Our Continued Tour of Tasty Regional Breweries Finds a Few More Places Making Beer Great Again.
by Josh Williams
photography by Chris Brashers
In case you didn’t catch the first installment of our ode to Arkansas- based breweries, you’re in luck, because the second installment features people who are just as friendly and knowledgeable and beer that is just as tasty and effervescent as before. Now, the three establishments featured here are in Little Rock. The water comes from the Ouachitas, and the water is the most important thing to remember. The gracious hosts at Lost Forty Brewing, Flyway Brewing, and Blue Canoe Brewing Company made Chris’ and my day all warm and fuzzy.
Lost Forty Brewing
We started our day at 501 Byrd Street in downtown Little Rock. I had been here before. The large, white building on a cracked, oil-stain laden side street was strangely inviting. As I walked up to the front door, the aroma of fermented yeast, malted barley and cheese (I’ll explain) wafted into my nostrils. I opened the door and saw Chris (our photographer) with his camera, already on its tripod, near the table closest to the bar. The rustic atmosphere and the unobstructed view to the brewery was welcoming. He greeted me with a warm handshake and asked if I could smell the cheese. I confirmed his question and I ordered the legendary (to these parts) cheese dip and their signature brew, the Love Honey Bock, and asked if I could speak to the brewmaster.
A couple minutes later, Dylan Yelenich came to our table and I said, “There’s the man behind the myth!” He laughed and responded with “Yeah, I’m a brewer at heart, but I’m really just the production manager now, if that’s what you want to call me. There are no titles here. We have six dudes back there that work extremely hard and put in a lot of time every day.” Omar Castrellon is the brewmaster at Lost Forty, and we never saw him. Dylan wasn’t being untruthful about those guys working hard. I mean, they produced 4000 barrels in 2015, and they have their beer in businesses all over the state (Hot Springs, Texarkana, Memphis, Jonesboro, NW Arkansas). That’s not bad for a brewery that’s been open for all of 16 months. They have a dozen beers on tap at any time, ranging from the traditional Bare Bones Pilsner to the more extravagant Forest Queen Izard Chocolate Milk Stout. In addition to unique brews like the Rock Candy Belgian Abbey Ale and the Baltic Porter, they also experiment with sours and other barrel-aged projects.
“People love our beer,” Dylan said. “We’ve had a great response in the last year and the demand has risen considerably, so we are focused on the future. We want to put out a high quality product that people in Arkansas can rely on every day.” After I asked him what his favorite brew was he laughed and said, “It changes every day. They’re all my recipes, so each one is my favorite. I love them all.”
Good beer becomes better when fun and interesting events are planned around it. Lost Forty does a Sunday brunch, they do Growler-fill Wednesdays (they fill your growler with the beer of your choice for a special price) and they also host Fresh Cut Mondays, where they introduce a fresh brew to the public. In sticking with the rhetoric of the previous brewers, Dylan said, “The water here is almost perfect, it has such a clean, neutral profile. It’s a great starting base.”
Lost Forty Brewing is open every day at 11 a.m. Call (501) 319-7275, visit Lost Forty Brewing on Facebook, or go to www. Lost40brewing.com for more.
The second stop on part 2 of our hop- and-barley tour was the furniture store-turned-brew-place called Flyway Brewing. We eased up to the door at
314 Maple Street and peered into the store. We saw a grey-haired, extremely affable gentleman through the windows who beckoned us inside. His name is Matt Foster, one of the owners. He was so welcoming, it felt like we were walking into our own home. It was rustic and sleek — a kind of futuristic naturality— it was like being stuck somewhere between a Henry David Thoreau and a Phillip K. Dick novel. The combination of stainless steel and hard lines, paired with the natural wooden furniture and earthy colors adorning the walls made us feel like we were putting roots down with a glimpse into our future selves.
“I was an English and creative writing teacher at Little Rock Central for 16 years,” Matt said. “My college buddies and I had this runaway passion for brewing beer, and we just decided to go for it.” That was back at the turn of the millennium. The brewing was taking place in Matt’s garage. “I’m from Asheville, North Carolina. Craft beer capital U.S.A,” Matt beamed. “Tim Berkley, Jess McMullen and myself brought the Asheville style to Little Rock. We’re small, clean and efficient. It’s a model that Arkansas really hasn’t seen yet.” I asked him what he thought about Hot Springs. “When we started in my garage, he said, “ we were making a few small batches at a time and taking them down to some close friends in Hot Springs, asking for their input. Superior Brewery actually picked up a little bit of our stuff years down the road. We literally got our start in the Spa City.”
While we were sampling Flyway’s offerings (they have 30 in all), including staples like the Migrate Pale Ale, Free
Range Brown Ale and Shadow Hands Stout, it became clear that Flyway was here to stay. Matt said, “We’ve worked very hard to produce beer that is an honest representative of whatever side it’s on. I dedicate a lot of this to the teachers out there. I had to learn everything about the business, and I attribute my versatility and creativity to my background in education. Being a bar tender is very much like being a teacher, you have to communicate the gamut of information-everything from directing people to the bathroom to consoling people on the death of their father.”
“But why did you set up shop in Arkansas?” I asked.
“The beer culture is so new here,” Matt replied. “For one thing, the water is phenomenal. (Big surprise) But also, there is a real spirit of camaraderie in Arkansas. The Arkansas Brewers
Guild is an amazing group. We discuss everything from legislation to techniques. We exchange recipes, we share ideas, see who can do it better—we’re all big pals. Plus, the landscape here is just amazing. The hiking trails, the waterfalls, the wildlife, the lakes and rivers, even the wind is beautiful.”
After Matt gave us the grand tour of the facility and we were preparing for our next stop, Matt and Jess made it known that we had made some new friends. I joked that if they kept on going, they would be leaving Arkansas eventually. “We have the space and ability to increase our reach, but we’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing,” Matt said. “This is the new model, man. The days of huge craft breweries are in decline. This is what the people want—local product. We’re more concerned about the quality of our product and making great beer for the people than putting down a huge footprint. We love it here. Arkansas is the new south. We’ve had huge grass- roots support from all over the state, we’ve done it from the ground up, and we want to give back to the people.”
Jess added, “Yeah, the people here are so great. I have to admit, I was nervous uprooting from North Carolina. It was a huge jump for us, but the people and the beauty of this state are really amazing. The food scene is really becoming huge. Businesses like South on Main and Loblolly Creamery have played such a big role in helping our cause. It has been a wonderful surprise here in the natural state.”
Flyway Brewing is open 7 days a week, starting at noon Friday-Sunday, 5 p.m. on Monday and 4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. Give them a like on Facebook.
Blue Canoe Brewing Co.
The last stop on our warm, intoxicating day in Little Rock brought us to a swanky, island-themed brownstone in the middle of downtown. After entering the nano brewery, I expected to see Jimmy Buffet step out from around the corner with a cheeseburger in his hand. Instead, two lovely ladies popped out from around the bend and introduced themselves as owners, Laura Berryhill and Ida Cowan.
Laura, a down-home, country girl with a penchant for woodworking possessing roots in beer brewing, and Ida, an interventional anesthesiologist with a previously strong dislike for beer, didn’t seem like the prototypical beer brewers. But, looks can be deceiving, right? They knew plenty about every aspect of their operation, from the saffron used in their Eighth Wonder Ale, to the spices that go into their meat for their upcoming restaurant Taco, Beer, Burrito. Not only do they have a brewery and a future restaurant, they also make soap. Soap? “Sure,” said Ida. “The grains act as an exfoliator and allspice is good for the skin.”
Blue Canoe Brewing Co. signed with Glidewell Distributors recently, giving them the opportunity to introduce their product to the denizens of communities like Fayetteville, Fort Smith and Hot Springs. They produced 175 barrels in 2015, with a projection of 350 barrels for 2016.
“This was a dream we were ‘ what- ifing’ about in our backyard, and just decided to take a chance,” Ida said. “The support from the community has been tremendous, and there are so many local business owners in Little Rock who have done the same thing as us, we are completely grateful.” A few of those local businesses who carry Blue Canoe’s brews are South on Main, Cajun’s and Rad Uno.
“I love this city, and I love beer,” Laura said. “We source everything locally, from the grains to the honeysuckle we use in our Pinnacle Blossom and that’s
the only way we would have it. This is a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s so much to think about and manage, but if you do anything, you want to do it right. We have 30 original recipes, we want them to all be perfect.”
“We love Little Rock,” added Ida. “This area was not particularly viable that long ago, but now it’s flourishing. We were down here taking notes for months and could see the potential. We’re excited for the things to come.”
As we were concluding our day in The Rock, I asked the ladies what their plans for the future were. “Our five-year plan is a secret, but we’re going to do much more.” they laughed. Good enough for me.
Blue Canoe Brewing Company is located at 425 E. 3rd Street in downtown Little Rock. They are open Wednesday through Sunday, starting at 4 p.m. during the week and beginning at p.m. on the weekends. Visit them on Facebook at Blue Canoe Brewing Co. or call 501-246-5315 for more