Is Arkansas the Craft Beer Frontier?

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Founded in 2003, the Arkansas Brewers Guild (ABG) now has 22 members (out of about 28 total breweries in the state). Every Arkansas state representative has a brewery in their district, which certainly helped the guild have a successful legislative year! The alcohol laws are some of the most progressive in the south, and clearly the state representatives support small brewery businesses.

I had opportunity to visit with the ABG for their board and member meeting held at New Province Brewing Co. in Rogers. Guild President Jonathan Martin of Bubba’s Brew works alongside a group of eight other volunteer board members—all selfless entrepreneurs shepherding the state’s brewing industry landscape.

Despite not having any paid staff, the ABG manages to participate in four festivals and four tap takeovers each year. In order to hire staff and continue the guild’s momentum, ABG is moving to take advantage of the Brewers Association’s cooperative Director Grant Program.

During the ABG member meeting, Martin provided an update federal initiatives, as he and Fossil Cove Brewing Co.’s Andrew Blann (ABG Treasurer) participated in the BA’s Hill climb in April. Well informed and encouraging, Martin urged brewery owners to get involved and stay united.

The state legislative session closed in April. The guild employs a part time lobbyist, who serves as the eyes and ears of the guild at the state capital. Multiple beer-related bills, including an omnibus bill, flowed through the session, and everything that passed was positive for the state’s brewers–not always customary in this current landscape. With multiple representatives that are truly small brewery champions, the Arkansas brewers are well regarded in Little Rock.

Guild Board Member Evan McDonald, co-founder of Apple Blossom Brewing, says all progress has been made with pro-small business representatives by demonstrating the local beer industry’s economic impact, provided by the Brewers Association. Arkansas brewers produced over 35,000 barrels, ranking 44th in production and 39th for economic impact in the country.

(MORE: Find your state’s stats on Statistics page.)

With the session closed, and the next session not until 2019, the ABG celebrates 15 years with a renewed focus on membership engagement, event organizing, and organizational development. Keep your eye on this thirsty beer-friendly “Bear State,” as the frontier of craft beer may be here.