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Arkansas brewing industry is older than you think


The beer industry in Northwest Arkansas has skyrocketed over the last several years. Since 2011 there have been at least a dozen breweries open for business. And with only one or two exceptions, they have all been wildly successful.

Brewing is also becoming big business in other parts of the state. Little Rock is home to a bunch of new breweries – including Lost Forty, the state’s biggest brewer by volume – and smaller towns like Bonnerdale, Hot Springs, and Paris are seeing some brewing action, too.

It’s easy to think that beer has always gone gangbusters in our state, but things haven’t always been so bubbly for Arkansas brewers.

Only a handful of breweries operated in Arkansas prior to Diamond Bear Brewing Co.’s debut in 2000. At the time there was Vino’s in downtown Little Rock and Ozark Brewing Company in Fayetteville – both brewpubs that catered to onsite consumption. Diamond Bear’s arrival was significant because it marked the first time that an Arkansas brewery put most of its resources into packaging its beer for off-premise sales.

There was another brewery down in Fort Smith in the early 90s. Wiedman’s Old Fort Brewery opened in the former Joseph Knoble Brewery in 1992. Revered beer writer Michael Jackson traveled through Arkansas in 1997 and wrote that the “nutty, chocolatey, dry” Danny Boy Stout was his favorite of the brewery’s offerings. Unfortunately, Wiedman’s closed shortly after Jackson’s visit.

A deeper look into the history books yields very little documentation of the state’s early brewing industry. But according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, at least two breweries operated in the state before Prohibition. German immigrant Joseph Knoble ran his aforementioned brewery in Fort Smith from 1848 to 1881, and Little Rock Brewery was open until the national ban on alcohol went into effect in 1920.

The Joseph Knoble Brewery is particularly noteworthy because the building still stands in downtown Fort Smith (422 N. 3rd Street). It represents some of the city’s oldest surviving architecture and is a likely example of the kind of breweries in Knoble’s hometown of Wittenberg, Germany.

In 1971 an application was submitted to include the old brewery on the National Register of Historic Places. The Wortz family had restored the property to a close semblance of its former self, complete with brewing equipment (it served as a museum for many years). The application describes in great detail the layout of the brewery and how the brewing process worked from end-to-end.

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Dustin Bartholomew is the co-founder of Fayetteville Flyer, an online publication covering all things news, art and life in Fayetteville, Arkansas since 2007. A graduate of the Department of English at the University of Arkansas and a lifelong resident of the area, he still lives in east Fayetteville with his son Hudson, daughter Evelyn, his wife Brandy, and his two dogs Lily and Steve. On occasion, he tickles the ivories in a local band called The Good Fear.

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