Fayetteville Beer Works is the eighth brewery in Arkansas’s City of Beer (or ninth, depending on how you count the Appleblossom and soon-to-be Flyway Brewing Company location on Zion Rd.), and they are the first to be established in East Fayetteville. Just off the intersection of Mission and Crossover, they’re tucked behind a Wendy’s and an insurance agent amid the sea of East Fayetteville’s residences.
From the get-go, they weren’t afraid to do things differently. Instead of a grand opening, they quietly sneaked onto the scene. Perhaps it helps that the owners, Brian and Khara O’Connell, and head brewer, Peter Etges, are all industry veterans. The space has a certain restraint which bespeaks years of experience and a humble confidence in the business’s future.
When they decided to start a brewery here in Arkansas, Brian O’Connell said he was rethinking the retail model of a brewery, so Fayetteville Beer Works has “no design on distribution ever.” Instead, he told me they’re focusing on creating a cool, fun experience to bring the retail customer into their world to fashion a community.
Running a Pub with a Direct-to-Customer Retail Focus
Brian said that “being just a retail space gave us a certain flexibility when looking for a location.” For zoning and logistical reasons, breweries are often located in light industrial zones. And while Fayetteville Beer Works could maintain its whole production line on premises, they don’t need the space to accommodate distributors’ trucks and the garage doors to shuttle around pallets of product.
Instead of prioritizing distribution customers, as any brewery with machinations of being on liquor store shelves must to some degree, Fayetteville Beer Works has put their retail customer front and center of their business model.
The location isn’t without some constraints; their fermenters and serving tanks take up a not insignificant portion of the backspace at the brewery, and without the room to accept distributors’ trucks, they also can’t receive deliveries of their raw materials for brewing. So, they don’t have the room nor the logistical space to keep hot-side production on premises.
Brewing Enters the Sharing Economy
Fayetteville Beer Works shows that with a little lateral thinking, you can put together a leaner start-up. Americans, with our strong streak of DIY individualism can be a little obsessive about ownership, but sharing, which, broadly construed, includes rentals, could certainly be a way forward as we think about economic efficiency and environmental sustainability.
In a small brewery, sharing can be a way of operating more efficiently. Since distribution is not a goal, Fayetteville Beer Works will not be brewing every day, so Brian said the hot-side equipment is going to spend many days idle anyways. Hot-side equipment is required to do all the cooking – the mashing, lautering, sparging, boiling, and so on (it’s complicated steeping!) – that goes into making the wort that will be fermented into beer. All that equipment takes up space and is not cheap. So, instead of trying to cram hot-side production into their space – and because they don’t need their liquor license to cover the location they produce the wort at – Fayetteville Beer Works rents equipment from Fossil Cove Brewing Company.
Back of the napkin math suggests that for the size of their equipment and the 2500 barrels of beer they sell per year, Fossil Cove only needs about 25 workweeks of brew days per year for their current operation, so by renting Fossil Cove’s equipment, Fayetteville Beer Works has found a win/win for both companies. They don’t need to maintain mostly idle equipment, and Fossil Cove is getting more brew days out of their equipment.
On Fayetteville Beer Works’ brew days, the head brewer, Peter Etges, heads over to Fossil Cove, uses their own materials that Fayetteville Beer Works stores there, and then when the wort is done, he transfers it into food grade totes to bring back to Fayetteville Beer Works’ premises, which is already common practice in cider, wine, and liquor production. Although it’s a little unique among brewing companies, brewers are the outliers for preferring to each own all their production equipment individually in one location.
The process is, however, not new to the O’Connells. When they were operating Renegade Brewing Company in Denver, they were at one point operating two brewhouses, only one of which had the hot-side production equipment.
When Etges gets the wort back to Fayetteville Beer Works, it’s transferred into one of their fermenters, and they pitch the yeast to begin the fermentation process then. When I asked Brian about their brewing setup, he explained that “we are kind of a new model.” There are contract brewers who brew other companies’ beer, and joint proprietorships, in which breweries fully share a production space. But Fayetteville Beer Works does neither, choosing to forge their own path.
The Brewer’s Experience
But where they brew isn’t the only thing that sets Fayetteville Beer Works apart. Brian’s philosophy for the business, less complication by intention, infuses almost every aspect of the operation. When you go, you’ll notice that your draught beers aren’t coming from a keg but rather straight from the bright tanks, where the beer finishes. Functionally, since they have no intentions to ship their beer out, Brian said they have “no purpose for kegs.” And by not kegging their beer, they’ve “reduced a step when the beer can oxidize.” Oxidation produces off-flavors of paper and cardboard – it is the chemical process of aging a big heavy stout or a barleywine, but most beers are best fresh.
By pulling draughts from their bright tanks, Fayetteville Beer Works offers a unique experience compared to many breweries. Brian says “the beer’s just fresher from the tank” by omitting all the transfers that get the beer to kegging or canning and then back into your glass. “The bright tank is where the brewer tastes the beer, so we’re giving customers the brewer’s experience,” Brian continued.
Similarly, they pour draughts through European-style taps, which infuse the beer with smaller CO2 bubbles. So, less of the carbonation breaks out, and the beer feels smoother than it might otherwise would.
By pouring directly from the bright tanks, Fayetteville Beer Works can also “individually temperature control each beer as opposed to keeping all the kegs at one temperature in a walk-in.” Just like wine, different beers will play on your palate better or worse at different temperatures. Without building dedicated storage space for different temperatures, you can’t really achieve that minute degree of control with kegs – and the brewery already needs to have the bright tanks strung up with glycol lines to control their temperature regardless! "Less complication by intention," indeed!
“You Own the Business. It doesn’t Own You.”
Fayetteville Beer Works wants “to be the neighborhood pub of east Fayetteville” and is building a generational business. O’Connell said he’ll know he’s succeeded when a 21-year-old is having their first pint at the bar and able to reminisce about the wonderful afternoons they spent at Fayetteville Beer Works with their parents when they were younger.
In his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, O’Connell showed why he had such a clear vision of Fayetteville Beer Works’ future. When I asked him for any parting wisdom since he founded his first business fifteen years ago, he said “start with an end in mind” – ask yourself “if you have a choice, what’s your exit? Do you sell it, close up when you retire, or pass it on?”
He says he sees “younger entrepreneurs changing course too frequently.” In that kind of situation, he says, when something starts working, it can be hard to tell what exactly was successful. “Customers rely on regularity and consistency,” O’Connell said, “Don’t chase your competitors. Stick to your plan.” Every business is going to have its ups and downs, but having this clear vision of the business helps O’Connell find solutions that fit his model.
For Fayetteville Beer Works, Brian says “We’re focused on being a neighborhood spot.” It’s worth noting that the O’Connells ran Renegade Brewing successfully under a different business model, so what’s right for one business venture doesn’t have to be the only way you do business. Regardless, Brian O’Connell suggests young entrepreneurs “make time for your life” (it’s good advice for students too).
Every time a new brewery opens up in the area, never mind just Fayetteville, we hear hushed whispers about market saturation, not based on economic data but rather the ‘vibes.’ But craft beer only makes up about a quarter of beer sales. These new breweries are answering needs that their owners aren’t seeing met in the area yet, whether that be in specific locations or in certain experiences and products. Fayetteville Beer Works is distinguishing themselves by serving their beer in a new and interesting way – and taking up some of the slack in the economy with a new business model.