Bentonville has been racking up the accolades as of late. The once sleepy town of a few thousand people has blossomed into a bona fide tourist destination. In fact, Huffington Post recently named Bentonville one of the nation’s five “up-and-coming” cities for tourism.
Even beer tourists have several options now that the county is officially wet. Not only do restaurants such as Tusk & Trotter and The Hive offer fine dining opportunities, but they also provide extensive beer lists with selections from across the style spectrum. In a nod to most beer drinker’s second favorite beverage, the Pressroom satisfies the dawn-to-dusk needs of its patrons with a selection of artisanal coffee and craft beer.
And now the city has its very own brewery, just like its sibling cities Rogers, Springdale, and Fayetteville (where the local resurgence in craft beer began).
From hobby to business
Bike Rack Brewing Company opened up shop this past October in the downtown arts district. It operates out of a building known as “The Hub,” which is home to two other bicycle-themed businesses – The Pedaler’s Pub and Bike Bentonville – as well as the city’s independent downtown association.
The idea for Bike Rack came from a group of local homebrewers who shared a zeal for craft beer.
“A lot of us work together,” explained Steve Outain, one of five partners at Bike Rack. “Some of us are neighbors. It started like a lot of little brew clubs start. One guy brewed and the rest of us wanted to. We started doing it at my house, and then over the next couple of years the bug bit me pretty hard and I brewed a lot of beer.”
Outain said he reached a point where he was brewing more than 20 gallons (or approximately 10 cases) of beer each month. The group was hosting beer tastings each month to celebrate their favorite pastime.
Then, like many homebrewers, they started thinking about opening their own brewery. They settled on a small brewery concept located next to the city’s growing trail system. “We thought it would be a place to come in after a ride and have a beer,” said Outain, who is also involved in the local biking community.
And thus Bike Rack Brewing Company was born.
Each of the partners is employed outside the brewery so they decided to hire a full-time brewer. Joe Zucca, who spent two years learning the trade at Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, had previously applied for the general manager role. It was a no-brainer to hire him to run the brewhouse instead.
Bike Rack’s brewhouse is a 3.2-barrel “Braumeister” system purchased from German manufacturer Speidel. This unique setup utilizes a single vessel for all of the initial steps in the brewing process (mash, lauter, and boil). Automation creates precise brewing temperatures, which in turn leads to consistent beers and – more often than not – an outcome that is exactly what the brewer had in mind.
As for the beer itself, Bike Rack is placing most of the emphasis on four core offerings.
“The reason we have four is so we can perfect those and be consistent,” said Outain. The lineup includes Fast IPA, Slaughter Pen Pale Ale, The Urban Trail Golden Ale, and Angus Chute American Stout.
There is room, however, for experimentation and special one-offs.
“We want to do some small specialty batches, even if we spend a little bit more on ingredients,” said Outain.
The small batch size actually works in Bike Rack’s favor when the brewers are experimenting with recipes. If the recipe doesn’t turn out right the batch is tossed instead being put on tap in an attempt to recover ingredient costs. In other words, the owners are willing to take a financial hit in the name of quality. That’s harder to do in big breweries, where the average batch cost can run into the thousands of dollars.
Bike Rack currently has a double IPA on its specialty tap, with 120 IBUs and an ABV of 8%. A winter ale brewed with a variety of spices was available just prior to the double IPA. In the future look for an Irish ale, a farmhouse ale, and maybe a lambic. The brewers at Bike Rack are basically working with a blank white board and are free to express their creativity when it comes to the specialty beers.
Distribution on tap
Taproom business is brisk right now, and Bike Rack can be found at a few tap accounts across the city. “We’re just two and a half months into it, and we’re in a really good spot,” said Brewmaster Zucca.
Outain pointed at Zucca and said, “Joe has really fine-tuned the back [of the brewhouse] and is ready for us to get the beer out to distribution.” There are plans for Bike Rack to be on tap at more accounts across the area soon.
Even though Bike Rack’s owners have their day jobs, they can still be found at the brewery most nights.
“We all take turns running the taproom at night, just because we want to meet the customers,” said Outain. “We’re excited to see the reactions from drinkers when they realize the beer is good.”
Partners Jeff Charlson, Elizabeth Fretheim, Joey Lange, Andy Nielsen, and Steve Outain have carved out a pretty cool spot in the Northwest Arkansas beer scene. Along with brewers Joe Zucca and Cory Emerson, they are providing a valuable service to the residents (and tourists) of Benton County.
Times have certainly changed. Bentonville used to be Fayetteville’s northern outpost and wasn’t worth the gas money to visit. But the city has prospered and grown – and somehow it seems to have mellowed in the process. Of course, good beer has a way of doing that to a community. And there seems to be plenty of good beer flowing in the streets of Bentonville these days.
You can find Bike Rack Brewing Company at 410 SW A Street. Make sure to drop by and have a pint when you’re in the area.