Catching up with Saddlebock: New canning line, business restructuring, and more

Saddlebock recently began canning its Dirty Blonde and Arkansas Farmhouse ales.


Steve Rehbock is having fun. His brewery – Saddlebock Brewery in east Springdale – has been open for a while now, but he continues to tinker with things in an effort to provide his customers with the kind of experience they’re thirsty for. He recently joined in on the canning craze, and has added a few unique features to the property surrounding the brewery.

And so far so good, as evidenced by the full parking lot at the brewery and the massive presence at most retail beer outlets in Northwest Arkansas. We recently caught up with Rehbock to get an update on how things are going for him and his team at Saddlebock.

How would you describe Saddlebock now that you’ve been open for a while?
We are trying to transition into a true destination. The sales in the field are great, but we’re finding that people who come to the brewery really like the experience out here because we’re unlike anything else they’ve experienced. Last year we were recognized by TripAdvisor as a top brewery worth visiting.

How do you build on that recognition?
We just finished building a volleyball court. The Ozark Volleyball Club is one of the reasons we’re putting it in. They compete nationally and they are looking for places where they can have a beer or two while they’re playing. Three courts are about enough to have tournaments, so that’s what we’re shooting for.

We’re getting close with the café across the street. It’s being roughed-in right now, but we have all of our permits in place. There’s really nowhere to get food within 5 miles of here. We’ll have pizza, wings, burgers, pasta – and some healthy stuff like salads and cheese plates.

And we started renting out the cabin down by the river on a regular basis. We’re also going to build a couple more cottages, so we’ll have a few places to stay here on the property.

Saddlebock was in attendance at this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. How did that go for you?
It was our third year in a row to attend GABF. We went as a group of four, which is the number of tickets they gave us. It’s good for our employees to see how Saddlebock compares to other breweries.

This year we took Java Stout, Session IPA, Imperial IPA, Dirty Blonde, and Arkansas Farmhouse Ale. We didn’t win anything, but the state of Arkansas hasn’t won any awards at GABF in years. It’s kind of disheartening because our industry is growing and growing, but the odds of winning continues to go down because the total number of breweries in the country is on the increase.

Beyond the festival we had two full days of brewery visits. We always go up to Boulder each year, but this year we went to Ft. Collins. There are a whole bunch of breweries there in a fairly small area. The outdoor centers they have there are incredible – full of tourists. I’d love to see it more like that around here in Northwest Arkansas.

You recently started canning beer. How’s that going?
We finally got our canning line going last week. It was supposed to be here in June, but the manufacturer was delayed. It’s a two-head filler without any automation. We’re doing between 8-10 cans a minute right now. Our initial order was 196,000 cans. Dirty Blonde and Arkansas Farmhouse Ale are going into cans now, and after we work through our inventory we may look at canning other styles.

Saddlebock is pretty active in the community. Are you going to be at any local events in the near future?
We get our rice and grits for Arkansas Farmhouse Ale from War Eagle Mill. The people over there contacted me a couple months ago about serving beer for the first time ever at the craft festival that starts this week. We have a nice booth and we are setting up our party barn with six taps. It will be a very small beer garden but we think it will go very well based on the numbers. There will be almost 100,000 people coming through there.

Is there anything else exciting going on at Saddlebock these days?
We are restructuring our business entity. I split up with my old business partner and I ended up with a lot of stuff out here – a brewery and 30 acres – and I want to use all of it in a very strategic way. What I’m going to do is change from an LLC to a C-corporation. The attorneys have that paperwork done now. I will have preferred stock and common shares to sell to people who want to invest. We’re going to have a meeting for prospective investors soon to let them see what we’re all about and buy some shares.

Brian Sorensen (@EBSorensen) is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds.