I’ve known Steve Rehbock for some time now. He came onto the home brewing scene a few years ago and started brewing at a prolific rate. Even with a bustling home inspection business to keep him busy, he was able to brew batches of beer at a rate that doubled or tripled the average home brewer’s output. He immersed himself in brewing culture and was a regular at monthly meetings of FLOPS, the local home brewing club. It was no surprise that Steve eventually decided to open his own brewery. In September 2012 Saddlebock Brewery was born.
Saddlebock is a rustic outpost in the local craft brewing world. Located between Fayetteville and Springdale at the headwaters of Beaver Lake, the brewery is tucked into the hills and hollers that typify the Northwest Arkansas topography. The brewery itself resembles a horse barn – which is appropriate since it was literally built on a horse farm. Steve’s wife Carolyn is an equestrian and cares for horses in her spare time. She agreed to Steve’s vision of opening Saddlebock on a portion of the family farm.
Designed with energy efficiency in mind, the brewery was built to gravity feed ingredients and beer through the brewing process – from the top level down to the basement. Using pumps to accomplish these tasks requires an extraordinary amount of energy, while using gravity conserves energy and minimizes utility expenses. Raw ingredients are stored and milled on the top level, fed to the mash tun and brewing kettle on the middle floor, and eventually run off to fermenters located in the basement. Steve’s experience as a builder and inspector was instrumental in the brewery’s design. It is quite a sight to behold!
The tap room at Saddlebock is a small room with interior windows looking onto the brewery floor, and a couple of tables with chairs for visitors. Wrapped in corrugated metal, the room’s vibe is low-key and unassuming. The day I visited there were about 12 Saddlebock beers available, advertised on a chalk board near the door, and poured behind a wooden bar with a view out to the countryside. Beers on tap included a chocolate stout, a java stout, two different farmhouse ales, a dunkle weiss, a hefeweizen, and several others. I decided to sample the bock – a recent addition to the brewery’s lineup.
Bock is a traditional German style lager characterized by a rich, malty flavor. Saddlebock’s version was brewed using the decoction method, which involves boiling part of the mash and adding it back in to achieve and maintain the desired mash temperature. It’s a complicated process, but results in a fuller flavor and clearer beer. Almost all German beers – in addition to pilsners and some lighter Belgian ales – are brewed using a decoction mash.
Vlada the bartender poured my bock into a Saddlebock-branded pint glass. The brewery’s logo pays homage to the land it was built on, featuring a smartly designed horse head and its slogan – Unbridled Passion for Beer. A thin white layer of foam lay on top of the hazy burnt orange liquid below. Very little carbonation was present, perhaps hidden by the beer’s haze. The aroma was dominated by malt with a slight toasty characteristic. Hops were imperceptible in the nose.
One word to describe the beer’s taste? Malty sweet.
Okay, I used two words – but I can’t think of any others that better define the beer’s flavor. There were some caramel flavors present, most likely a result of the aforementioned decoction mash. Hops were virtually non-existent on the tongue, just as they were in the nose. This was to be expected, however, as the bock style lacks the typical hopping found in American-style beers. The beer was medium-bodied to slightly heavy in terms of mouth feel. It certainly felt bigger than the 6.3% ABV noted next to its name on the chalkboard. The beer finished clean with some residual sweetness that lingered beyond the swallow. Saddlebock’s take on this classic German style was slightly sweeter than most, but still a respectable brew that was a pleasure to drink.
Other Saddlebock beers that are popular in Northwest Arkansas are the IPA and Dirty Blonde, both found on tap at several area bars and restaurants. Response has been so good that the brewery has already added additional fermentation capacity and cold storage space to accommodate customer orders.
Owner and brew master Steve Rehbock has built an impressive brewing facility and a dedicated legion of fans. His lineup of beers is diverse and ever-changing, but never lacks for big flavor and a few surprises here and there (such as the smoked beer found on tap the day of my visit). Farmhouse ale is only one of many styles brewed there, but Saddlebock could be considered Arkansas’ first and only farmhouse brewery. Thirsty travelers and tourists should consider stopping in for a pint or two after exploring the area’s picturesque countryside.