HAWK MOTH BREWING in Rogers is small and modern. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow taproom visitors to look in on the single room where owner and head brewer Bradley Riggs crafts Hawk Moth’s elixirs. It’s all white walls and stainless-steel tanks. Valves and hoses. Gauges and drains. But there’s one piece of equipment that stands out among the sterility of the rest of the room. Standing at around 8 feet tall just inside the entrance to the space, there’s what appears to be a giant wooden barrel up on one end, and essentially, that’s exactly what it is.
It’s called a foeder (pronounced food-er), and it’s Bradley’s pride and joy. It’s also the only one in use in Northwest Arkansas and one of two in the whole state—the other residing at Lost Forty Brewing in Little Rock. Though historically intended for cellaring wine, aging their brews in the foeder allows Hawk Moth to impart the American white oak flavor from the foeder’s wooden planks and expose the beer to the oxygen outside the barrel through pores in the wood. This is no different from aging beer in a whiskey or wine barrel, except in the case of the foeder, you’re trading away those spirit and wine notes for a neutral oak flavor. The larger scale of the foeder also allows the beer to mature at a slower pace, letting it develop evenly with more complex flavors. This process is just one of the many ways Bradley and his brewery are taking Arkansas craft beer in a new and exciting direction by, interestingly, reaching into the past for inspiration.
Bradley places a glass beneath a spout sticking out of the towering cask and turns the valve. A dark, smooth liquid fills the glass—an aged Russian imperial stout. It’s slightly boozy, slightly dry, with deep roasty notes of oak. In short, it’s delicious.
IN ITS MOST basic form, beer consists of only four ingredients: a cereal grain, yeast, hops and water. It’s a relatively simple beverage at its core, but the traditions behind its production stretch back millennia—and that’s no hyperbole. There are even laws regarding the regulation and distribution of the stuff outlined in the Code of Hammurabi, one of humanity’s oldest written texts. Plainly speaking, beer is old. Like, really old. Like, 13,000-plus years old. Some Native American tribes were brewing beer from corn before the Europeans arrived in the New World with a cache of their own, and by 1612, the newcomers had established America’s first brewery.
But when it comes to beer production—legal beer production, that is—and its relationship with The Natural State, well, that’s a much more recent development. Though you can trace the modern history of our local beer scene to the mid-’90s, in the past 10 years or so, the industry has grown so much that craft-beer breweries in Arkansas are verging on ubiquity. It’s a good time to be a beer drinker, but as it’s become easier for Arkansans to get their hands on delicious, locally crafted brews, the desire for new and interesting beer styles and flavor profiles has risen. And that’s a void Hawk Moth Brewing and its owner is determined to fill.
It’s been a slow process to get to this point, though, Bradley tells me as we chat over a couple of his Woodford Double Black IPAs—a blend of the foeder stout and a Woodford Bourbon-barrel-aged IPA. The taproom is empty save for a couple of employees at the moment, but this evening, the place will be playing host to members of the NWA Ladies Beer Club. Bradley goes on to explain that he actually set out to open the brewery about four years ago, but the timing wasn’t quite right. While the craft-beer scene in the state had been steadily growing since the early 2000s, breweries weren’t legal in Rogers until Benton County went wet in 2012. But before there would be a place for Hawk Moth’s more off-the-wall creations to flourish, there needed to be a foundation of local brews that were both accessible—from a flavor-profile perspective—and available—as far as volume was concerned.
“We knew that the market needed something like an APA … for people to get into craft beer,” Bradley says, referring to fellow Rogers brewery Ozark Beer Co.’s popular American Pale Ale. “It’s a gateway beer that you can find around town on 100 taps, and we knew the market needed that. But we also felt the market—maybe without even knowing it—wanted the imperial stouts, the old ales, the sour ales.”
While sours, barrel-aged brews and the like aren’t unheard of in Arkansas—Little Rock’s Rebel Kettle Brewing, in particular, tends to feature an impressive lineup of sours—the Old World style of beers that Hawk Moth focuses on are a bit harder to come by. And unlike most other breweries in Arkansas, those styles make up more than 50 percent of Hawk Moth’s volume.
“When you think of European beer, you think of German Hefes, and you think of Belgian Abbey-style beers,” Bradley says. “Well, the forgotten Old World beer is that really dry French farmhouse-style beer. And within French farmhouse style can be many different sub-styles. We like bone-dry beer that almost mimics a Champagne or something oftentimes in the way it feels on the palate and the way the high carbonation plays off of that as well. And that’s easily what half the beers that we’re doing are, and that’s not common.”
The first beer that Hawk Moth produced, for example, was a Bière de Garde. “No one knows what that is, right?” Bradley says. “Our take on what a Bière de Garde is is essentially a French-style amber ale.” Their house beer, The Interurban, is a style of beer called a grisette, which Bradley describes as “a really delicate French wheat beer” that’s a little hoppier than a traditional American wheat.
Bradley said Hawk Moth’s willingness to take on some of the more difficult or experimental styles is one of its most valuable strengths. “We’re just willing to swing for the fences,” he says.
They’re able to be successful at this, in part, as a result of the small-batch nature of the business. Currently producing around 300 barrels a year, they barely qualify as a microbrewery, which is classified by a maximum output of 15,000 barrels annually. But despite sitting at the lower end of volume scale, Bradley’s passion for small-batch brewing has resulted in Hawk Moth putting out an impressive 42 different beers in just a little over an eight-month period.
“It’s not another production brewery,” Bradley explains. “We’re not competing with Ozark or New Province or any of that. We’re just complementing. They’re pushing out large numbers and volume, and we’re doing, Hey, how small of a batch can we make? There’s plenty of room for all of us as we do our different concepts within a 3-mile radius. So even though we’re appealing to a smaller percentage—that’s why our volume is smaller—we get to have a little more fun, maybe, and we’ve been rewarded by the market. I think the market was even more ready than I even thought.”
Hop To It!
In which we tap some of our trusty beer gurus to design a dream Arkansas six-pack
Becca Bona, publisher of Brewed in Arkansas
Lost 40 Brewing’s Bare Bones Pilsner (original recipe)
Steve Shuler, senior writer at Rock City Eats
Rebel Kettle Brewing Co.’s Summer Jam Raspberry Sour
Scott Parton, co-host of Tap Time on 103.7 The Buzz
Fossil Cove Brewing Co.’s The Whizzle White IPA
Jill Linder, vice president of Central Arkansas Fermenters
Lost 40 Brewing’s Trash Panda IPA
John the Beer Snob
Gravity BrewWorks’ Rock-A-Billy Imperial Red
Brian Sorensen, author of Arkansas Beer: An Intoxicating History
Ozark Beer Company’s American Pale Ale