Let’s welcome back our special guest writer Chris Butler from Siloam Springs AR. He is returning with another “Arkansas Spotlight” series, featuring local establishments, breweries, watering holes and even holes-in-the-wall.
Apple Blossom Brewing: A Budding Brewery
1550 East Zion Rd. Suite 1
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72703
One of the newer players in the Northwest Arkansas craftbeer market is Apple Blossom Brewing Company. Just 9 months removed from their August 21, 2013 opening, they’ve set themselves apart from the rest of the newer breweries by being a full service restaurant as well. A risky move, but they’re succeeding on both fronts.
On this particular gorgeous Spring day in Northwest Arkansas, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to sit down and pick the brain of Ching Mong, one of the managing partners, about their beer, their philosophy, what’s coming up, and the overall craftbeer scene in the region. Oh, and of course try some of brewer Nathan Traw’s new offerings such as Unwind Wheat. This is no ordinary wheat; it’s not straw colored, rather it’s a rich mahogany. With crazy aromas and flavors, and a zesty citrus finish, it lines up perfectly with their commercial description:
“We used Chamomile as a substitute for bitter orange peel and more balanced fermentation profile than other commercial varieties. We added Chamomile in two different stages of the process, using both hot and cold sides of the facility. Over 6 lbs of chamomile, 4 lbs of coriander, & 1 lb each of lavender and lemongrass went into this beer. We roasted the coriander prior to using it to bring out the oils for easier extraction. This gives it a big orange citrus flavor, with a hint of lavender and lemongrass in the aroma. A very delicate beer that intensifies in flavor as it warms. Pairs well with just about anything.”
With this delicious beer in front of me, and Ching on the other side of their massive bar–hand crafted in Ireland no less–I get ready to ask my questions. Conversation flows, and it’s less interview, more regular bar chat. Although an owner, he is very hands-on and even more charismatic. We start by talking size of the operation, and he explains to me that though they have six fermentation tanks currently, they are in the process of ordering three more and nearly doubling output. They already keep twelve of their own hand crafted beers flowing, and have plans to add another copper drop down with four to six lines for beer. He quickly mentions they have plans to add guest beers to the their lineup, which drives me right to the next question:
Do you think the amount of local craft breweries is good for business or has the competition been a struggle?
Apparently there is no bad blood between any of the guys on the local scene, and Ching adds, “the competition is pushing them all to be better.” Ching noted they even have tentative plans to do a collaboration brew with Tanglewood Branch Beer Co from the south side of Fayettevile. No ideas yet, as they are still brainstorming, but it is good to see some friendly competition and camaraderie amongst the brewers.
The only real problems, he notes when pressed, is “simply keeping up with demand.” Which is why I suppose they are looking for those extra tanks. That leads me to ask if they have plans to move into full distribution from doing it themselves. They are hoping to be bottling or canning “within a year or so.” They just signed with Glidewell Distributing to start moving their product into restaurants very soon. And with the new growler fill law, you may be now be able to stock up on Apple Blossom beer at your local quality beer merchant. The impending assistance with distribution is likely the next step that will allow some of the owners to be less ‘hands-on’ and focus more on the steps for future growth.
What’s nice to hear as well, is that the entire original team is still there, with Nathan overseeing every brew. With his background working at Mother’s in Missouri and Red Lodge Ales in Montana, he has a strong pedigree. Ching even says that soon, with expansion, they’ll be having to hire an assistant brewer to help keep up with demand.
This brings me to order another beer, as my appetizers have now arrived–beer cheese dip served with homemade chips and Fayette-Weiss fries. Each are made with the house flagship beer, Fayetteweiss, a “gateway beer for non-craft folks” made in a lager style that’s clean and pure with no fillers. Both are delicious and I choose a Belgian IPA dubbed Wild Boar to accompany the food. It’s toasty and nutty with mild European hops, followed by a classic Trappist finish.
The food is excellent and the atmosphere is perfect, which makes for flawless accompaniment to the beers they craft. In speaking with Ching, I get a serious sense from him that they have a real plan. I mention this to him and he notes his other restaurant ventures, and how he has learned from mistakes and incorporated ideas to help further ventures. Over-reaching too soon is far and wide known to be the cause of bar/restaurant failures, and here, at Apple Blossom, he notes “we have a plan, to build a base before taking the next step.” These are things this customer likes to hear, especially with lofty bar dreams of my own someday.
It seems that with such a beautiful facility, quality food and beer, and a management/ownership with a vision, Apple Blossom is not only a player in the ever burgeoning craftbeer scene, they are a leader. The risk of adding full service has set them apart. I think Apple Blossom Brewing Company will be around for years to come, and they will be setting the tone of our native craft beer scene.
Chris Butler became a beer nerd as soon as he could afford to. Cursed with a taste for fine ales from the first sip, only a college budget kept him down. Years later, having moved from Texas to Arkansas, he realized how rare a quality beer is and how difficult it can be to acquire. Traveling and trading extensively, Chris now is on a mission to find and enjoy the best beverages that brewmasters are making. With the support of his family, he is tackling the craft beer world one, sometimes, two bottles at a time.
You can read Chris’s blog here: http://astonesthrowandacenturyago.blogspot.com/