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Phil Brandon's engineering degree has come in handy since July 2010, when the debut of Rock Town Distillery's gin and vodka was met with a chilly reception. Nearly seven years later, Brandon has slowly and quietly rebuilt the formula, earning top honors from New York City's Ultimate Spirits Challenge, Chicago's Beverage Testing Institute and Jim Murray's Whisky Bible, which in its 2017 edition bestowed its "Liquid Gold" label to three Rock Town spirits: the Arkansas Rye Whiskey, the Barley Bourbon and the Single Barrel Bourbon. The company announced last June it had been exploring the idea of moving to a lot at 616 E. Capitol Ave. to accommodate its expanded production, but tours and events coordinator Kelly Gee told us Rock Town aims to stick around in the East Village. "We would like to stay where we are, but we'll need a little more space. It's a good problem to have, but we're selling more whiskey than we can make."
In late 2016, David "Rusty" Thompson bought one block in the East Village from Industrial Realty Co. for $1.7 million. Thompson has said he envisions mixed-use development, with retail in the ground floor and apartments above. The property is bound by East Capitol Avenue on the south, Rector Street on the west, East Fourth Street on the north and Collins Street on the east. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's plan to massively widen the Interstate 30 may require buying a 60-foot-wide slice of the western boundary of the property. eStem Public Charter School
Little Rock's best-known charter school is on track to open a new elementary/junior high campus by July 2018, which will allow it to more than double its student capacity in grades K-9. Last May, eStem purchased the 111,096-square-foot warehouse on Shall Avenue for $1.7 million, and the charter operator hopes to have its financing complete by the end of the first quarter of this year. EStem CEO John Bacon said the plan is to gut the warehouse, then divide it into two separate buildings, one of which will be a K-6 elementary that eventually will contain 800 to 900 students. The other will be a junior high that will one day hold 450 students in grades 7-9. "We won't start with that many but will grow it out over time," Bacon said.
EStem is also working on a new high school for grades 10-12 at the UA Little Rock, which will allow its campus at Third and Louisiana to transition to serving grades K-9 only. When the expansion is complete, Bacon said, eStem will have two separate K-9 campuses in the downtown area (one on Shall, one on Louisiana) that feed into the UALR-based high school, accommodating a total of 3,800 to 4,400 students. (Today, the charter has an enrollment capacity of 1,462.)
When Yellow Rocket Concepts opened the doors to Lost Forty Brewing and began making craft beer in December 2014, the locally rooted team behind it already had made it big on the restaurant scene with Big Orange, ZAZA Fine Salad and Wood Oven Pizza Co. and Local Lime. Lost Forty continues to churn out craft beer in cans and from the tap in small-batch limited releases, like the "Nighty Night" Imperial Stout and the "Snake Party" Double IPA, in addition to standard brews like the Love Honey Bock, the Lost Forty Pale Ale and the session-worthy Day Drinker. Lost Forty's "Beer Food" menu is full of curiosities like the Hoppin' John hummus, an open-face fried Italian bologna and egg sandwich and a batch of 50 house-smoked rib plates every Thursday and Friday, sold by the pound until they run out.
The newest addition to the East Village brewhouses is Rebel Kettle, which opened its doors on March 25, 2016. The taproom and adjacent beer garden pour standard brews like Working Glass Hero Blonde Ale, Dirtbag Double Brown Ale and Moontower Cream Stout, supplemented by a roster of "rotator" beers and seasonal brews like the Richard Persimmons Sour Saison and the After Hours Smoked Porter, all pair-able with menu items like Boudin Stuffed Mushrooms, po' boys, burgers and salads. Rebel Kettle was founded by brewer John Lee; Pat Beaird, formerly of The Southern Gourmasian, runs the kitchen.
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