Photo: Brian Sorensen
Just 25 years ago, there were no breweries in operation in Arkansas. Think about that for a second
Now in 2017, there are over two 30 breweries across The Natural State, and the industry is still growing rapidly as Arkansans’ thirst for local craft brew continues to expand.
The story of the recent explosion of the brewing industry in Arkansas, as well as the stories of a few pre-prohibition breweries that gave it a go decades ago, are all told in a new book titled Arkansas Beer: An Intoxicating History.
The book, published by Arkadia (The History Press) and due out this fall, was written by Fayetteville resident and Fayetteville Flyer contributor Brian Sorensen.
The way he tells it, Sorensen sort of cut his teeth writing about beer in his column here on the Flyer, and the publisher, who was familiar with Sorensen’s column, reached out to him to gauge his interest in writing a book about the fast-growing Arkansas beer scene. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“It was kind of a bucket list thing for me. I wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby one day. I want to go to Oktoberfest. I wanted to write a book,” he said. “So I just decided to go for it. And what better to write a book about than beer?”
Sorensen began working on the project in May of 2016. He conducted over 70 interviews with brewers, entrepreneurs, and representatives from breweries all over the state. He also poured over old newspaper articles researching some of the first breweries in the state.
All told, Sorensen said he spent hundreds of hours working on the finished product, most of it late at night after his kids went to bed.
The book begins with a foreword by local homebrewer and prominent podcaster James Spencer, who’s Basic Brewing audio and video episodes are some of the most popular homebrewing podcasts in the world. Spencer also happens to be a native Arkansan who has had a front row seat for the explosion of the brewing industry, one with the unique perspective of someone who has both watched and covered the scene as it has evolved.
“In thinking about someone to write a forward, James just made a lot of sense,” Sorensen said. “He has played a role in a lot of the state’s brewers getting into the hobby and then turning it into a career.”
Arkansas Beer: An Intoxicating History
Publisher: The History Press
Release Date: 09/11/2017
Series: American Palate
Images: 87 Color sigs / inserts
After that, Sorensen digs into the history of brewing in Arkansas, including the earliest known commercial breweries in the state as far back as the 1840s, when by The George Brothers in Little Rock opened what is considered to be the first Arkansas brewery.
From there, he chronicles the history of brewing in the state up through the Prohibition era, when it all but dried up until recently.
There was the short-lived Arkansas Brewing Company that operated in Little Rock from 1984-86. There was Weidman’s Old Fort Brew Pub, which opened in 1992 on the site of the former Joseph Knoble Brewery that operated in Fort Smith back in the late 1800s.
Sorensen also gets into some modern-day breweries that blazed trails and opened doors for the current popularity of brewing in Arkansas that is happening now. A few examples of the breweries who helped pioneer the age of beer we’re experiencing now are: Vino’s, which opened in the 1990s and still brews today; Diamond Bear – Arkansas’ first true production brewery; and Fayetteville’s Ozark Brewing Company, which opened on Dickson Street and is the first known brewery in Northwest Arkansas (Ozark eventually became Hog Haus Brewing Company).
From there, Sorensen spends time with just about every brewery that has opened in Arkansas since then, from those that have been around since the early 2000s up to the recently-opened JJ’s Beer Garden & Brewing Company (JBGB) in Fayetteville.
Sorensen said he knows that writing a book on a growing industry has the potential to become outdated pretty quickly, but he feels like he’s captured a pretty faithful snapshot of everything that’s happened so far.
“It’s impossible to capture all the nuance, and it’s offered through my own lens, but my hope is that it’s a fair representation, and an accurate depiction of our history and what’s going on currently,” he said.
The book is already available for pre-order online, and will be available to purchase locally on Monday, Sept. 11.
Sorensen said he expects to host a few book signing events at local book stores and breweries at that time, but those details have not been announced yet. The book is 176 pages with 87 color sigs and inserts. A paperback copy will retail for around $22.
In talking to dozens of brewers and brewery owners over the last year, Sorensen said he did notice some similarities in the personalities he encountered.
“All of these people kind of have a trailblazing characteristic,” Sorensen said. “They want to do their own thing. They don’t necessarily enjoy working for the man. A lot of them have given up successful careers to pursue brewing.
“Plus, man, beer culture is pretty awesome. These people are freaking cool. They are easy to know. They are easy to get along with. They like to share their stories.”
For more information about the new book, or to place a pre-order, visit arcadiapublishing.com.