Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Rock City Eat’s latest series, Food Insider, takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. The folks over at Blue Canoe Brewing Co. function as a unit, and thus, we bring you this week’s Drink Insider featuring all three of them: wife and husband Ida and Patrick Cowan, and friend and co-worker, Laura BerryHall.
How did the idea for Blue Canoe Brewing Co. come about?
Patrick – Ida and Laura work at the hospital together, and Ida, my wife, would eventually introduce me to Laura. Laura and I started chatting and it turns out we both like beer, and then somehow it comes up that we both brew beer, so we brewed our first batch and a few more after that.
Ida – I originally hated beer … but they made the Whittler, and that was the turning point. I thought if somebody like me who would never drink beer before could now really enjoy this … well, we thought it be cool to do this all the time. And now, from grains-to-the-glass, we all come up with ideas together, we brew together, we come up with the names together, the idea for the tap heads, it not like one person is in charge of any one thing. We are a team.
Can you describe the physical space and aesthetic for someone who hasn’t been in yet?
Patrick – There are a lot of upcycled things, but Laura and Ida are in charge of that. It’s their design and the three of us work together, for example to make the tables. … We want people to be able to come in here how they are, whether they’re wearing flip-flops or a suit, and just enjoy themselves.
Ida – It’s like a taproom next to the river, it’s comfortable and cozy but it’s still interesting, and there are a lot of architectural features. There’s always something different to pick up on, as we constantly change things. I’m pretty proud of the design and the aesthetic. Also, I think we’re unique, because we have women involved and that brings a different feel – we’re typically a little more detail-oriented than our counterparts.
Laura – In terms of the tap heads, I’ll start working on the designs after we pick a name for a beer. I’ll think about some different ideas, and then work with a hand-burning Dremel tool and we go from there. The designs are definitely ours and no one else has anything like it.
How did you guys settle on a location in the River Market?
Ida – We are really into downtown’s revitalization. We actually took a notepad and went to all of the locations and wrote out pros and cons. We knew it was going to be a very small space, because we wanted it to just stay the three of us. Also, we were brand new and we knew we didn’t want to be a destination.
Patrick – The foot traffic for this location was so constant that we thought we could do well here.
Why the name ‘blue canoe’?
Patrick – The short story is that we have a blue canoe, but when we were doing the name game, blue canoe just fit.
Ida – We all like outdoors things, hiking and the like, and that one stuck.
You guys are dog-friendly, correct?
Ida – Yes, and we try to be green. We donate our spent grains to farmers and we take a small portion and make beer soap. We also do Brew Doggies, which are dog treats made with spent grain, organic peanut butter and eggs. We donate 10 percent of those proceeds to the Humane Society.
What are some of the toughest obstacles you’ve faced so far?
Patrick – We love the location, but a con is the size. It’s so small, and sometimes we’re standing room only. Probably another con is because we’re so small it’s hard to get a hold of us and it’s hard for us to do to many things outside of brewing, like go to beer festivals or sponsor events. … There’s always a new challenge.
What are some of the greatest successes you’ve seen so far?
Ida – People are die hard loyal for us … there are a lot of people who are really strong backers and want us to succeed, and they’ve even become our friends now.
Do you have anything on the radar for the future?
Ida – We are expanding, which means we are going to move the brewing area to the backspace and we will be able to open more space for seating.
Patrick – We’re working on new brews, and we’re hoping to have three new summer/spring beers soon. We’ll also be a part of the River Cities Dragon Boat Races on May 16, which supports the Child Protection Center.
What do you like most about Little Rock right now?
Ida – Downtown seems to be waking up and we’re so excited. There’s also more enthusiasm for craft beer.
Patrick – It’s interesting, particularly as people who have lived in Little Rock for a while, to see how beer is becoming prevalent.