Mike Peerson and Levi Taylor / Courtesy photo
Foster’s Pint & Plate opened in Rogers in 2015 amidst the explosion of craft brewing in Northwest Arkansas. For the most part it flew under the radar, overshadowed by bigger or more expressive breweries in the area.
The brewpub was so overlooked, in fact, that most people in Northwest Arkansas missed the change that occurred in the brewhouse last fall. Original brewer Kyle Brummal departed and the reins were turned over to Mike Peerson and Levi Taylor of the newly-formed Rendezvous Junction Brewing Co.
The two men — who are related by virtue of Taylor’s marriage to Peerson’s daughter LeAnna — started working on the concept after a trip to New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colorado in late 2014. They weren’t even homebrewers at the time, but they already knew they wanted to go pro one day.
“After the tour we were drinking beer,” says Peerson. “And Levi said, ‘Man, it would be awesome to do this for a living.’ And I said, ‘Well, we need to start in the garage first.’”
When the pair returned to Northwest Arkansas they purchased a homebrewing kit and started working on their version of Deschutes Brewery’s Mirror Pond Pale Ale (which Peerson had developed a taste for while living and working in Seattle a few years prior). Replicating a commercial beer on a homebrew level is hard to achieve, so instead they started creating their own recipes.
They joined the Ozark Zymurgists — a homebrewing club based in Rogers — and developed a close friendship with the folks at homebrew supply shop Anuway Hydroponics. You might say they broke out with homebrewing fever because they were making beer twice a week (which is quite a bit for homebrewers). In the process they developed nearly 40 recipes that would later serve as the inspiration for Rendezvous Junction beers.
Getting serious about going pro
Photo: Brian Sorensen
A group of friends Peerson calls the “Taste Buds” served as guinea pigs for Peerson and Taylor’s beers, providing feedback and helping the pair fine tune their recipes. Those friends were so impressed with what they tasted that they started questioning why the father-in-law, son-in-law duo weren’t brewing commercially.
Then Chris Moore of Foster’s Pint & Plate entered the picture.
Peerson and Taylor joined a bowling league at Fast Lanes in Rogers, which is also owned by Moore. The men were eventually introduced and a friendship quickly formed. Moore was working through personnel issues in his various businesses and looked to Peerson — who has had a long career in corporate leadership — for opinions and advice.
“He calls me a mentor,” says Peerson. “But, actually he’s been mentoring me. He is a true entrepreneur, whereas I’m sheltered by the world’s largest company [Peerson works for Walmart]. Someone who steps out on his own like he did…I have a lot of respect for him for doing that.”
When Foster’s brewer decided to leave to pursue other interests, the door opened for Peerson and Taylor to give professional brewing a go.
Fortunately, Brummel stuck around long enough to show the new brewers how to operate the system at Foster’s. This provided the men with a soft transition into their new jobs. They brewed a few batches under the Foster’s name, and then in October 2017 they obtained their “small brewery” permit from the state, and Rendezvous Junction was officially born.
“It just so happened that everything that needed to fall into place fell into place,” says Taylor. “As much as we wanted to do this, it takes a lot of guts to put $500,000 or $1 million into a brewery. This allows us to work 45-50 hours a week at our day jobs and do this at night.”
Like his father-in-law, Taylor works for the world’s largest retailer.
The relationship between Foster’s Pint & Plate and Rendezvous Junction is ongoing. Foster’s operated under a “microbrewery restaurant” permit with a five-barrel brewhouse tucked just around the corner from the kitchen behind a glass wall. Foster’s still owns the equipment, but in order for Rendezvous Junction to function as a small brewery, an exterior door was installed in the brewhouse and an internal wall was constructed to separate the brewery from the restaurant.
Details of the partnership were not disclosed, but it’s safe to say that Moore and Rendezvous Junction have a business relationship that will extend into the foreseeable future.
So far, the fledgling brewery has produced 80 barrels of beer. According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, Foster’s produced just shy of 100 barrels in 2016 (the last year for which such data is available). With only four five-barrel fermenters, brewing output is somewhat limited at this point. Space is in short supply inside the brewery, and until a reefer trailer was recently dropped on the property, cold storage was also an issue. Rendezvous Junction is, however, in no rush to grow.
“We’re young at this,” says Taylor. “We’re still learning how to scale up from five-gallon batches.”
The vast majority of beer is currently sold to Foster’s, but the goal is to push beer into a few outside accounts soon.
From Boondoggle to Rendezvous Junction
One of Peerson’s colleagues used the term “boondoggle” during an offsite meeting a few years ago, and Peerson became intrigued with its meaning. There are various definitions, but he interpreted it as a gathering of people who have no purpose other than to have fun together.
So, he christened his soon-to-be brewery Boondoggle Brewing Co. “When getting together doesn’t need a purpose” was the slogan. He was so serious about the name that he dubbed his boat Boondoggle as well.
Unfortunately, that name was trademarked by an outfit in Connecticut and Peerson and Taylor were forced to come up with something else. They settled on Rendezvous Junction Brewing Co. because it captured the sentiment of the original name—people getting together—and gave a nod to the historic Frisco Railroad in the brewery’s hometown of Rogers.
According to Peerson, each of the beers in the Rendezvous Junction lineup is named for activities related to (or feelings invoked by) people coming together. Examples include Shindig White Wheat Ale, Lollygagger Double IPA, Just Jammin’ Cream Ale, and Shenanigans Imperial IPA.
As far as how the men want their new brand to be viewed by others, they seem to be on the same page.
“We want to craft beer that brings beer together,” said Peerson, who is a native of Oklahoma and a pharmacist by trade. “We are also fascinated by the feedback, both good and bad. We want to hear it. That’s who we are…we listen and respond.”
Taylor, who is from Melbourne, Arkansas and is a former basketball player at Lyon College in Batesville, asserts that it’s about making a product that people seek out. “We’re not drawing any salary with this,” he says. “We’re doing this strictly because we enjoy it. We enjoy hearing someone say, ‘This is really good beer.’”
“Well, we hope to make money one day,” Peerson adds with a smile and a laugh. “But right now, the driving force is around getting feedback.”