The malt shop 

Black-owned brewery whips up the suds in LR.

WINDELL GRAY: Preserving beer in Little Rock.
  • WINDELL GRAY: Preserving beer in Little Rock.

Let's talk about beer.

For your average lover of Liquid Bread, there's something magic about it, something beautiful. It's fitting that the spectrum of beer — red, deep brown, honey yellow, rich copper, near-black — looks a lot like the spectrum of humanity, given how much joy it can give to our species. This is the truth that men like Windell Gray know.

By the time you read this, Gray will be bottling ales and malt liquor at his new business, Refined Ale Brewery of Little Rock, at 2221 Cedar St. From his small shop there — a space so small, in fact, that he had to get all his equipment custom-fabricated in Cabot so it would fit — he's making history as well as suds, as the proprietor of the first black-owned brewery in Arkansas.

Refined Ale of Little Rock officially opened April 16, but Gray has been making libations since the early 1990s. Back then, he owned a bar-becue restaurant called Mr. G's on 12th Street. His homemade wine was a component of the sauce there, and he gave away whatever didn't go on the ribs. He then got into the trucking business, but he didn't abandon the winemaking. He also started home-brewing beer, though strictly as a diversion until last year.

“About a year ago, when trucking started getting slow, I stopped trucking,” Gray said. “I said, I'm going to take one of my hobbies and go mainstream.”

After securing a small space next door to his mother's restaurant, Wayne's Fish and Burgers, Gray started working his way through the laborious process of securing the permits to make beer commercially. “It's kind of difficult to get cranked up, because there's so many different requirements you have to meet,” he said. “You really spend a lot of time and money doing the waiting game.” (As an example, he points out that if he hired an employee today, it would take about three and a half months to get him certified to work in the brewery before he could start. Understandably, Gray works alone for now. While he was wading through red tape, he educated himself by studying the art and science of brewing — including long days spent observing the process at Little Rock's Diamond Bear Brewery in Little Rock. “I spent a lot of time over at Diamond Bear,” he said. “I should've been on the clock.” He came to respect Diamond Bear, he said, for its care and absolute dedication to cleanliness, traits he said he has tried to emulate at his own shop.

Refined Ale runs three barrel batches of 35 gallons each, and Gray said he should be able to run 12 barrels a week. He said that his ale and malt liquor will be made in essentially the same way — though malt liquor recipes have fewer hops, which gives the drink a sweeter and less bitter flavor. Gray said that Refined Malt Liquor, however, will be lacking a few things you might get from a big-name brew like Colt 45.

“If you go to the store and buy the typical on-the-shelf malt liquor, it has everything in it but the kitchen sink. Malt liquors tend to be made from leftovers that are left after you make the beer,” Gray said. “Craft brewers, we don't brew with any kind of preservatives or anything. We don't put any junk in the beer. There's no corn, no nothing. Nothing to stretch it out.”

Gray said he's working on a deal with distributors now, and it will probably be sometime in mid-May before you can sample the sweet fruits of his labors. For now, he's just concentrating on making the best product he can. It's a process that's strangely familiar for a man who has long known his way around a stove.

“I've been cooking a long time,” Gray said. “They call it brewing, but I really call it cooking. When you make beer, all you're doing is making a soup. You can call it brewing, but you're really just making a soup with all kinds of ingredients in it.”
For more about Refined Ale Brewery of Little Rock, visit the website at www.refinedale.com.




Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by David Koon

  • Blue smoke

    Since 1983, Little Rock's Nichols & Simpson Organbuilders has built a reputation for uncompromising excellence.
    • Mar 2, 2019
  • It's the Best and Worst 2018

    Our annual salute to weird, worrisome, wonderful Arkansas.
    • Dec 20, 2018
  • Fast forward in Blytheville

    The East Coast Timing Association held its Arkansas 1-Mile Challenge in September, where racers from all over the country mixed gasoline, steel and passion in the pursuit of raw speed.
    • Oct 11, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Latest in A&E Feature

  • Blue smoke

    Since 1983, Little Rock's Nichols & Simpson Organbuilders has built a reputation for uncompromising excellence.
    • Mar 2, 2019
  • Perfectionism, patriarchy and paradox: A Q&A with Iris Dement

    Without her nomadic life’s timeline as accompaniment — the youngest of 14 kids, catapulted from Northeast Arkansas to coastal California at the age of 3 — you might hear Iris Dement’s inimitable voice and assume she never left the American South.
    • Feb 22, 2019
  • Not just a fluke: Wednesday Night Poetry celebrates 30 years

    Wednesday Night Poetry celebrated its 30th anniversary on Feb. 6, commemorating 1,567 consecutive Wednesdays of weekly poetry readings since it began as the first recurring art event in Hot Springs on Feb. 1, 1989.
    • Feb 19, 2019
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Hogs flop in SEC tourney

    Arkansas has had a curious history in the SEC men’s basketball tournament. The 1994 national champs were ousted from it by a stellar Kentucky squad, and when that happened, it seemed to provide a spark as the Hogs spent the next three weeks wiping out their competitors to claim the ultimate crown.

© 2019 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation