In all of Arkansas there are but two commercial outfits that make beer and put it in bottles. One locates its national headquarters in Little Rock just three blocks from the Arkansas State Capitol building. It's the Diamond Bear Brewery and this is a picture of it. You can tell by the garage doors and the giant panels of green safety glass that this building used to be a Studebaker dealership.
There are three reasons for inclusion of this enterprise on this website. The first is the free tour. The second and third are the two free beers you get when you take the free tour. Unlike other brewery tours I've taken, this one does not end with the free beers, but begins with them. Further, the samples in the tasting room are served in real glasses, not eyedroppers, so you get to enjoy your test brew under real world conditions.
The only bad news is not really all that bad. State law limits alcohol content to 5% by weight and limits free samples to two twelve ounce glasses.
The tour begins in the tasting room with the brewmaster's historical and cultural tutorial on the ancient craft of beermaking. Emphasis is placed on the importance of the inclusion of tip top ingredients and the exclusion of cheap substitutes. Right about here mention is made of the various national brands which to the detriment of taste and body include rice and/or corn in their recipes. Not to fear, discerning consumer. You're quaffing Diamond Bear, and that means water, malt, hops and yeast and nothing else.
Once you properly appreciate what you're drinking, your guide takes you back to the fomer Studebaker service deparment and shows you the equipment, the conveyors, the rollers and crackers, the cookers, the fermenters, the bottlling line and the fridge.
The marketing strategy is pretty straightforward. There was growing demand for locally brewed beer; yet in Arkansas' largest city, while there were a few brew pubs, there was no locally bottled beer. Diamond Bear came into existence to fill the abhored capitalist vacuum. All indications are that things are going about as planned.
Diamond Bear was founded by Russ Melton and six other partners who in 2000 bought brewing equipment from a defunct Seattle brewery and hired a single employee, brewmaster John Templet. In the last quarter of that year they delivered their first keg to their first customer, The Flying Saucer Beer Emporium in the River Market District in Litttle Rock. Here we are four years later and Diamond Bear is available in pretty much any good sized town in the state and also in Louisianna and even across the river in Tennessee. Memphis and Shreveport, basically.
The name Diamond Bear is an historical reference to Arkansas, which was once known as "The Diamond State" because of the diamond mine in Murfreesboro and was earlier known as "The Bear State" on account of the plentiful bears. Arkansas has also been known as "The Wonder State," "The Land of Opportunity," and today we market ourselves as "The Natural State."
Here's a link to the Diamond Bear website. If you want to take the tour, show up at 323 Cross Street at 2:00 any Saturday afternoon. Their phone number is 501-708-2739.
Arkansas Democrat Gazette: 10/18/2000 sec D page 1; 2/23/2001 Weekend sec; 4/1/2003 Business sec; 7/18/2003 Weekend sec; 10/3/2003 Business sec.
...and of course there was the tour.
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