Photo: Brian Sorensen
Eureka Springs is just an hour drive from Fayetteville, making it an easy day trip for people living along the I-49 corridor.
Eureka is known for its Victorian architecture, downtown shopping, and bohemian vibe. It has been a popular tourist destination for decades.
Now, for fans of Arkansas beer, there’s a new reason to make the trek to Eureka Springs.
Gotahold Brewing opened on July 2 at 409 W. Van Buren, making it the second brewery in town (the first being Eureka Springs Brewery).
The owners and operators of Gotahold — Dave and Wendy Reese Hartmann — are new to Eureka, but are not strangers to the brewing industry.
Here is some of their story.
Dave Hartmann studied environmental engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York in the late 80s and early 90s.
While there, the native Long Islander learned to brew from a professor. Though he enjoyed his engineering curriculum, Dave fell head over heels for beer and decided to make it a career.
“At the time, craft breweries were just starting to pop up,” he said. “There was one called Long Trail [Brewing Co.] in Vermont, where I managed to talk my way into a job.”
After a year and a half at Long Trail, Dave determined he needed a formal brewing education and enrolled at the University of California, Davis. There he studied brewing science under Dr. Michael Lewis, perhaps the most renowned brewing educator in modern times.
After completing his studies, Dave worked at breweries in California, Wisconsin, and New York.
His most memorable experience, however, was working for a “family” brewery in Germany.
“Our family is from Germany, and we were doing some research, trying to figure out where we came from,” said Dave. “The best we can tell our family immigrated to the U.S. from northern Bavaria in the 1880s. There’s a brewery there called Hartmann brewery. If anything, they’re very distant [relatives].”
Just like he had done to gain his first job at Long Trail, Dave talked his way into a job in Deutschland.
“I went over there and more or less said, ‘Uncle, I’m back from America!’”
Smitten with the young American on their doorstep, the Germans put Dave to work. He spent the next year brewing at Brauerei-Gasthof Hartmann — which also serves as an inn — three days each week, traveling throughout Bavaria on his days off.
Dave’s brewing career came full circle when he returned to Long Trail Brewing Co. in 2009, this time as brewmaster. Under his leadership the brewery’s output grew to nearly 150,000 barrels per year. But more importantly, it’s where he met Wendy.
Gotahold Brewing is located at 409 W. Van Buren behind Rowdy Beaver Tavern / Photo: Brian Sorensen
Wendy Reese Hartmann
“My background and passion are health and fitness,” said Wendy Reese Hartmann. “I’ve been in fitness for as long as Dave has been brewing, maybe a little longer.”
Wendy is a native of Midwest City, Oklahoma. She studied exercise science at Northern Arizona University.
After college she moved to Phoenix and taught health and wellness programs as a private instructor. In time, Wendy was asked to teach a class at a community center in one of the last remaining barrios in Phoenix.
“My class was primarily Mexican and Mexican-American,” she said. “I think I only had two students at any given time who could speak English, so I learned Spanish to teach them how to exercise.”
Inspired by the experience, Wendy went on to earn a master’s degree in applied community change and conservation. She continued her work with Phoenix’s Hispanic community.
Wendy’s worldview has been influenced by her community involvement and love for people. But where did her love for beer come from?
“I was drinking craft beer in college and knew people in Arizona who operated breweries,” she said. “But my interest in beer really took off when I met Dave.”
Wendy met Dave through a friend who had moved to Vermont and was dating someone at Long Trail Brewing Co. That someone happened to be Dave’s boss.
They hit it off. Dave visited Wendy in Arizona, and it wasn’t long after his visit that she packed her bags and moved to Vermont. And as they say, the rest is history.
Choosing Eureka Springs
Dave Hartmann / Photo: Brian Sorensen
After they married, the Hartmanns moved to New York and Dave took a job as brewmaster at Yonkers Brewing Co.
They decided they wanted to open a brewery of their own, initially setting their sights on the Hudson Valley. But Wendy wasn’t feeling New York anymore. Her parents were still down south, and she was hoping to locate a little closer to them.
The Hartmanns had certain criteria in mind as they considered potential sites for their brewery. According to Dave, they were looking for a temperate climate, lots of outdoor opportunities, and a creative spirit. For Wendy, an open-minded, open-hearted community was an important factor.
“I wanted to be somewhere that was openly LGBTQ friendly, because my dad is gay and I wanted a place he could come to and feel safe,” she said.
Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina were early contendors.
As luck would have it, a friend of Wendy has a home in Eureka Springs. He started pitching it as a place for them to land. Eventually the Hartmanns gave in and decided to see it for themselves. Surprisingly, Eureka checked most of their boxes.
“We immediately loved this place and wanted to live here,” said Dave. “People are super friendly and it’s really easy to meet people. Which is different than up north, honestly.”
Long story short, Wendy has really great friends. One introduced her to Dave, another introduced them both to Eureka Springs.
The brewery and the beer
Photo: Brian Sorensen
Gotahold (the name is a reference to the way Eureka Springs “got a hold” of the Hartmanns) sports a seven-barrel, steam fired brewhouse. Keeping with recent trends in the brewing industry, it’s designed to serve the taproom first. Distribution is an afterthought at this point.
The taproom is modest. There are a couple of rooms of indoor seating, and windows provide an up close view of the brewing vessels.
Although some outdoor seating was in the plan, additional space was cleared behind the brewery so people can spread out among the trees. There is also a stage for musicians back there, and room for a food truck or two.
Dave is happy to be rid of the constraints of large-scale brewing. At the end of his Long Trail tenure he was focused on producing the same beers over and over again. Making enough of the brewery’s flagship beers and ensuring shelf stability were the goals.
“I’ve been at this for a long time,” he said. “Now I’m much more interested in experimental brewing and other things, like barrel-aged beers, sours, and foeder beers.”
Dave has already brewed a few sour beers at Gotahold, using the kettle souring technique. It allows for a quick infusion of tartness by souring the mash, pre-boil. In the future he plans to use Brettanomyces (a yeast with a wild kick) and Lactobacillus (a mouth puckering bacteria) to sour during fermentation.
Some of the more popular beers thus far include Citraspective (a sour IPA with loads of grapefruit character), Tractor Ride (a dry-hopped pilsner), Hypothecation (a Belgian-style witbier), and Bury the Hatchet (a hazy IPA).
Wendy said she favors a grisette (a Belgian-style farmhouse ale), which Gotahold will produce from time-to-time.
Above all, the Hartmanns promise great variety at Gotahold, with offerings based on season, weather, and whim.
Black is Beautiful
If anything concerned the Hartmanns about moving to Eureka Springs, it was the stigma associated with living in an ultra-conservative state.
“Arkansas is a red state, and with as many pride flags as I see [in Eureka Springs] there are an equal number of confederate flags,” said Wendy. “There’s still a very, very strong conservative religious belief system here, and that can be challenging.”
The Hartmanns are open about their liberal points of view. Their sensibilities show up in the personality of the brewery itself. For Wendy it’s both personal and purposeful.
Several years ago, she learned that her great-grandfather was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It was a painful discovery for Wendy, who said there were other racist tendencies in her family.
“It took a lot to get beyond that,” she said. Much of her life’s work has been dedicated to connecting people with diverse backgrounds.
It was Wendy who advocated for Gotahold to brew “Black is Beautiful” — a beer created by Marcus Baskerville of Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio, Texas to highlight the injustices faced by people of color.
Baskerville asked participating breweries to donate 100% of the proceeds to local organizations that support police reform. The Hartmanns chose the Northwest Arkansas Urban League of Young Professionals as its beneficiary.
“Even though we’re in this really cool open-minded place [Eureka Springs], there’s still the need for some healing and heart changing around us,” said Wendy.
The Hartmanns said they want Gotahold to be a place people from across the socio-political spectrum can come together as one. You certainly don’t have to agree with their politics to come in and have a beer.
“I want it to be a place that makes a difference,” said Wendy. “A place that people can come to and make memories, make new friends, build bridges. It’s as simple as that.”
Black is Beautiful is not for the faint of heart. It’s a big, bold stout with 9% ABV. Dave said he took some artistic license with the recipe, toning down the roast character to make it more drinkable in the summer heat.
COVID and beyond
Like other breweries across the state, Gotahold has taken measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread in its taproom.
Customers are greeted at the door for a temperature check. There’s an ample supply of hand sanitizer. Masks are required indoors, and outdoor seating provides plenty of space for social distancing.
Unfortunately, the situation did make a big grand opening impossible. Instead, the brewery opened quietly, letting in the slow trickle of people ready to venture out of home quarantine for some beer.
Perhaps looking for a silver lining, Dave said there has been an advantage to opening a business in the middle of a global pandemic.
“One of the good things is that new businesses already don’t know what the hell is going on,” said Dave. “We didn’t go from having an existing set of procedures to suddenly rewriting the rules. It’s all we’ve known since day one.”
As for Arkansas, the Hartmanns are happy to have settled in a state full of natural beauty, friendly people, and a growing beer industry.
“Arkansas breweries are making good beer,” said Dave. “From my perspective, coming from the east coast, it feels very early here. Maybe 10 to 15 years behind other areas of the country. That’s great in a way because there’s lots of room for growth, and a lot of cool things are going to happen.”
“And it feels like home more than anywhere I’ve been in my life,” he added, clearly enchanted by Eureka Springs.