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Beer Tourism Contributing to Growth in Industry

6 min read

Tourism officials around the state are banking on growing interest in craft beers, leveraging the brewing industry’s popularity to draw business to breweries and to the state’s other attractions.

As the beer industry in Arkansas continues to expand, breweries are becoming a tourist attraction similar to the state’s parks and the Clinton Presidential Library.

But the tourists don’t usually knock a few back and go home — many stick around and spend money on restaurants, other attractions and lodging in the area. The breweries are also seen by some as an economic development engine, attracting (and inspiring) other businesses and revitalizing areas that have been dormant.

Joe David Rice, the state’s tourism director, said there was a time when members of the state Parks & Tourism Commission didn’t allow wineries to be shown in state advertising, “thinking that it was leading us down the road to perdition.” But Rice said the agency now recognizes the benefits of promoting breweries, drawing on the success of other states that have done so.

Rice said promoting breweries as part of the state’s tourism portfolio also attracts “new markets,” including millennials, who he said are looking for quality experiences when they travel.

“I would think in a word you would say it’s ‘fledgling,’” Rice said of beer tourism in the state. “It’s probably like where mountain biking was a few years ago, maybe where agri-tourism was a few years ago. We’re just now taking advantage of it, but I think that it’s got a lot of potential for growth.”

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration has issued 20 native brewer permits and four microbrewery permits in the state.

Staff attorney Mary Robin Casteel said another native brewer permit is pending for Columbus House Brewery in Fayetteville as well as two microbrewery restaurant permits — for Little Rock’s Rebel Kettle Brewing and Sean’s Restaurant & Catering in Mountain Home.

A native brewer permit held by Bosco’s in Little Rock, which has now closed, will be replaced by Damgoode Pies when it opens (planned for March 14) in Bosco’s old location in the River Market district.

In some ways the state is catching up with a national trend. The number of brewpubs in operation across the country has risen from 329 in 1994 to 1,237 in 2013, while the count of microbreweries has grown from 192 to 1,412, according to the Brewers Association, which promotes the craft brewing industry.

In 2013 alone, 304 new microbreweries opened their doors, according to the industry trade group.

Arkansas was ranked 40th by the group in craft breweries per capita in 2013, but still measured an economic impact of $211.6 million. By comparison, top-ranked California’s 381 craft breweries produced an economic impact of nearly $4.6 billion.

Take the Ale Trail

Wherever there are multiple drinking establishments in close vicinity, there are usually also pub crawls.

The Fayetteville Ale Trail, a project of the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau that launched in August 2013, highlights northwest Arkansas’ breweries and offers visitors a gift if they visit all of the sites featured in a trail “passport.”

Jessica Leonard, communications director for the Visitors Bureau, said the demand for information about the ale trail surprised the agency.

“Initially this was just kind of another printed piece that we put out. We didn’t expect it to be its own thing. We printed 2,000 at first, thinking that would last for a while [and] we’d try it out, and we went through those in about a week and a half,” Leonard said.

She said that with the demand that the breweries are experiencing, she expects the industry to continue to expand.

“It seems to be growing pretty consistently. … Overall I feel like we are not nearly at the point of being oversaturated,” she said.

The ale trail, which itself was based on tourism trails in Oregon and Colorado, has prompted some similar planning in central Arkansas.

Gretchen Hall, president and CEO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she has noticed the high demand for breweries in the city from media coverage and tourists asking about them. She said her agency has started talking to breweries about the possibility of a Little Rock beer trail.

“At this point it’s still just the beginning of those conversations, but we definitely are interested in trying to capitalize on that interest right now — media interest and tourism interest,” Hall said.

Matt Foster is moving his Flyway Brewing Co. from rented quarters at Loblolly Creamery’s production facility in downtown Little Rock to a storefront at 314 Maple St. in North Little Rock sometime this summer. He suggested that a Little Rock beer trail could take advantage of the trolley that runs through both cities.

“Something unique to Little Rock is what I would like to do. I think an ale rail would be awesome,” Foster said.

“Urban Revitalization”

Russ Melton, whose Diamond Bear Brewing Co. has been producing beer in central Arkansas since 2000, said that the beer industry and related businesses aren’t the only ones that benefit from the growing number of breweries in the area. He said that while breweries benefit from each other by becoming a “hub” for visitors, the sector also improves the overall image of the region.

“It has more than just the tourism aspect of it. It adds to the overall desirability of the area for people to relocate here or businesses to relocate here,” Melton said.

Rice, with Parks & Tourism, also noted the added benefits of breweries, which he said can sometimes turn a dormant part of town into one with high foot traffic. He pointed to Lost Forty Brewing, which opened in December at Capitol Avenue and Byrd Street on the east side of Interstate 30 in downtown Little Rock, as an example of “urban revitalization.”

“I think the ale houses are really helping reinvigorate all of Little Rock and North Little Rock,” Rice said. “I think that it’s much more than a place to drink. I think it’s really helping refine a community and ensure that we have a respectable quality of life.”

Brew Bus in Business

The rise in the number of breweries in central Arkansas has also led to at least one related business in the industry.

The Little Rock Brew Bus, which has been shuttling passengers to breweries in central Arkansas since mid-February, already has plans to play a role in craft beer festivals and out-of-town tours.

Donavan Dossett, the founder of the company, said he grew up in Denver and saw the positive impact that breweries had in Colorado. He said he realized there was potential in a tour catering to out-of-state visitors as well as to Arkansas’ beer drinkers.

Dossett said he expects more breweries to open around town and for the industry to thrive.

“If I had my way, I’d have a brewery on every corner, but I expect them to grow individually and as a community,” Dossett said.

Native Brewer and Microbrewery Permit Holders

Business Name City
Gravity Brew Works Big Flat
Bike Rack Brewing Co. Bentonville
Ozark Beer Co. Rogers
Brick Oven Brewery & Pizza Co. Harrison
Eureka Springs Ale House Eureka Springs
Superior Bathhouse Brewery & Distillery Hot Springs
Brick Oven Brewery & Pizza Co. Paragould
Boscos Little Rock LLC Little Rock
Refined Ale Brewery of Little Rock Little Rock
Flyway Brewing Co. Little Rock
Diamond Bear Brewing Co. North Little Rock
Vino’s Inc. Little Rock
Blue Canoe Brewing Co. Little Rock
Stone’s Throw Brewing Little Rock
BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse Little Rock
Tiny Tim’s Pizza/West Mountain Brew. Co. Fayetteville
The Hog Haus Brewing Company Inc. Fayetteville
Core Brewing & Distilling Co. Springdale
Fossil Cove Brewing Co. Fayetteville
Saddlebock Brewing LLC Springdale
Foster’s Pint & Plate Rogers
Core Brewing & Distilling Rogers
Lost Forty Brewery Little Rock
Apple Blossom Brewing Co. Inc. Fayetteville
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