Photos by Brian Sorensen
The wait is over. Bentonville Brewing Co. is finally home and open for business.
The brewery — which originally opened in June 2015 — had been operating in Rogers since moving there in 2017.
The new location at 901 SW 14th Street is around 20,000 square feet and sits adjacent to the Bentonville Municipal Airport. It sports a modern taproom, expansive outdoor beer garden, and a children’s play area.
Co-owner Katie Boykin said the plan was to open at the beginning of April, but it became a moving target as the coronavirus crisis took hold. The brewery quietly opened its doors to the public shortly after Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state was relaxing restrictions on in-house dining at restaurants. Onsite food service allowed Bentonville Brewing to take advantage of the governor’s decision.
So far, the response has been positive. Last Friday afternoon patrons were observed enjoying Bentonville Brewing staples such as Homewrecker IPA and Soul Shine Kolsch while practicing social distancing. Bartenders and waits staff wore masks and surgical gloves.
Photo: Brian Sorensen
“Obviously people are nervous about going out,” said Boykin, whose husband Beau is the head brewer. “We’ve had to pull half our seating to make room for what the Health Department is requiring.”
She thinks the arrival of warmer weather will be a boon for business, even with the lingering concerns related to COVID-19.
“We anticipate people will feel a little more comfortable as the weather gets nicer,” said Boykin. “Having the predominant seating outside the brewery is a lot safer. There’s no enclosure and all the tables are spaced out. It’s great anyway because people love being outdoors.”
Last year Bentonville Brewing produced 1,323 barrels of beer. Its best seller is Homewrecker IPA, with the lower-ABV Lil’ Wrecker IPA trailing close behind. The brewery is one of the few in the state to produce a year-round porter, and the only one in Northwest Arkansas to package the dark, roasty style for off-premise sales.
“The porter was strategic when we opened because nobody else had one,” said managing partner Lee Robinson. “When we were trying to get into accounts they all had IPAs on tap already and nobody had a porter. Eventually we were able to work our IPA into those restaurants and bars as well.”
Photo: Brian Sorensen
Bentonville Brewing recently introduced two new beers. Space Goose NEIPA is its take on the wildly popular hazy IPA style. Hills & Hollers Amber Lager is an easy-drinking malt-forward beer that weighs in at 5.2% ABV and a scant 24 IBUs (international bitterness units).
Along with the new building comes a new brewhouse. The original 7-barrel system was replaced by a 20-barrel steam-powered setup with automation. Robinson said it should not only save the brewers’ backs, but also time.
“The old system would take an hour and a half to get to a boil, depending on the outside temperature and humidity,” he said. “Now it takes 20 minutes to boil.”
Although it is reasonable to expect Bentonville Brewing to make significantly more beer each year going forward, it’s still a small business in every sense of the term. Its ownership is modest in size (the Boykins, Robinson, and Beau Boykin’s parents), and there are only 16 employees on staff.
Photo: Brian Sorensen
“Unless you pump a lot of money into advertising these days, I don’t think it’s possible to become a large brewery like, let’s say, New Belgium,” said Robinson. “We don’t have any aspirations of doing that. It would be a big risk and a major headache. We’re small enough that it can still be fun.”
Bentonville Brewing is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Curbside delivery is available, with dedicated parking spots making for easy transactions.
Onsite food service is provided by Burg Der Gastropub, a concept led by Tusk & Trotter’s Rob Nelson. A business independent of the brewery, it is described as fast casual German pub fare with a High South twist.
The coronavirus has been a significant challenge for small businesses all across the United States. For Bentonville Brewing Co., the crisis happened to coincide with the opening of its new location.
Boykin points to Greek mythology to describe the emotions that accompany the breweries long-awaited return to its namesake home.
“I’m so relieved to be back in Bentonville,” she said. “It’s been like a Sisyphian feat. We’ve been pushing a boulder up a hill for so long.”