New Province hires new head brewer

New Province Brewing Co. Head Brewer Kort Castleberry / Photo: Brian Sorensen

The brewing scene exploded in Northwest Arkansas about five years ago. In that short period of time we have seen several brewers come and go. Some were forgettable while others were regrettable losses. When Kort Castleberry left Fossil Cove Brewing Co. we were left to wonder if we’d ever see the guy handle a mash paddle again.

Fortunately Castleberry has reemerged, having recently accepted the head brewer job at New Province Brewing Co. in Rogers. In reality he’s been working at the fast-rising brewery for some time now. He started helping owner Derek McEnroe shortly after New Province opened at the beginning of this year. Castleberry’s hard work and perseverance paid off when McEnroe officially offered him the lead role a couple weeks ago.

The Back Story

Most Fayetteville beer drinkers know Castleberry as the skinny, bearded assistant brewer at Fossil Cove. He was seemingly there 24 hours a day, either schlepping bags of grain in the brewery, hosing down equipment, or posting up at the corner of the bar with an IPA #3 in hand.

His story is not unlike many of today’s brewers. They all come from somewhere, and discovered good beer at some point along the way. They didn’t come out of the womb drinking IPAs, after all.

Castleberry is originally from Nashville, Arkansas. He moved to Fayetteville in 2002 to attend the University of Arkansas, where he obtained degrees in economics and public administration. He started to take an interest in craft beer while in school.

“Living in Northwest Arkansas at the time, the only craft beer options we had were Boulevard Wheat and Fat Tire,” he said. “They’re good beers, but nothing that really blows you out of the water.”

He was exposed to a wider variety of beer while vacationing throughout the United States with family and friends. He remembers visiting Newport, Oregon and trying Rogue Ale’s Chipotle Ale and Issaquah White Frog Ale, which were completely different than anything he had tried before.

Castleberry’s growing interest in beer was the impetus for a new hobby. He picked up a kit from The Home Brewery in Fayetteville (which Andy Sparks recently sold to longtime friend and fellow Basic Brewing Radio contributor Steve Wilkes) and got hooked on brewing. Like most hobbyists he started with malt extract. He quickly moved on to all-grain brewing, which provided more flexibility in recipe formulation and control over the brewing process.

Kort Castleberry / Photo: Brian Sorensen

“I liked to play around,” Castleberry said about his time as a homebrewer. “I didn’t do the same beer twice very often.”

After graduation Castleberry spent some time in the business world as a salesman. However, his passion for brewing continued to build, and when he saw that Ben Mills was looking for help at his new brewery Castleberry decided to apply for a job as assistant brewer.

“It was really fun working at Fossil Cove,” said Castleberry. “Ben was really good about letting me experiment. I got to do some pilot batches there. We’d put them on tap and get people’s feedback.”

One of Castleberry’s pilot batches was a traditional cream ale brewed with a citrus twist. Pale malt, oats, and corn provided the base, and citrusy hops and fresh orange peel in secondary fermentation provided the subtle orange character.

He said he found inspiration for the beer from one of his favorite drinks at Sonic Drive-In – Fanta Orange with vanilla syrup. The resulting beer was smooth and slightly sweet with a unique flavor. Orange Cream Ale quickly developed a cult following in the Fayetteville craft beer community.

“It’s humbling to have a brewery produce your beer and for it to be so successful,” said Castleberry.

Brewing At New Province

Castleberry said brewing on New Province’s 15-barrel system is a dream come true. It’s brand new with all the bells and whistles of a modern brewhouse.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “The last system I brewed on was more hands-on. It was a great system because it made you learn all the ins and outs of the mash and boil, but here it’s a lot easier.”

New Province works with two different yeasts – a Belgian strain and an English ale yeast. Castleberry said he ferments the English strain at lower temperatures to keep its traditional fruity characteristics in check.

The brewery has a handful of year-round offerings – Civilian Pale Ale, Philosopher IPA, and Yeoman Porter – and a host of rotating beers such as Citadel Belgian Tripel and White Queen Belgian Whit. Castleberry said to expect some experimentation as time goes on.

“My perspective as a brewer is to always do something fun or a little bit different,” he said. “On one hand you have to respect the centuries of styles and traditions that have developed, but on the other hand you have to acknowledge that throughout history brewers have been some of the most innovative professionals around.”

Castleberry, who still lives in Fayetteville and makes the 20-mile trek to work each day, said he picks up an occasional shift behind the bar to stay in touch with his customers. “It’s easy to get stuck in the brewery working,” he explained. “But it’s fun to interact with people and talk about the beer.”

What little time he gets outside the brewery he enjoys spending outdoors. Castleberry said he loves Northwest Arkansas for its rivers and trails, and he tries to float and hike as much as he can. He’s also an avid fan of live music. He raved about a recent LCD Soundsystem show he saw in St. Louis while talking about his musical interests.

Kort Castleberry is an up-and-comer in the local brewing community. He’s the captain of a brewhouse for the first time in his career, though he knows he’s a part of something bigger than just himself. There are several peers that he looks up to, and in whom he finds inspiration.

“You obviously have to respect Andy over at Ozark, and what he’s been able to do – creating some quality beers and still doing some special beers that get a huge following and have a huge demand,” he said. “At the same time I have a lot of respect for Ben. Having worked for him, I’ve seen how hard he works and how dedicated he is to Fossil Cove. You can’t help but admire him after seeing it first-hand.”