Jeff and Jon talk with a local brewer, Lee Robinson, Founder and Co-Owner of Bentonville Brewing Company.
Q: What is the difference between nano and micro-brewery?
A: It’s based on volume production, what you can do annually. How many barrels a year - in Arkansas it’s 500 barrels a year is a micro-brewery. However this number increases every year, the bar keeps on raising for what can be considered as micro-brewery.
Q: How do you sell your beer?
A: We self-distribute and we don’t go through distributorship because that means a lot more costs,a lot more kegs and lot more inventories to get a good percentage of the keg.
Q: Your run your own tap room? Where is your tap room?
A: Yes, we run our own tap room. Its over here at 1000 Southeast 5th St in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Q: What is your background? Is that where you met Gavin Edwards (co-owner)?
A: My background is actually finance and real estate. Yes, we have worked together in real estate over the last few years, he was a realtor and I was a loan officer. He came into the brewery a little bit later in the game. It was me and another friend of mine who started it.
Q: About your brewmaster, how long he’s been doing it?
A: About 2 or 3 months now. But before him, we brought in a guy who is experienced so it is from that person where our current brewmaster has taken his technical background from.
Q: When you guys decided that you wanted to do this, how did you come to an agreement? Who’s gonna do what? What does the partnership look like and all that fun stuff?
A: A lot of handshakes and verbal. We do have a new operating agreement now but that’s probably one thing that we should have defined more clearly early on. We should have written out in detail what and whose role should it be because many would not do the roles they said they would do.
We did some other things, trading equity for work and build-out and stuff like that but it didn’t quite go as we planned but we all got it done in the end. I did all the licensing with the TTB and ABC, a lot of stuff, I didn’t know about. You can read all that stuff online but depending where you live at, you will have different circumstances to go through in getting a license.
Q: Now that you’re in the game, are you getting a little more confident with all that works, getting the traffic, getting the brand out there and all that?
A: Yes, we’re very excited how things are going so far. Our first brews were actually very good beers.The first time we had a bad batch, they got messed up, we got the wrong yeasts and we just flushed it down the drain.
Q: What do you think the outlook is for craft brew?
A: I think it’s very positive right now especially here in Benton County and in the Little Rock area, there is a lot of growth happening, there are a lot of breweries coming out.
Q: How has it been so far? Did it meet your expectations? Exceeded?
A: It has met my expectations. Right now, we’re paying the bills so that’s pretty good. We’re not really into real profit yet.
Q: When you get to capacity, what’s the plan? What will you do to expand?
A: That’s where it gets a little risky to me. We can add a little more areas and space but we will soon outgrow that space and that’s gonna be the next challenge - what we are going to do, should we stay in this small craft brewery or do mid-size brewery and that is where the risk will come in. It is something we should plan and think about thoroughly.
Q: Are you going to can as well?
A: If we decide to go, we need to move to another facility. That maybe an option for us.
Q: What do you think about some of the labels that are out?
A: Sometimes more is less, that is my personal opinion. I would like to keep it simple and basic and focus on the beer.
Q: What’s keeping you up at night?
A: Right now we are trying to maximize production and also manage accounts, making sure to keep all accounts that we have. And also, what beer to produce.
Q: How many different types of beer that you have now?
A: We’ve got 5 different types.
Q: Do you guys offer anything other than your own beer?
A: We have some wine in our brewery. We have some brewed coffee from Airship coffee. We’re looking at local root beer.
Q: Are you having fun?
A: Yes, I really enjoy starting business and running them day to day
Q: What about cleaning and water quality?
A: The whole brewing process is cleaning. Brewing is not difficult, it's a lot of hard work, taking good notes so you’d know what you did right, what you did wrong. And making sure that everything is very clean so you don't get infections. With the water quality, we run it through a carbon filter and we treat it with different salts to balance the water to the beer that we’re gonna make.
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