Fayetteville Beer Works sneaks onto the scene

The new brewery quietly opened on Thursday in east Fayetteville.

Fayetteville Beer Works posted this photo with the caption, “What’s better than a Friday afternoon? Fresh beer on a Friday afternoon.” on Friday, Aug. 4 as a subtle announcement that the new brewery was officially open for business. (Courtesy photo)

A new brewery opened in east Fayetteville last week. Very few people knew about it because there was no announcement beforehand. It was a sneaky move in an industry known to be more hyped than hushed.

“I’ve done this before,” said Brian O’Connell of Fayetteville Beer Works. “In my experience, a big grand opening doesn’t provide the best experience for first-time customers. Staff is figuring things out, so they’re nervous. Long lines at the bar make things more stressful for everyone. We wanted a slower pace to start.”

O’Connell and his wife Khara own and operate the brewery and taproom located at 2649 E. Mission Blvd. #1. The pair saw the east side of Fayetteville as underserved and ripe for business. There are several breweries in town, but most cluster in a central corridor near the Razorback Greenway. The further out you go in either direction the fewer options you see. With so many people living near the busy Mission and Crossover intersection, Fayetteville Beer Works’ location seems like a good bet.

Strategic location aside, the new brewery also represents a second chance for Brian O’Connell.

“It’s an opportunity to fix some mistakes I made with our first brewery,” he said “I know so much more now than I did before. Coming into this with intention and a clear vision, I’m excited about what we can do here.”

O’Connell’s Denver debut

O’Connell and a few partners founded Renegade Brewing Co. in Denver in 2011. The brewery grew quickly, and by 2017 was producing around 6,000 barrels per year and distributing its beer in five states.

“It was a much larger operation than what we have here,” said O’Connell. “It was a boom period for craft beer in Colorado, and we were a part of that next generation of breweries. We grew quickly.”

According to O’Connell, Renegade was just the tenth brewery in Denver. Its predecessors were established names like Wynkoop and Great Divide. Today there are over 150 beermakers in Colorado’s capital city.

(Flyer photo/Brian Sorensen)

O’Connell – who originally caught the home brew bug thanks to a Mr. Beer beer-making kit gifted by his wife – brewed at Renegade in its early days. He shifted to back office operations as the business grew, leaving brewing duties to full-time brewers.

“Every once in a while I would venture out on the brewery floor to help,” said O’Connell. “As we grew, our brewhouse evolved; and eventually I was just getting in everyone’s way. I mostly focused on sales and marketing in the later days.”

In 2017, O’Connell sold a significant stake in Renegade to Silver Fox Partners, an investment firm run by former Xerox CEO Ann Mulcahy.

“We had shifted to distribution as our primary source of income,” he said. “There were a lot more breweries, and seltzer was coming into the picture. Shelf space was getting tight. We were too big to act small, and too small to act big. We needed an infusion of cash in order to keep growing.”

O’Connell was retained after the sale and was put in charge of operations. After some time in that role he and his wife decided it was time to come home to Arkansas – the couple has roots in the central part of the state – to raise their then-three-year-old twins. In 2020, O’Connell bought a business brokerage company and the family moved to Fayetteville.

You can take the boy out of brewing, but not brewing out of the boy

It wasn’t long before O’Connell got the itch to brew again.

“I decided after a few years away that I really missed beer,” said O’Connell. “I saw a big opportunity on this side of town, and I thought the timing was right to give it a second shot.”

Fayetteville Beer Works is not meant to resemble Renegade. O’Connell said the new brewery is intended to be a neighborhood pub and will focus on taproom sales without any outside distribution.

Helming the brewhouse is Peter Etges, former production manager for Urban Chestnut Brewing Co. in St. Louis.

(Flyer photo/Brian Sorensen)

In an interesting twist, Etges will make the wort – or unfermented beer – on Fossil Cove’s 20-barrel brewhouse across town. The wort will then be transported to Fayetteville Beer Works, where yeast will be added and fermentation will take place.

This is a unique process. Most breweries are traditional in design, with mashing, lautering, boiling, hopping, and fermenting happening at the same site. Some breweries move finished product from offsite production facilities to taprooms, but transporting raw wort before fermentation takes place is something new. There are no plans for a brewhouse at Fayetteville Beer Works, so the arrangement is meant to be long-term.

O’Connell said wort will be moved in bulk containers commonly used in cideries and wineries.

“We had ours fitted with a spray ball, just like a fermenter would have,” he said. “A loop is set up and we send sanitizer through it before we load the wort.”

There are three fermenters located at Fayetteville Beer Works. Once the wort is fermented, finished beer is transferred to one of seven 10-barrel serving tanks. These tanks are just behind the bar and on full display for taproom patrons.

“Normally beer is packaged in a keg, can, or bottle. But here it’s coming directly from the serving tanks, as fresh as possible,” said O’Connell.

Kyle Morrison (left) poses for a photo alongside Stacy Bergman and Max Trost of Fayetteville Beer Works. (Flyer photo/Brian Sorensen)

Etges created an initial lineup that includes a Kölsch, pilsner, west coast IPA, hazy IPA, tangerine double IPA, brown, and wit. The quality of those beers are reflective of his experience as a brewer.

“He did a great job with our first beers,” said O’Connell. “He and I talk about the styles we want to brew, but that’s about it. He runs with the recipes, and obviously he knows what he’s doing.”

O’Connell said his “desert island beer” is Fay Pilsner. It is a classic example of the style, with an even balance between bitter and sweet and a touch of mineral character. It’s just dry enough to elicit another sip.

“I could drink that beer all day long,” he said. “I never get tired of it. When I’m away from it for a week, I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Simple is as simple does

Fayetteville Beer Works arrived quietly, but people are starting to take notice. Social media posts and check-ins on beer app Untappd are popping up every day now. The word is out and the taproom is filling up with people.

O’Connell is hopeful that his vision for a neighborhood pub will be embraced by his east Fayetteville neighbors. For him, the recipe for success is simple.

“We are going for simplicity with really high quality,” he said. “With seven beers we can offer something for everyone by providing some variety. We’ll keep the beer fresh by turning it over more quickly. And that’s the key to success – fresh beer.”

Fayetteville Brew Works is open every day but Monday. The taproom will serve beer from 2-10 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; 12-10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; and 12-8 p.m. on Sundays.

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