Photo: Brian Sorensen
Blink and you might miss another brewery opening in Northwest Arkansas. Or at least that’s the way it seems these days.
Back then we were just meeting owner Derek McEnroe and hearing about his plans. The brewery itself was nothing more than a patch of gravel on the side of the road.
But now as we inch closer and closer to a new year, McEnroe is putting the finishing touches on his brand new brewery and taproom. Opening day is expected soon – hopefully sometime in mid- to late-January.
McEnroe said it has been a long time coming. A lengthy permitting process and spotty communication from the federal government left him guessing as to when he’d finally be approved for business.
“They actually approved me November 30 and I didn’t even know it,” he said. He happened to be checking for information online when he discovered the good news.
Fortunately he’s had plenty to keep him busy while he waits. Building a new brewery – literally from the ground up – is no small task.
The day I visited New Province there were all kinds of tradesmen running around the building, sawing wood and doing official looking things with wire and piping. It was so loud in there that we had to step outside on the patio to do our interview.
Background and inspiration
McEnroe is a young man at just 28 years old. He originally moved here from his native Arizona to attend school at the University of Arkansas – where he met his wife Megan in the information systems department. He took a job as a sales analyst with MillerCoors shortly after graduation.
Before long McEnroe started tasting beers outside the company portfolio. Both he and his new wife developed a taste for craft beer flavors. In 2011 he took the plunge into homebrewing.
“I started like everybody, with an extract beer kit,” said McEnroe. But he immediately decided extract – which is analogous to making biscuits from a can – wasn’t good enough for him.
Photo: Brian Sorensen
“There’s nothing wrong with extract brewing,” he said. “People can make award-winning beers with extract. But for me it didn’t feel like brewing.”
For most homebrewers the decision to go from extract to all-grain brewing is a big step. That’s usually the point where folks go off the deep end and become obsessed with the hobby. There’s lots of new equipment to buy, and the process itself is multi-stepped and takes more time to complete. All-grain brewers can’t seem to get enough information about homebrewing. They tend to read everything they can get their hands on.
McEnroe got his inspiration from one of the classic homebrewing texts – Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers.
“It’s what helped me structure my recipes better,” he said.
By 2013 he was flirting with the idea of making his hobby a career. He bounced it off his buddies – only approaching his wife after deciding it was a legitimate idea.
It didn’t take much to convince her the idea was worth pursuing.
“The epiphany for us was that if we didn’t do it, we would regret not trying,” he said. “Or another way of looking at it – if we did it and failed miserably we wouldn’t regret it because at least we tried something.”
So the couple started to put their business plan together. In December 2014 McEnroe quit his job to focus exclusively on the brewery concept.
The brewery itself
It’s somewhat unusual for a new brewery to be built from the ground up. It’s more typical that existing warehouse space is retrofitted for the brewing process and taproom.
Photo: Brian Sorensen
New Province will operate out of a brand new building based more on circumstance than a conscious decision by the owners.
“We had a spot we really wanted to go in downtown Bentonville,” explained McEnroe. “But the deal didn’t work out and we had to leave that space on the table. We were left scrambling to find a new location because the brewing equipment was already on the way.”
With a handful of very specific requirements – to include ceiling heights, pipe sizes, and power supplies – shopping for new space proved difficult. Serendipitously, Megan was out scouting potential leases one day when she found a warehouse on Hudson Road in Rogers that seemed like a good fit.
Unfortunately the building wasn’t available, but the owner – Mathias Properties – also owned the empty lot next door and expressed an interest in building for the McEnroes.
They jumped at the chance and quickly broke ground on the 8,100-square-foot brewery.
Many of the pitfalls of retrofitted brewing facilities were avoided by building new. Drains were laid in the proper places and loading docks were positioned perfectly for trucks that will soon bring grain and hops to New Province. The physical layout of the brewery is really one of the most impressive in Northwest Arkansas.
The 15-barrel brewhouse was manufactured by Deutsche Beverage Technology in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“It’s all custom stuff,” said McEnroe. “We went through the design process with them and identified all the things we wanted.”
Wort produced by the steam-powered brewhouse will be sent to four 30-barrel fermenters and one 30-barrel bright tank. McEnroe feels that the size of the brewing vessels will allow him to keep up with demand for at least the immediate future.
But even with all that brewing capacity, he’s keeping his initial goals modest.
“I’m trying to stay conservative because everything seems to go wrong,” he said, clearly referencing the snafus he’s experienced to date. “I will be happy to sell 500 barrels of beer, even though I know everyone else has blown that away in their first year.”
Traditional beer styles and experimentation
The first brew is scheduled for the week after Christmas. McEnroe has never brewed on a commercial system before, but will have some help from an experienced brewer the first few times through. He said he’s unsure what they’ll make first.
“I gravitate more towards the traditional styles,” said McEnroe. Already announced as a part of the lineup are Civilian Pale Ale, Migrant Belgian Dubbel, Philosopher IPA, and Yeoman Porter.
Porter is a traditional style of beer, but is severely underrepresented in the total craft beer market. Beer nerds should be excited to see one available in Northwest Arkansas on a year-round basis.
“The idea is to have the four core beers,” said McEnroe. “But in my taproom I’ll have eight taps, so four of them will be reserved for experimentation.”
He has been playing with a chocolate stout recipe that uses a Belgian yeast strain – which he said may show up in the taproom as a winter seasonal.
A new mindset
McEnroe is serious about this brewing thing. His wife Megan is his business partner, but she’s keeping her day job for now. Most everything related to opening the brewery falls on his shoulders, so McEnroe can’t help but live and breathe New Province Brewing Company for the time being.
An avid gamer and an admitted technology geek, he’s had to put his hobbies on hold indefinitely to focus on the business.
Surprisingly – even in the midst of the construction chaos inside the brewery – McEnroe seems cool, calm, and collected. Maybe he has found comfort in knowing the vision he had for his very own brewery is finally coming to fruition.
Very quickly he’ll move from the construction phase to actually making beer.
As we wrapped up the interview I asked McEnroe about the inspiration for the brewery’s name.
“It’s a conceptualization of what the area has become over time,” he told me. “Especially with the area going wet. It’s a different mindset now.”
It struck me that “New Province” is not only representative of Benton County’s new mindset about alcohol, but also a metaphor for the growing regional beer industry in general.
And perhaps it represents the fresh adventures that await Derek and Megan McEnroe – as business partners and new brewers.
New Province Brewing Company is slated to open January 2016. Don’t blink or you might miss it.