The old building at the corner of Ninth and Rock streets is more construction site than brewery right now, and the men behind Stone's Throw Brewing are more concerned with paint and drywall than they are with the fermenting tanks and kegs that sit ignored, still in their shipping crates. The screeching buzz of a table saw is punctuated by the clacking of hammers as the men behind the brewery discuss the best way to turn their limited work area into something that can be Health Department-certified and ready to brew beer.
But it's quickly clear after only a few minutes of watching the group work that there's a vision here among the loose wires and duct work, a vision that brewer Ian Beard is eager to share from his perch atop a ramshackle pile of paint-spattered scaffolding. Beard gestures grandly as he points out where the brewing equipment and taproom for this nascent "nano-brewery" will wind up, and it's clear from the eager note in his voice that he can already see the taps, the chairs and the people enjoying local craft beer.
Beard, along with partners Shawn Tobin, Brad McLaurin and Theron Cash have all been homebrewing for years, but this former liquor store and bakery they're renovating is the first commercial brewing venture they've been involved with. The group has been taking on most of the work themselves, juggling day jobs and test batches in anticipation of opening for the American Craft Beer Week that starts May 16.
When operational, the brewery will run a three-barrel system, equal to about 93 gallons of product every two weeks, which the partners intend to distribute across four to six taps of various styles, including some more experimental flavors like Mexican Hot Chocolate, Watermelon Saison and Chipotle Porter. Each member of the Stone's Throw foursome has his own specialty, and they hope to offer a selection of beers that appeal to a wide variety of tastes.
According to Beard, there are two types of breweries in the world: the industrial setups that churn out product for distribution to supermarkets and liquor stores, and smaller, more intimate operations that combine beer handcrafted on site with the homey feel of a neighborhood bar. It's this latter configuration that Stone's Throw hopes to achieve with a tap room that Beard says will seat "at least 20 people." Beard wants to be a part of making Arkansas a destination for "beer tourism," joining the growing community of professional brewers in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas in advancing the state's reputation for beer from relatively unknown to respectable. And while the brewery itself won't be providing food, Beard is open to providing parking space for a rotating cast of food trucks, something no other bar in town has tried. In addition, the brewery's location on Ninth Street is close enough to the River Market that food delivery is also an option.
For Beard, bringing a craft brewery to this section of downtown is a suitable homage to the neighborhood's German immigrant roots, including a biergarten that once stood just a block away from the Stone's Throw building, at the corner of 10th and Rock. It's in this same spirit that Beard talks of bringing to life historical beer recipes along with more modern concoctions at Stone's Throw, highlighting the numerous pre-Prohibition breweries that dotted the American landscape along with the resurgence of craft brewing that has swept across the country in the last 20 years. As another nod to the community, the brewery also hopes to follow the lead of Vino's brewmaster Josiah Moody in using the local hops and other botanicals that have begun springing up in some of Little Rock's urban gardens, most notably the Dunbar Garden on Chester Street.
Stone's Throw Brewing can be found on Facebook (facebook.com/StonesThrowBrewing) and Twitter (@StonesThrowBrew), and its own website should be up soon. In addition to these methods of connecting with potential fans, the group also plans to launch a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to help offset some of their startup and operational costs. The brewery will initially open as an on-site watering hole, but fresh beer for takeout will be available retail in growler form.
"We want to bring something good to Little Rock," Beard says. If the group's passion for hops, history, and heritage can be caught in a keg, Stone's Throw could do just that.
I liked it a lot. People in the theater were laughing out loud.