The first brewing shift starts at 5 a.m. on North Birch Avenue in Fayetteville, well before last night’s beers have fully departed from their owners. It’s an early, artful process that’s overseen by Fossil Cove’s brewers and enjoyed by their customers in Washington County.
Seven years ago, this morning ritual was Benjamin Mills’ dream and an uncommon workday in Arkansas.
“Craft beer development will come down to trends in population growth,” said Mills, 30, owner and head brewer at Fossil Cove. “Arkansas will be limited by only having two metropolitan areas to serve, some of the state is dry, and the religious culture leads many people to not accept or consume the beer.”
Today, Mills’ love for creating craft beer is more widely shared across the state, which has allowed Arkansas to exceed the national growth rate. Since 2012, the number of craft breweries in the state has increased by 160 percent, while the United States as a whole has only seen a 116 percent increase, according to the Brewers Association.
However, even with this cataclysmic growth, Arkansas is still far behind in number of breweries and production capacity in most other states.
“(Dry counties) negatively impact Arkansas’ potential,” said Jesse Core, founder of Core Brewing Co. in Springdale. “While I understand the reason why liquor stores and communities may choose to stay dry, this does impact the number of breweries the state could enjoy.”
Arkansas still ranks 38th and 46th in number of breweries per capita and barrels of beer produced, respectively. The state also missed the initial surge of growth from 1990 to 1999 when the number of breweries in the U.S. increased by 450 percent, according to the Brewers Association.
Above is an interactive map, with each pin representing one of the 28 craft breweries in Arkansas. Clicking on a pin will reveal information about the brewery at that location.
For people like John Beachboard, owner of Lost Forty Brewing in Little Rock, continuing to make craft beer popular in Arkansas requires a continual development of culture.
“My goals have been the same ever since we started (in 2014),” Beachboard, 37, said. “To grow craft beer in the state of Arkansas.”
“When I say growing beer I mean growing the knowledge base and the volume of production… building a culture where local craft beer is important to business and the community,” Beachboard said.
In 2016 Lost Forty brewed 10,000 barrels of beer and is undergoing an expansion that will nearly double that capacity, making them one of the largest breweries in the state. Despite out-of-state offers, Lost Forty has decided to solely produce their beer in Little Rock and only sell it across Arkansas.
Beachboard’s dedication to investing in the state can be linked to his history as a restaurant guru in Central Arkansas, where he is a co-owner of Big Orange, ZAZA’s Pizza and Local Lime.
For Beachboard, local business means better business. It’s a garrison for warriors of culture, entrepreneurs resurrecting quality and customers who care about how things are made.
“Beer is a food product, like a slice of pizza and a steak,” Beachboard said. “A steak won’t taste good if you shove it in a hot can and send it 1200 miles to sit on a shelf for 10 weeks. As the customers get more and more discerning they’ll be able to tell the taste between an old product and a new product.”
Mills agrees that quality will dictate the market, but he also noted the importance of product consistency and experimentation in the brewing process.
“One of our main goals has been education and bringing new stuff into the state to challenge people’s palates,” Mills said. “I think there is a push for higher demand in volume, experimentation and variety.”
Booming… For now
The current number of breweries across the U.S. is unparalleled in United States history. The last time there were over 4,000 breweries in the U.S. was before the Prohibition in the 1870’s, according to the Brewers Association.
“One of the trends we see now is that people are reverting back to the days before prohibition,” Mills said. “People frequent local pubs and breweries more because they are proud to support them. They like going to tasting rooms that they enjoy.”
Within Arkansas, the majority of breweries have developed in the northwest. Some, like Fossil Cove, are focusing on organic growth and primarily serve Washington County while others, like Core, have looked to develop a customer base in Arkansas and surrounding markets.
Core is selling beer in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, southwest Missouri, and across the state of Arkansas, according to Jesse Core.
As more breweries open up in the state and across the country there is speculation about when, or if, the craft beer market will become saturated. This question has become a conversation topic for local home-brewers and beer connoisseurs, like Will Faist, 27, of Bentonville, who has lived in Northwest Arkansas since 2010.
“(The craft beer market) has blown up like nobody’s business,” Faist said. “I think we are in a spot where we are seeing a lot more basic brewing in Northwest Arkansas but not a lot of niche brewing. The market is going to have to start more niche brewing in order to continue to grow.”
Mills also has concerns about how Arkansas can sustain this growth, referencing towns in Colorado like Boulder and Fort Collins as examples of places that cannot support their current number of breweries. If the growth continues in Northwest Arkansas, he thinks the same problem may occur.
Nevertheless, Beachboard has a different outlook, focusing on the importance of local products to consumers.
“Despite what some might say, craft beer isn’t a fad but even more than that local definitely isn’t a fad,” Beachboard said. “Whether you’re talking about beer, food, retail, shopping… it’s not going away. It’s important to my generation, the generation before me and the generation after me.”