It’s been a heck of a ride for Little Rock’s Lost Forty Brewing. In just six years of existence, the craft brewery has risen to the upper echelon of the industry – to say nothing of becoming the largest brewery in Arkansas.
The company’s latest acclaim comes from the national trade group Brewers Association, which awarded Lost Forty Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Sized Brewing Company Brewer of the Year. Those accolades were handed out at the 2020 Great American Beer Festival during Oct. 16 virtual awards ceremonies broadcast from Denver.
“I think the award of best midsize brewery does a couple things,” said John Beachboard, founder. “It definitely goes further in putting Arkansas more firmly on the map for beer and beer tourism.
“It’s been pretty amazing to pull into our parking lot lately and see how many cars with out of state license plates there are. There was a random Wednesday or Thursday and all the cars except for two were from outside Arkansas. We are getting a ton of people from out of state right now.”
Individual specimens of the brewmaster’s art were also awarded, including a silver medal for Lost Forty’s Vienna Lager and a gold medal for its bottle-conditioned Day Drinker, the latter being the brainchild of Grant Chandler, quality manager.
Chandler said in addition to feeding his creative side, special variations and limited-run beers are a fact of life in the craft business.
“Some of the best breweries in the world make only one, two, or four beers,” he said. “A large part of me aspires to be able to do that, to dial into something that is so beloved that you could build a huge business on a single, great product. But, ultimately, I think a big part of myself would just become bored and dissatisfied with a lack of further creativity.
“I think ‘rotation nation’ really is a response to market demands but, if that was not the reality, we might not push ourselves as far as we do. I think we would still take it upon ourselves to do as much as we were comfortable with. It’s just exciting.”
Chandler said the desire to create and push the boundaries also has to satisfy certain economic realities and enhance the product line in some way. For that reason, new ideas are thoroughly discussed and vetted before making in into the rotation.
“For a long time, the people responsible for designing the products at Lost Forty were very few, because the industry was young and the brewery was young. The team was young,” he said. “We’ve since cultivated a group of really passionate, knowledgeable brewers who do a good job of checking, balancing and pushing each other for what we think will work or won’t work, given what the market tells us it wants.
“We have a bunch of very creative individuals who aren’t just idea people. We have these collaborative ideas and then we have the chops to actually follow through with them. There are a lot of craft breweries that just have so many ideas, but they either don’t have the skill or the motivation to follow through and make that idea the best it can be. I like to think that Lost Forty strikes a balance in both of those regards.”
Lost Forty has expanded four times since its founding and has grown to produce 16,000 barrels last year. Yet that still barely qualified for consideration in the its Best Brewery category, topping a field of that ran as large as 6 million barrels annually.
“That’s a wide field with a lot of amazing contenders,” said Dylan Yelenich, production manager. “From a business perspective, I think that it means that we are working well collaboratively as an ownership and management team. It takes a lot of different perspectives to contribute to Lost Forty’s wins this year; we have an amazing team. They have amazing attitudes towards getting our production work done.”
As for the future, Chandler said despite producing much more beer than in the old days, it’s become easier to manage operationally because the growth has come at a more reasonable pace.
“In our first year, we were growing so fast and our team was so small that it was very close to backbreaking work all the time,” he said. “That was some of the proudest work I’ve ever done, but it was also some of the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life around 2015, 2016 and 2017. I don’t want to do that again, frankly.
“Now, because we have a more developed, reliable, skillful team, we can spread that load. Even if we were going at that same rate, it would be easier now to do. The fact that we’re not is due to the nature of our market. We still have plenty of room to grow in Arkansas. I think there are a lot of people who still haven’t tasted our beer. As much as we like to think we’re everywhere, I think we still have a lot to accomplish with regards to growing craft beer culture in this state.”