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story.lead_photo.caption Brewers Brock Carson (left) and Brant Bishop work last month at Ozark Beer Co. in Rogers. - Photo by Charlie Kaijo

Arkansas' craft brewers made nearly 37,500 barrels of suds in 2018, up slightly from the previous year, with a single Little Rock brewery accounting for almost 40% of the beer produced in the state, according to state data.

In 2018, Arkansas brewers operating under microbrewery restaurant permits reported brewing 15,220 barrels of beer, while those working under the small brewery permits made 22,265 barrels, for a total of 37,485 barrels. The 2018 totals were up 85 barrels or less than 1% when compared with the previous year. A barrel of beer contains 31 gallons.

The production numbers cited are based on reports to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration with some adjustments. The numbers reported to the state reflect the amount of beer the breweries reported producing in their Arkansas operations.

Production numbers for Core Brewing and Distilling in Springdale were adjusted upward for 2018 when a brewery spokesman said the numbers on the state report were too low. Total production reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for 2017 was adjusted downward when North Little Rock-based Flyway Brewing Co. said it inadvertently reported too much Arkansas production in that year.

In 2017, Arkansas beer makers produced a total of 37,339 barrels, with 13,883 barrels coming from microbreweries and 23,456 barrels made in small breweries. The 2017 numbers were a 37% jump from 2016.

The 2018-19 Arkansas reports showed 13 microbrewery restaurant permits and 37 small brewery permits while the report last year included results from 16 operations working under microbrewery restaurant permits and 31 small brewery permits.

Sylvia Blain, executive director of the Arkansas Brewers Guild said she hopes to develop a system where the organization will track production quarterly to get a better picture of the state's growing craft beer industry.

The top beer producer in Arkansas was Lost Forty Brewery in Little Rock with 14,250 barrels or 38% of the state's total. Lost Forty's production was up 18% from 2017.

John Beachboard, owner of Lost Forty, said the beer-maker intends to continue expanding production but doesn't have plans to distribute outside the state. He projects production in the 15,000 to 17,000 barrel range for 2019.

He said extra capacity would be used to make specialty beers, which have proven popular. Beachboard said going forward Lost Forty was adding a new canning line and intends to add a patio and is expanding its entertainment space.

Core Brewing remained the second-largest beer maker, with 4,800 barrels, up 9% from last year, and Ozark Beer Co. of Rogers held on to its third place spot with 4,077, a 4% increase. Bike Rack Brewing of Bentonville ranked fourth with 2,402 barrels, and North Little Rock's Flyway Brewing Co. placed fifth on the list with 2,157 barrels.

In response to emailed questions, Lacie Bray, owner and business manager of Ozark Beer Co., said the brewery is on track to produce more beer in 2019.

"We only add capacity as the market demands it, and only in small increments to maintain organic and responsible growth," she said. "We are always conservative with our expectations, and never want to assume our sales will just increase because we have more capacity. On the national level, we have seen many larger breweries get in trouble with large-scale expansions based on anticipated sales that never materialize. Slow and sustainable growth will always be our path."

The state's top five craft beer makers in 2018 accounted for 27,686 barrels or 73% of the state's total beer production.

Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, an organization promoting craft brewers, said it's typical for a growing craft beer market to see the majority of production clustered around a few key brewers. He said in most markets only a handful of companies are in a position to significantly scale up production from year to year.

"Growth isn't assured, and it's not cheap," he said.

Nationally, beer producers made 194.2 million barrels in 2018, down less than 1%. Of that number, craft brewers accounted for 25.6 million barrels, a 4% increase from last year. U.S. revenue for all beer in 2018 was $114.2 billion with craft beers sales at $27.6 billion, a 7% gain over 2017.

Marty Shutter, marketing manager at Ozark Beer Co., said as Arkansas' craft beer industry matures, its primary customers are evolving as well.

"As our market grows and competition tightens, the consumer becomes savvier, exploration becomes more intentional and manifests as trying different breweries, versus the latest style from the same brewery," he said.

Photo by Staton Breidenthal
Brewer Chris Williams sorts a pallet of newly canned Lost Forty beer last month at the Lost Forty brewery in Little Rock.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Brewer Jamie Conway watches over the brewing process at Core brewery in Springdale on Wednesday. Core is one of the top producers of beer in Arkansas.

SundayMonday Business on 08/04/2019

Print Headline: State sees uptick in craft beers


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