I had the fortune and misfortune recently to find myself spending a weekend in Hot Springs, Ark., and so of course I decided to report on the beer scene in case you also find yourself in Hot Springs sometime soon.
The fortune: They have beer, the bathhouses are cool, and the scenery is nice.
The misfortune: They don’t have very much good beer.
In fact, the trip (which focused solely on the historic downtown part of town, Bathhouse Row) was really fairly frustrating on the beer front, and especially the craft beer front. The bars and restaurants I went to all seemed to have one or both of Sam Adams Seasonal or Blue Moon (although I’m tired of Blue Moon these days) on tap, but after that it was a steady stream of watery, mass-production lagers. At one restaurant bar, I had this conversation with the bartender:
Me: So, does Arkansas have a pretty good local craft beer scene?
Me: (Waiting to see if the bartender will elaborate)…
Me: OK, thanks.
At one point, I had as many Land Shark Lagers (read: one) as I could tolerate, and even contemplated switching to mixed drinks. I mean, when Land Shark Lager is the unquestioned best beer option, things are not going well. There was a glimmer of hope at one point when we spotted a bar that had a Fat Tire neon in the window, but when the smell of 40-year-old stale ashtray came wafting out the front door, I couldn’t bring myself to go inside. (Sorry, I’m too old to deal with smoky dive bars anymore. Dive bars? Yes. Smoky dive bars? No.)
I was really about to lose hope for Hot Springs, but there were a couple saving graces. One was a German restaurant called the Brau Haus.
I stopped in for a beer and found a very nice selection of German, Belgian and European beers. At the time, the Oktoberfests were coming on tap, so that was definitely a perk. In a pinch, that could definitely fulfill your beer needs — especially if you like German food.
But the really interesting development was found right in the heart of Bathhouse Row:
This was in August, and the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery looked like it still had much renovation work required before it could open. The concept looks pretty cool — brew beer using the famous Hot Springs thermal water, which is said to check in at 143-degrees Fahrenheit. The homebrewer in me says that could save quite a bit of money on electricity/gas, since heating water for brewing would be aided by the water being only a few degrees shy of the desired mash temperature.
That being said, some Internet research turned up this article, which shows that they not only intend to make beer, but also whiskey and rum. If you peruse the posts on their Facebook page, it looks like some renovations are happening, making root beer will also be a big part of their operation, and that their tasting room may be open by the spring of next year. So exactly what will the beer be like?
That’s hard to say. It looks like it will be sold under the name Vapor Valley Beer. It’s not clear what styles they’ll brew or if it will only be available at the bathhouse. Either way, score this is as a big plus for an otherwise uninspiring craft beer destination.