Crafting Suds 

Diamond Bear grows along with tastes for real beer.

It's the end of a long day for Russ Melton, tire salesman. He enters his brewery, Diamond Bear, at Fourth and Cross streets still wearing his Michelin button-down and apologizing for being late — "spent 45 minutes with a guy on some silly tire questions" — but happy to talk beer, his hobby and obsession. This fall will mark a decade of brewing in this one-time car dealership where Melton, his wife, Sue, and three employees have built up Diamond Bear, Arkansas's largest stand-alone brewery, into a regional distributor and maker of award-winning craft beers.

"The reason beer and wine are such a big part of our culture is microbes that'll kill you won't live in alcohol," Melton says. "Plus you boil it, and that kills 'em, too. That's why it's such a big part of Western civilization. By 1000 AD most of the water in Europe was contaminated in some form or fashion, and you'd drink it and get sick or dead. Beer and wine, they felt pretty safe, because they just never got sick from it."

You could make the case that beer is a part of the civilization for a number of other reasons, as well. Its charms are the results of a natural process, fermentation, that requires few ingredients and can be achieved purely by accident; it naturally turns acquaintances into friends, and friends into confidants. It makes televised baseball borderline entertaining, turns wallflowers into stand-up comics and is the only prefix other than "ping" that we've ever managed to pair with "pong."

So the question is posed to Melton: Why, then, do people insist on drinking the wispy American lagers of the world when creative, thoughtful beers are so plentiful these days?

He ignores the question in the most marvelous way possible. "Speaking of beer with flavor," he says. "Would you like a beer?"

Melton scarcely waits for an answer before heading behind the bar and drawing two glasses of golden lager, Diamond Bear's gateway beer for Bud aficionados; one of the glasses is from a tour of the Stiegl Brewery in Salzburg, Austria, a souvenir from his and Sue's honeymoon. "That's the new Southern Blonde," Melton says as he returns to his seat. "I am very, very fond of it. We were trying to make this more of a migration beer. If you think about Budweiser, it's probably 10, 12 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). This is 28. That's a pretty big gap between Budweiser and this beer right here.

"This is, I think, very nice and crisp."

The beers the Meltons keep on tap at their house tend to be the richer, darker varieties. The Southern Blonde is meant to be a mass-appeal beverage, designed to bridge the gap between the beers of habit and the beers Diamond Bear is offering. Drinking it takes Melton back more than 10 years, when he was schlepping his business plan for the brewery to area banks. Few loan officers seemed impressed, but one in particular stuck with Melton, the one who asked him, What makes you think this'll work in Arkansas? Melton produced a document demonstrating that Washington state, with roughly double Arkansas's population, had a mere 31 breweries. "Based on that," Melton recalls saying, "I think Arkansas could support one."

It's clear that what happened next still galls the brewery owner. When Melton reenacts this moment, he turns up the old-man Arkansas twang to imitate the banker. He leans back in his chair and crosses his fingers behind his head, elbows out wide and says, "Yeaaaah, but this is Arkansas. People here drink Bud Light and stuff."

Comments (5)

Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

Most Shared

  • Bill to regulate dog breeders draws opposition inside chamber from industry rep

    A fight could be brewing over regulation of puppy mills, with legislation planned to better protect dogs and opposition already underway from a state representative who makes a living working with commercial dog breeders.
  • The hart

    It is hard for a straight person, The Observer included, to imagine what it would be like to be born gay — to be shipwrecked here on this space-going clod, where nearly every textbook, novel, film and television show, nearly every blaring screen or billboard or magazine ad, reinforces the idea that "normal" means "heterosexual."
  • Arkansas's new anti-gay law forgets history

    It turns back the clock on civil rights.
  • Hot Springs woman sues; says she was fired for being transgender

    One of the biggest lies of the battle to institutionalize legal discrimination against LGBT people in Arkansas is that protections are unneeded.
  • Presbytery of Arkansas opposes bills aimed at gay discrimination

    The Presbytery of Arkansas, the governing body for Presbyterian churches in the northern two-thirds of Arkansas, met Saturday at Clarksville and adopted a resolution urging Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto SB 202, which is aimed at preventing local government from passing anti-discrimination laws to protect gay people. The Presbytery also expressed its opposition to a pending House bill that, in the name of "conscience," would protect those who discriminate against gay people.

Latest in Cover Stories

Event Calendar

« »

February

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Most Viewed

  • Arkansas's new anti-gay law forgets history

    It turns back the clock on civil rights.
  • The hart

    It is hard for a straight person, The Observer included, to imagine what it would be like to be born gay — to be shipwrecked here on this space-going clod, where nearly every textbook, novel, film and television show, nearly every blaring screen or billboard or magazine ad, reinforces the idea that "normal" means "heterosexual."
  • Arts centered where?

    Desire for a new building could uproot Little Rock's longtime cultural gem and send it across the river.
  • Home at last

    Mourners stand over the casket of Corporal C.G. Bolden of Clinton during a Feb. 21 memorial service. Bolden was taken prisoner while fighting in Korea in January 1951 and died in a P.O.W. camp four months later. His remains were returned to the U.S. by the North Korean government in the 1990s, and were identified through DNA testing in December.
  • Walmart wage hike, by the numbers

    Also, fluoride rides again, Hutchinson's plan for prisons, a puppy mill, a safe place for Craigslist transactions, LRSD legal battle and more.

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2015 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation