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Craft Brews Make Home in Fort Smith

3 min read

It was love that brought Quentin Willard back to Fort Smith, and it was love that led him, with business partner Brooke Elder, to found Fort Smith Brewing Co.

Willard, from Van Buren, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and has traveled the world, but he was frustrated with the poor state of the area’s economy and wanted to do something to boost it. At the same time, his father was experiencing health issues, and Willard thought he needed to be closer to home. “Between the two, it was just kind of a no-brainer that I needed to be back here.”

Willard has some small-business experience, he said, and Elder is an accountant at Beall Barclay & Co. Together with brewmaster Micah Spahn and marketer Brennan Nugent they opened the craft brewery in September at 7500 Fort Chaffee Blvd. at Chaffee Crossing.

Willard and Elder bought the property at Chaffee Crossing, a third of an acre on which an 8,415-SF warehouse sits, in April 2016, and Willard puts their total investment at around $350,000 so far.

“We’re brand new. We’re young. We’re just starting a new venture. We’re not trying to break the bank,” he said. “If it goes bust, we’re not completely out of it.

“And we also didn’t want to become like other breweries who invest millions of dollars and it takes forever for them to recoup [their investment] or they have to close down. Plenty of businesses have failed because they had too much overhead, and we definitely were cognizant of that when we started planning this.”

It’s the first brewery in Fort Smith since Weidman’s Old Fort Brewery closed in 2002. Weidman’s opened in 1992 at 422 N. Third St., on the site of the old Joseph Knoble Brewery.

“Other breweries haven’t moved here because of the economy,” Willard said. “It’s not a big craft beer-drinking community — right now. But just like with me, I was never a big fan of beer until somebody showed me a good beer. I’m confident that the same will happen with this community.

“Once we start infiltrating the market with these different styles of beer, different kinds of beers, I think people will be very similar to me — realize that beer is very diverse, that there could be something for everybody. We’ve already seen that here in the tasting room.”

In other words, Willard said, it’s a matter of educating the public.

Fort Smith Brewing’s first brew was Trailblazer IPA, produced “in honor of all the original trailblazers who bravely ventured before us and founded our home city of Fort Smith.” And it’s planning other beers honoring area history, like Parker’s Porter (recognizing “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker) and Darby’s Stout (in honor of Fort Smith’s Gen. William O. Darby).

The brewery is starting off small, with a goal of 250 barrels in its first full year. “But more important than that quota is that we create really good beers,” Willard said. “That’s our No. 1 goal.”

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