South Fayetteville has been devoid of a brewing operation since Tanglewood Branch closed back in 2014. Since then the area’s brewing scene has continued to expand, although mostly in Benton Country rather than down here in our fair city.
That will change soon when Crisis Brewing opens up just off Archibald Yell Boulevard and right next door to Penguin Ed’s B&B Barbeque. Ed’s daughter Liz and her husband Sean Slape are the forces behind Fayetteville’s latest brewing industry entrant, and they are anxious to bring beer back to that part of town.
The couple is back in Fayetteville after time spent chasing Sean’s career in chemical and biological engineering. Liz is no stranger to career moves herself. She held down a couple of high-profile gigs in sales, marketing, and consulting while the couple bounced between Chicago and Denver.
“Denver was fun,” said Liz. “We liked it there.” The couple lived about 10 minutes from the famed Red Rocks Amphitheater and enjoyed the amenities that come with being in the heart of the Rockies. “One of the best shows we saw at Red Rocks was Big Head Todd,” she said with a tinge of nostalgia.
The Slapes are originally from Fayetteville, however, and are admittedly happy to be home. Liz moved back a year ago so their son could start school, and Sean followed a few months later. The goal was to transition from 8-to-5 careers to more of an entrepreneurial endeavor. “We knew we wanted our own business,” said Liz. “And we wanted more independence and control over our time.”
Being the daughter of Penguin Ed—the acclaimed Fayetteville businessman and restaurateur Ed Knight—there was an initial temptation to open a restaurant of their own. Sensing a growing receptivity to locally produced beer, however, they quickly turned to Sean’s hobby of 10 years for inspiration.
Sean had been brewing beer since attending the University of Arkansas’ graduate program in chemical engineering. “Chem-Es [the nickname for students in the program] talked about homebrewing all the time,” he recalled. “So I started making beer with five-gallons kits I picked up at the local homebrew store.”
Before long he moved to all-grain brewing due to the added control over ingredients and the brewing process itself. His focus was mostly on traditional styles, although he enjoyed experimenting from time-to-time. “It’s the whole idea that you can brew whatever you want,” said Sean, referring to the reason he enjoyed making his own beer so much. “I like to drink different styles, and I’m interested in how slight changes in ingredients can affect the outcome.”
Crisis Brewing — the name chosen for the couple’s brewery project — is a not-so-subtle play on words. “We lovingly named it after our midlife crisis,” said Liz. The building that stands across the parking lot from Penguin Ed’s B&B Barbeque needed a lot of work to be brewery-ready. So much work, in fact, that it has been overwhelming at times.
Sean has been tackling most of the build out himself—although he’s to the point that some outside contractors are necessary to speed things up. “It’s exciting and a little nerve racking at the same time,” said Sean. “We’re in the middle of construction right now, but the permitting is all wrapped up.”
Once the brewery is open it will sport a two-barrel system and feature small-batch production in a small taproom environment. “It’s going to be a tiny pub,” said Liz. The taproom design is her domain. “If it involves making it pretty, that’s my role,” she said. “It will be cozy and womb-like. A cozy little cave with seating for about thirty people.”
Crisis Brewing’s beer will only be available in the taproom for the foreseeable future. The super-small system will prevent distribution outside the brewery, although takeaway beer will be available in growlers. When asked if her father’s restaurant across the parking lot will serve her husband’s beer, Liz said if and when production expands, “…he’ll be the first in line.”
As far as the beer goes, the Slapes said we can expect several traditional styles on a year-round basis, with a few taps reserved for rotational and experimental brews. Sean has been busy perfecting his recipes for Averted Pale Ale, Major Milk Stout, Existential IPA, and Identity Double IPA. Local designer Brittany Phillips created labels for those beers, although — once again — distribution outside the taproom will be limited to growler fills only for now.
Engineers are often thought to be excellent brewers. Their understanding and devotion to process is the underpinning to high quality, drinkable brews. Sean Slape’s academic and professional background will pay dividends in his new career. “Quality will always be the concern,” he told me during our recent interview.
Liz knows her husband is laser-beam focused on making Crisis Brewing a success. Over the years she has seen the emphasis he places on quality in his homebrewing practices. “You should see our kitchen,” she told me. “It’s full of microscopes, stir plates, and things like that. He totally geeks out on that stuff. He’s really passionate about making high-quality beer.”
Come next year, Fayetteville residents will get a chance to judge the quality of Crisis Brewing for themselves. The preliminary plan is for the taproom to be open Thursday through Sunday, with hours somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-10pm (subject to change). Liz said she and her husband are proud to be a part of town south of the downtown square.
“There’s a lot of cool development down here, and now there will be a cool place for people to walk or bike to in south Fayetteville.”