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story.lead_photo.caption A new taproom for Fort Smith Brewing Co. recently opened downtown at 115 N. 10th St. at Brunswick Place. - Photo by David Gottschalk

FORT SMITH -- With the recent opening of its downtown taproom, Fort Smith Brewing Co. now can sell its suds on opposite ends of the state's second-largest city.

The move is part of the brewery's focus on the city for which it is named and another step in its plan to offer its beer regionally rather than market it statewide.

"We brew the best beers in Arkansas and we want to keep them in Fort Smith," said Quentin Willard, one of the brewery's founders.

He said at its heart, the craft beer industry is all about making quality, local beer, something to which he and his business partner, Micha Spahn, are committed.

[GALLERY: Photos from the Fort Smith Brewing Co. »]

"Out past 100 miles you don't have a relationship with your customers, you're just selling a product," Willard said.

The new taproom is at 115 N. 10th St. at Brunswick Place, right next to A.J.'s Oyster House. It's open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Fort Smith Brewing Co.'s brewery operation and taproom at 7500 Fort Chaffee Blvd boasts 62 beer taps and is open seven days a week. Willard and Spahn opened Fort Smith Brewing a little more than two years ago.

Willard said he hopes to see Arkansas recognized nationally for its craft beer offerings. He noted that the state's central location and ties to global companies that bring visitors from all around the nation make it perfect for getting the word out about the state's various beers and the breweries that produce them.

"Arkansas beers are really good, for our industry being so young," he said. "We have the foundation, it's just a matter of growing."

Fort Smith Brewing operates under a small brewery permit and reported production of 152 barrels of beer in 2018, according to data provided by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. A barrel of beer contains 31 gallons.

Arkansas' craft brewers produced nearly 37,500 barrels of beer in 2018, up less than 1% from a year earlier, according to the division. In 2018, the state's top five craft beer-makers accounted for 27,686 barrels, or 73% of the state's total beer production. Little Rock's Lost Forty Brewery produced nearly 40% of the state's total.

Across the U.S., beer producers made 194.2 million barrels in 2018, down less than 1%, according to information from the Brewers Association. Of that amount, craft brewers accounted for 25.6 million barrels, a 4% increase from the previous year. U.S. revenue for all beer in 2018 was $114.2 billion with craft beer sales at $27.6 billion, a 7% gain over 2017.

Sylvia Blain, executive director of the Arkansas Brewers Guild said there's no typical formula for brewery success in the newly forming Arkansas market. She said each brewery bases its decisions on a wide variety of factors including population trends, local competition and access to highways.

In response to emailed questions, Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association, said a focused regional approach is getting more common nationally. The Brewers Association promotes small, independent brewers.

Watson said the biggest advantage of the strategy is that "local" is one part of the demand for craft beer -- along with things like flavor, and variety. He said with so many choices a brand is more likely to resonate with consumers closer to the brewery's home base.

The challenge, Watson said, is primarily one of market size -- by focusing locally, a brewery only has so many beer lovers to buy its product.

Fort Smith Brewing's Willard said the new, downtown taproom will serve as a community hub and will offer food and entertainment. He said the brewery taproom in Chaffee Crossing has already featured comedians, local musicians, open mic nights and gatherings of family, friends and co-workers.

"It's a sense of community," Willard said about the mood at Fort Smith Brewing Co. "Everything we do is inspired by Fort Smith."

Photo by David Gottschalk
Patrons fill the new Fort Smith Brewing Co. taproom on a recent Thursday night.

SundayMonday Business on 12/01/2019

Print Headline: Fort Smith brewer keeping it local

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