Apple Blossom Brewing Company is a happening place these days. There’s a new brewer, a new distributor, and a ton of cool stuff that keeps craft brewing fans coming back for more.
Former brewmaster Nathan Traw moved up the road to Core Brewing back in October 2014 and has since been replaced with Marcus Ward. A longtime homebrewer, Ward got his first taste of commercial brewing by way of a chance encounter at his neighborhood brewery.
“Ben [Mills] opened Fossil Cove about a block from where I lived at the time,” he said. “So I went to see what was going on over there. I met Andy Coates, who was at the time working at West Mountain. He invited me to come work with him, and he pretty much taught me everything I know about large scale brewing.”
Ward assumed fulltime brewing responsibilities following Coates’ departure from West Mountain. After a short excursion to Portland, Oregon Ward moved back to Northwest Arkansas and took over the brewhouse at Apple Blossom. He said his favorite brew thus far has been a Helles-style lager – which should be on tap soon.
Apple Blossom also recently switched distributors. Co-owner Sammie Stephenson said everyone has been extremely happy with new partner Arkansas Craft Distributors’ focus on craft beer and nothing else (as opposed to the full range of liquor many distributors carry). The number of accounts is on a steady rise, and the demand for Apple Blossom beer is picking up in the central part of the state. The brewery recently participated in a food and beer pairing event at Little Rock’s South on Main (a restaurant project from literary magazine Oxford American), and sponsored a tap takeover at Flying Saucer. Apple Blossom’s beer can also be found at Superior Bathhouse in Hot Springs.
Collaboration brews are quite popular these days, and Apple Blossom is on the leading edge of the practice here in Arkansas. Joint batches have recently been brewed with Moody Brews, Bike Rack, Foster’s Pint and Plate, the soon-to-be War Eagle Brewing and Distilling, and J.T. Wampler of Tanglewood Branch fame. The brewers split the cost of each batch and took home half of the beer produced. A gentlemen’s agreement ensures that none of the breweries will brew a collaboration recipe on a solo basis. Stephenson said to watch for announcements on upcoming collaborations, which are taking place almost every month.
Apple Blossom has been highly involved with the local homebrewing community for some time now, hosting the monthly meeting of FLOPS and recently sponsoring a brewing competition for amateurs. Matt Milliren – the winner of the most recent competition – was rewarded with an opportunity to brew his Belgian pale ale on Apple Blossom’s brewing system. The batch is making its way through production now and should soon be available for sampling. The next brewing competition will be officially announced at the Arkansas Brewers Festival, which will take place in Little Rock on July 18. Homebrewers will be asked to submit a porter-style beer, and the winner will brew his or her recipe at Apple Blossom in November.
Overall, Stephenson said Apple Blossom is busy keeping up with demand, but is putting considerable effort into improving its product.
“We’ve been fine tuning a lot of our flagship beers,” he said.
“Once Marcus got his feet under him, he found things in the recipe to change,” said co-owner Evan McDonald. “He found things in the process to improve.”
Year round beers receiving a tweak include Armstrong Pale Ale, Hazy Morning Coffee Stout, Unwind Wheat, Soulless Ginger, Rover Red, and Trouble with Tripels.
And there is still room for creativity in the brewhouse. Firkins – or cask-conditioned beers – are tapped most Fridays. Apple Blossom is even experimenting with non-alcoholic beers and other liquid libations.
“We’ve been fooling around with ciders,” said Stephenson. “We’ve tried 12 different combinations of bases and yeasts so far.”
Apple Blossom has become a pillar of the local brewing community. The brewery is innovative, and unafraid to take a stand on issues important to the industry. Look for an upcoming story on McDonald’s recent trip to Washington, D.C. to discuss brewing-related bills with Arkansas’ congressional delegation.
In the meantime pay a visit to Apple Blossom Brewing Company and enjoy some quality local beer.
Brian Sorensen (@EBSorensen) is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds.