Friday, May 2, 2014

Apple Blossom: A Budding Brewery

One of the newer players in the Northwest Arkansas craftbeer market is Apple Blossom Brewing Company. Just 9 months removed from their August 21, 2013 opening, they've set themselves apart from the rest of the newer breweries by being a full service restaurant as well. A risky move, but they're succeeding on both fronts. 

On this particular gorgeous Spring day in Northwest Arkansas, I've been afforded the opportunity to sit down and pick the brain of Ching Mong, one of the managing partners, about their beer, their philosophy, what's coming up, and the overall craftbeer scene in the region. Oh, and of course try some of brewer Nathan Traw's new offerings, starting with Unwind Wheat. This is no ordinary wheat, it's not straw colored, it's a rich mahogany. With crazy aromas and flavors, and a zesty citrus finish, it lines up perfectly with their commercial description:

         "We used Chamomile as a substitute for bitter orange peel and more balanced fermentation profile than other commercial varieties. We added Chamomile in two different stages of the process, using both hot and cold sides of the facility. Over 6 lbs of chamomile, 4 lbs of coriander, & 1 lb each of lavender and lemongrass went into this beer. We roasted the coriander prior to using it to bring out the oils for easier extraction. This gives it a big orange citrus flavor, with a hint of lavender and lemongrass in the aroma. A very delicate beer that intensifies in flavor as it warms. Pairs well with just about anything."

With this delicious beer in front of me, and Ching on the other side of their massive bar--hand crafted in Ireland no less--I get ready to ask my questions. Conversation flows, and it's less interview, more regular bar chat. Although an owner, he is very hands on and even more charismatic. We start by talking size of the operation, and he explains to me that though they have six fermentation tanks currently, they are in the process of ordering three more and nearly doubling output. They already keep twelve of their own hand crafted beers flowing, and plans have them adding another copper drop down and adding four to six more lines in. He quickly mentions they have plans to add guest beers to the their line up, which drives me right to the next question:
Do you think the amount of local craft breweries is good for business--rising tide lifts all boats--or has the competition been a struggle?
Well, apparently, there is no bad blood between any of the guys on the local scene, and furthermore, Ching adds, "the competition is pushing them all to be better." They even have tentative plans to do a collaboration brew with Tanglewood Branch Beer Co from the south side of Fayettevile. No ideas yet, as they are still brainstorming, but it is good to see some friendly competition and camaraderie amongst the brewers.
The only real problems, he notes when pressed, is "simply keeping up with demand." Which is why I suppose they are looking for those extra tanks. That leads me to ask if they have plans to move into full distribution from doing it themselves. They are hoping to be bottling or canning "within a year or so" and there is a handshake agreement with Glidewell to start moving their product into restaurants very soon. The impending assistance with distribution is likely the next step that will allow some of the owners to be less 'hands-on' and focus more on the steps for future growth. 
What's nice to hear as well, is that the entire original team is still there, with Nathan overseeing every brew. With his background working at Mother's in Missouri and Red Lodge Ales in Montana, he has a strong pedigree. Ching even says that soon, with expansion, they'll be having to hire an assistant brewer to help keep up with demand.
This brings me to order another beer, as my appetizers have now arrived--beer cheese dip served with homemade chips and  Fayette-Weiss fries. Each are made with the house flagship beer, Fayetteweiss, a "gateway beer for non-craft folks" made in a lager style, but clean and pure with no fillers. Both are delicious and I choose a Belgian IPA to accompany,the Wild Boar. It's toasty and nutty with mild European hops, and that classic Trappist finish.
The food is excellent, and it is evident that it's perfect to accompany the beers they offer, as is the case with most of their plates. In speaking with Ching, I get a serious sense from him that they have a real plan. I mention this to him and he notes his other restaurant ventures, and how he has learned from mistakes and incorporated ideas to help further ventures. Over reaching too soon is far and wide known to be the cause of bar/restaurant failures, and here, at Apple Blossom, he notes "we have a plan, to build a base before taking the next step."  These are things this customer likes to hear, especially with lofty bar dreams of my own someday. 
It seems that with such a beautiful facility, quality food and beer, and a management/ownership with a vision, Apple Blossom is not only a player in the ever burgeoning craftbeer scene, they are a leader. The risk of adding full service has set them apart, and has paid off. I think that not only will Apple Blossom  Brewing Company be around for years to come, they will be paving the way and setting the tone for future ventures. 


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