prohibition, when every neighborhood had its own pub that brewed its own beer.”
Bentonville Brewing Company hopes to be just that – a neighborhood pub. The colors in its logo were inspired by the local high school, and the slogan – “assume your natural state” – is a shout out to Arkansas. Katie Boykin said games, acoustic music, and food trucks will be the norm at the brewery.
The brewhouse is a 7-barrel system that was found after a search that spanned almost eight months. The brewing industry is so hot right now that equipment disappears almost as soon as it hits the market.
Two 7-barrel and two 14-barrel fermenters will nurture the beer as yeast converts sugar into alcohol. All of the equipment sits in a tight space that won’t allow for much onsite expansion. Bottling or canning beer will not be a possibility at the current location.
Beau Boykin, who grew up with Robinson in Mississippi, is tackling his first job as a commercial brewer. To this point he has brewed exclusively at home. He said he has already brewed a batch of amber ale at Bentonville Brewing Company that the public should really like.
“It’s one of our gateway beers so it’s lower in IBUs [international bitterness units],” he said. “With the water profile that we use we want to highlight the malt characteristic. So it’s really biscuity, and kind of nutty.”
Gateway beers – or those that Miller, Coors, and Budweiser drinkers tend to drink as they transition to craft – will be a primary focus of Bentonville Brewing Company.
“A lot of people will come in here asking if they can get a Bud Light,” said Robinson. “And we don’t want to turn them away. We want to convert light lager drinkers into craft beer fans.”
In addition to the amber ale, a Belgian wit will serve as a bridge across the macro-micro divide.
Craft beer veterans shouldn’t feel left out, though. The full spectrum of styles will be represented at Bentonville Brewing Company, including the hoppy varieties that have won legions of fans across the craft beer world.
“We’re all hoppy IPA drinkers here,” said Robinson. “If it was up to me, all we’d have are IPAs – singles, doubles, triples. We think the IPA that we have now [which will be ready to pour when the brewery opens] will be one of the best in Northwest Arkansas. We’re really proud of it.”
For the foreseeable future Bentonville Brewing Company will focus on taproom sales and a handful of draft accounts. Growth will come slowly, though the long-range vision includes much more than what the public will see at the brewery’s grand opening.
“Hopefully one day this will be our pilot facility and tasting room,” said Robinson. “We’ll move our production somewhere outside Bentonville and start canning or bottling there. But I don’t think we’ll ever want to be bigger than a small regional brewery.”
A grand opening is expected to take place June 5-6. Watch for announcements on the brewery’s Facebook page as we near first pour.