Jesse Core, a former Tyson Foods system analyst, is putting his Harding University master’s business degree to good use. He’s grown his beer brewing hobby from a family garage to 23 employees and counting in the past three years, and is set to expand with a third pub in Fort Smith.
Core’s growth into Fort Smith comes on the heels of a second Northwest Arkansas location in Rogers that opened in mid-2014. He’s also scoping out a location in Bella Vista and said to stay tuned for more sites in the coming months.
Core said it takes about five employees to run an offsite pub, but the added demand will also require expanded brewing capacity. The main tap room, offices and new distillery are located with the company’s Springdale headquarters at 2470 Lowell Rd.
In preparation for the new distillery and additional offsite pubs, Core doubled his space in Springdale in recent months purchasing two more retail/warehouse units next door. He now owns the entire block of four units and is likely going to have to put some of the brew machinery outside as expansion continues. Core said the infrastructure investment in Springdale exceeds $3 million and the company works with two area banks and investors to fund the expansion.
“I am living a dream now that I have gotten the distiller’s permit to go with the brewery license. It was nearly hell to get because there is only a handful of breweries in the nation that are also distilleries. They are run as two separate divisions,” Core said.
His application for the distillery license took almost two years to complete as the government shutdown occurred during the process. He said no permits were reviewed or processed, but Core was quick to note the shutdown did not stop a certain government function.
“I could not even get a label approved during the shutdown, but they managed to continue collecting excise taxes,” Core added.
While it can take up to a year to set up as a brewery, Core said it takes two to three times longer to get the distillery license because the laws in come cases compete with with brewery regulations.
“We have it now, and it’s OK with me if they want to tighten up with more barriers for others,” Core joked.
Core said the local breweries have a good rapport despite competing for tap space and market share. He believes the distillery capabilities will help set his beer brands apart because he offers aged beers and whiskey products. He will also offer new local flavor profiles as early as St. Patrick’s Day.
The craft beer craze that took the nation by storm during the recession has fostered a micro industry in Northwest Arkansas as more than a dozen small breweries have sprung up in the past three years.
Core grew up in Fort Smith and his dad, the late Andrew Core, along with his uncle Kit Core ran the Core’s Grain & Feed Company in the 1970s, which is now Old Town Grain & Feed on Garrison Avenue.
“Uncle Kit is one of our bartenders at the Springdale tap room who is affectionally known as the ‘grumpy ole bastard,’ but he draws them in from all around because he’s so much fun. He is going to open the Fort Smith Pub for me and we have collected old Core’s Grain & Feed memorabilia to use at that location,” Core told The City Wire.
The 41-year-old entrepreneur said he learned the craft of making beer from a former micro-biology professor at then Westark, College while he was playing baseball as a freshman.
“I was a micro-biology major back then but I didn’t like going to class much. I had a professor who enticed me to class by telling he that if I would show up and do the work, that he would teach me how to brew beer. It was a great incentive for me,” Core said.
Looking at Fort Smith today, Core said he is impressed with the amount of investment being made there from people he knows in Northwest Arkansas.
“I do expect to see some good things happen in Fort Smith. It’s a great town. My wife and I are both from there and we’re excited to be investing in the city at this time,” Core said.
The new Fort Smith Pub is located at 701 Rogers Ave. Core said the location is close enough to the bars and pubs along Garrison Avenue being just one block over. The 1,725 square-foot building was sold for $95,475.
Core said the local pub will offer aged Arkansas Whiskey, along with another new whiskey label named for the historic hanging gallows in downtown Fort Smith.
One of the more exciting elements to distilling liquor for Core, is the opportunity to work with local farmers to source grains and other ingredients used in their brewing process.
On Monday (Jan. 12) Core purchased a pick-up truck full of Arkansas Black Apples from a local orchard which it will use in spirits and fermenting processes at the distillery.
“We are looking to source peaches, corn, grapes and other products that are grown here because we know this will give us a truly unique flavor profile with regional ties. There is no barley grown in Arkansas to speak of, so … we have had to source local grains and fruits and we are excited about it,” Core said.
The pubs serve at least 10 varieties of Core beer and will soon have spirits, but the owner said food prep is really not in the cards aside from premium hot dogs and pop corn offered.
“I do like to work with local restaurants to bring in pizza or other food items which they can sell inside the pub that helps them too,” he said.
Aside from local sourcing, Core said the company works to be sustainable. They use steam for heating in a system that allows for recapturing energy, as well as reusing water from a heat exchanging process.
“The environment is very important to us at Core,” he said. “We are passionate about Arkansas and our entire mission is to create a beer and whiskey that Arkansas can call its own.”
In the past year Core has added a few professionals to help grow the company.
Matt Biles joined the company this week as the new director of sales and marketing. Biles spent four years with Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City and the next eight years with various beer distributors in the Kansas City and Western Missouri markets. Core hinted about expansion plans by noting that the Kansas City connections are likely to come in handy for Biles.
“Jeff Genova is head of our pub operations and he was formerly the manager at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. We also have two microbiologists on staff and several other professionals that give us a firm management structure, which is another reason why I am so excited about the possibilities this year,” Core said.
The Rogers Pub opened in the summer and Core said the location is doing well. The pub is located in the Core Building that overlooks New Hope Road at Pinnacle Hills. The pub operates about 1,000 square feet inside the Core Engineering office building and has a large outdoor party deck.
He expects to open up to five new pubs in the coming months across the state and region.
The Springdale brewery is now distributing craft beers to retail establishments via five different distributorships. The brewery produces 200 kegs of beer a week, but Assistant Brew Master Richard Bell said production will increase this year with more pubs coming online and expanded distribution goals. There is also the new whiskey and spirits production that is housed in the same facility.
The brewing process for craft beer requires several steps but the basic process begins with crushed malted-barley placed in hot water before a sugar-water substance known as "wort" is collected and then boiled. After the wort is boiled, the brew master adds creativity into the equation. Hops and other ingredients are added to define the style and taste of the beer before yeast is added to begin the fermenting process. It is then cooled and carbonated.
The liquor process takes longer but has fewer steps, according to Bell, who said the whiskey spends the majority of its time aging in the barrels, which now consume building number four at the Springdale brewery.