NWA beer updates: Medals, magazines, and more

Time stands still for nobody, including those involved with the Arkansas brewing industry. Here are some recent updates from the bustling beer scene.

Gold medal for Maibock

Natural State Beer Co.

Natural State Beer Co. won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony in Denver, Colorado a couple of weeks ago. The annual event was held on Sept. 10, in conjunction with the Craft Beer Conference.

The Rogers brewery was recognized for its Maibock—a pale lager similar to Helles, but with a higher ABV. The style is also noted for its toasty malts and spicy hops.

“This is a huge honor to be recognized by the Brewers Association with this prestigious award. We are beyond thrilled to be taking this medal home to Northwest Arkansas,” said brewery president Mark Smith.

Natural State opened in Rogers in November 2019. Brewer Will Sonneman produces traditional German-style beers—and a few that defy the Reinheitsgebot—on a seven-barrel brewhouse.

Last year, Lost Forty Brewing Co. won gold for its bottle conditioned Day Drinker, and was recognized as the midsize brewery of the year. Previous GABF medalists from Arkansas include Diamond Bear Brewing Co., Bosco’s, and Vino’s.

Beer magazine publishes recipe for BDCS


Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine is arguably the best beer magazine in America. It features brewery profiles, homebrew recipes, and beer reviews.

Ozark Beer Co. was recently spotlighted in an article written by Joe Stange. The piece describes the extreme patience required to brew and barrel-age Ozark’s most sought-after beer—Barrel-aged Double Cream Stout (or simply, BDCS).

For those interested in brewing their own, the story provides a five-gallon homebrew recipe for BDCS. Seven different grains are used to create the color and fermentables required of a true-to-form version of the bodacious stout. The formulation includes nugget hops, Scottish ale yeast, and a shot of lactose.

Co-owners Lacie Bray and Andy Coates were also on the cover of the magazine’s fall industry guide. Their origin story is told in detail inside the issue. It’s a great read, and perhaps a validating moment for the Rogers brewery.

Fossil Cove submits plans for new brewery and taproom

Back in 2015, news leaked that Fossil Cove Brewing Co. was planning a new brewery and taproom on property near its original location in midtown Fayetteville.

Those plans were scrapped when owner Ben Mills decided to install his new 20-barrel brewhouse inside rented space instead. Fossil Cove currently operates its taproom at 1946 N. Birch Avenue, and conducts most of its brewing activity a few doors down at 535 W. Poplar Street.

“Thankfully we didn’t have the financial burden [of a new building] when covid hit last year,” Mills said.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, things are going well for Fossil Cove, which opened in 2012. According to Mills, the brewery produced around 1,700 barrels of beer last year and is on target to exceed that figure in 2021.

A few weeks ago, Mills submitted a new set of plans to the city’s planning department for review. It shows over 13,000-square-feet of space dedicated to brewing operations and taproom service.

“We can’t do any more renovations to our current space,” said Mills. “Plus, I’ll be happy to own my own building instead of paying rent.”

Mills cautioned against getting too excited too soon about the new building. He has been dedicated to a slow growth strategy, and will only move forward with construction if he feels confident the timing is right.

Social Project Brewing Co. arrives on the scene


Partners Travis Banks and Chris Spence opened their new brewery and taproom in Bentonville this past Saturday. Located at 600 SW 41st Street, Social Project Brewing Co. looks to have a hop-heavy lineup right out of the gate.

Social media was abuzz with reports from opening weekend. Banks said the first couple of days were indeed exciting.

“It exceeded my expectation beyond anything I could have imagined,” he said. “It was non-stop all day, from the time we opened until the time we closed.”

Among the brewery’s first offerings are three hazy IPAs—a single, a double, and triple version. The double is a collaboration with Celestial Beerworks in Dallas, Texas. A west coast IPA is also on tap, along with a few sours.

“IPA is my love language, so I’ll be making a lot of IPAs here,” said Banks, who previously brewed at Celestial. He said there will be no year-round beers. Rather, beers will rotate constantly, with new releases every Saturday.

Social Project offers four-packs of 16-ounce cans to go. A bottling line has been ordered, and should be installed in time to bottle a big stout that is currently fermenting.

Growing hops in Arkansas

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture hosted a webinar last month, detailing a multi-year study on hop viability in the state.

Drs. Amanda McWhirt, Aaron Cato, and Renee Threlfall partnered to conduct the study and present initial findings. The interest in growing hops comes on the heels of beer industry growth in the state.

“We’re really interested in seeing, can we grow hops here in Arkansas that could then be supplied to local Arkansas breweries to really create a product that is grown in Arkansas and brewed in Arkansas and provides a unique product to consumers,” McWhirt said during the presentation.

Arkansas isn’t thought of as a hop-growing state, as most hops are grown near the 48th parallel (the Arkansas-Missouri border is around the 36th). Here in the U.S., the hop industry is concentrated in the Pacific Northwest.

Factors impacting hop production are temperature, daylight, rainfall, and air movement. So far, hop varieties showing the most promise for commercialization in Arkansas include Cascade and Zeus. Early results indicate they are the healthiest, most vigorous, and lead to the highest yields under Arkansas conditions. Crystal and Cashmere hops also have potential.

Two years of results were presented, but it was noted that peak production and yield will be seen in year three. Expect more data to emerge once the study is complete, including best practices for those interested in producing hops on a commercial scale.

Brewtober Chilifest celebrates home brew

Tom Maddock pours beer samples during Brewtober Chilifest / Courtesy

A homebrew event is taking place at St. Raphael Catholic Church in Springdale on Saturday, October 9.

Brewtober Chilifest is a chance for local homebrewers to bring their best beers to compete for BJCP-sanctioned awards. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for homebrewers to receive feedback from certified judges. And for curious locals, it’s a chance to see what this homebrewing thing is all about.

Brewers will compete in two categories—traditional (ales and lagers without flavorings or adjuncts) and non-traditional (beer made with flavorings or fruit, along with meads and ciders). Fifty individual entries are expected. Brewers will be on hand to pour samples of their beer.

Most of the home brew competition spots have been filled, but people interested in trying some great home brewed beer and chili can buy a ticket in advance for $30, or pay $35 at the gate. Proceeds go to support the church parish.

Local homebrew supply shop changes hands

Stubblefield family / Courtesy

Steve Wilkes announced on Facebook this week that he sold his business, Steve’s Brew Shop, to Paige and Daniel Stubblefield. The couple promptly renamed it North Tunnel Brewing & Supply.

Located at 455 E. Township Street, the shop originally opened as The Home Brewery in 1995 and was operated by Andy Sparks. Sparks was affectionately referred to as the godfather of the Northwest Arkansas beer scene due to his influence on local brewing culture. He inspired many of today’s professional brewers when they were just starting out in the hobby.

Wilkes has also influenced a generation of brewers. Not only has he supplied homebrewers since acquiring the store from Sparks five years ago, but he also plays a prominent role in the popular homebrewing podcast, Basic Brewing (which is produced by fellow Arkansan James Spencer). Wilkes will continue to lend his dry wit to the show.

The Stubblefields will be representing North Tunnel Brewing & Supply at Brewtober Chilifest, where they will have a booth set up to interact with the homebrew community and talk about their vision for the shop.

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit onlyinark.com.