Craft beer breweries gain popularity in central Arkansas; 6 establishments in Little Rock area

IndustriesAssociated Press

Craft beer breweries are gaining popularity in central Arkansas, as the state catches up with a national obsession with craft beers.

There are six establishments on either side of the Arkansas River. And the area's close-knit and growing brewing community is already looking for ways to promote its offerings to residents and tourists, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/1AF4OOK ).

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"Tourism is a big part of it. The more breweries that there are, the more they complement each other," said Diamond Bear President Russ Melton.

There are eight native brewery permits issued in Little Rock and North Little Rock and at least two more are in the application process. Melton said that to develop the brewery scene into a tourism draw, cooperation among the breweries will be key.

"We knew that tourism would be important, especially when we moved to this location," said Melton, president of the Arkansas Brewers Guild. "We are a much more prominent and visible venue for tourism than we were in our other location. The other breweries are icing on the cake. They add to the whole attraction."

A 2012 study done for the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association, indicated that the craft-beer industry contributed about $34 billion to the U.S. economy, said Bart Watson, the association's chief economist.

"More and more local communities are figuring out that this is something that can bring money into communities as people who are visiting want to see local breweries," Watson said. And, breweries in communities "create good, high value jobs because of that manufacturing component."

Nationally, craft breweries control about 10 percent of the overall beer market, Watson said.

Gretchen Hall, president and chief executive of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that given the popularity of wine, beer and bourbon trails in other parts of the country, the bureau hopes to create a "beverage tour" this year that features the breweries along with Rock Town Distillery and a new wine retailer.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com