Ever wish you could get to know some of the people around town who create and serve up your favorite drinks without it being a little awkward? Welcome to drink insider. We sit down with some of the biggest names in the craft beer, distilled spirits, and bartending scene in Little Rock and ask them some of the questions you only ask before the cab comes.
This time we chatted with Zac Thompson, brewer at Diamond Bear Brewing Co.
Where are you from?
As a youngster I lived in a bunch of different places. I’m originally from here, but then I lived all over – Utah, Missouri … Eventually I came back here for family stuff. I’ve experienced a lot of different areas.
What’s your official title at Diamond Bear and how long have you worked there?
I’m a brewer. I took on new responsibilities about a month and a half ago. … A friend of mine said he was going to work at Diamond Bear, this was when the restaurant was opening about two years ago, and I really saw an opportunity. At that point, right whenever I started looking at applying, I started brewing by myself and with a group of friends. … Over the last two years any time I had free time, the different brew guys here, I was out picking their brains and cleaning the brew house. I paid some dues out there, and I think they saw – not just in the restaurant – but all the hard work that I was putting into the brewery, as well.
When did you first get into craft beer?
I had a traveling job before I worked here, and it just became a hobby of mine to go check out the local breweries. I traveled everywhere in the U.S. to Europe, as well. … I tried so many different palates, so many different styles of beers. I really developed a passion for it.
What’s your favorite part of the brewing process? Do you have a favorite beer?
My favorite part of the brew process is the first addition of hops … that first addition really gives it a kick. You get different aromas and things really start to come to fruition at that point. It gets me really stoked. … I love sours, which would be amazing to brew, but there are different things that go along with that. It would be very interesting to delve into that.
What do you think about the local craft beer scene?
I think there’s been a couple of articles about this – the local scene actually boosting our economy. There’s a reason to come to Little Rock now. … Working behind that bar for a couple of years, I had people from everywhere stopping in and saying that they were just driving through and they had to stop at the local brewery. … I’m really excited to see where it’s going to take us, as well – not just where we’re at now.
Diamond Bear is one of Central Arkansas’ original breweries. How does it feel to be able to work with a well-known local name?
Being a part of that craft beer brewing team is pretty fascinating. … We’ve been around for a longer time, and we really push the fact that we are one of the only award winning breweries. We’re really proud of it, and you know, that sticks with a lot of people, and the consistency is there. It’s always that same great taste.
Where do you like to go when you go out to eat or grab a drink?
I really like local places as hipster as that sounds. It’s one of those things, if I go to breakfast at Mugs or the Root, if I eat at a local place I feel like I’m putting somebody’s kid through college or I’m more directly helping a family – I’m not just giving to the CEO of some large company. Plus, their ingredients are better. They have better food. I go to local places as much as I can.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m a very active person. Of course I still do my own brewing. .. Mixed martial arts is what I did before this – it was my job to teach children programs. I still do that religiously everyday when I get off work. I also really like to hit the river trail with my bike. The saying “The Natural State” – Arkansas really lives up to that. I’m big into backpacking, as well.
Where would you travel if you were seeking good beer?
Belgium for sure. I know that’s probably a typical answer, but Cantillon’s 100 Percent Lambic is my favorite beer ever. … I got my hands on it while I was in Amsterdam, and I brought a bottle back to share with my friends.