Craft beer has grown exponentially over the past few years in Arkansas. In 2011 the state had 6 breweries operating in the state, by the end of 2017 we were well over 30 (the number depends on how you divide up a few spots). It is becoming hard to visit a decent sized city or town in Arkansas and not at least find someone thinking of starting a brewery.
The Hot Springs area has been no exception to that. The area has three main breweries in Superior Bathhouse, Bubba Brews, and SQZBX, along with additional tap rooms by Bubba Brews and Core Brewing. Add to that a growing number of restaurants and bars that have made craft beer an emphasis in town, and Hot Springs is becoming a hot spot for a beer destination.
Of course breweries and craft beer on tap alone are not enough to plan a trip to Hot Springs. There are, however, a few spots that are completely unique and make visiting Hot Springs a must stop on any beer related outing.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery | 329 Central Ave, Hot Springs
I have been fortunate enough to visit most of the breweries in Arkansas. Superior is easily one of the most unique settings, and one that perfectly captures their surrounding area.
The brewery is set in the historic Superior Bathhouse on the iconic bathhouse row in downtown Hot Springs. The brewery cleverly weaves the bathhouse and the brewing ideas throughout the space.
For the beer itself, Superior taps into the natural springs that flow throughout the area and once fed the bathhouses. If you spend much time in brewing you will know that water quality is everything, with some breweries spending millions to enhance their water quality. The natural springs in the area is some of the best water in the nation, and it really shows through their selection of traditional light and dark beer styles.
Superior has been able to ramp up brewing over the past couple of years to open up some distribution around the state, although you will still find most of their beers only at the tap room.
SQZBX Brewery | 236 Ouachita Ave, Hot Springs
Hot Spring’s newest brewery may also have the smallest selection, but it is certainly not one to sleep on. The historic space sits a couple of blocks off Central Avenue and features a brewery, pizza joint, and radio station (yes a radio station) in one. The concept comes from musicians Cheryl Roorda and Zac Smith, who pay the accordion and tuba respectively. The space and the concept reflect this passion in every way from the name (squeeze box is a nickname for the accordion), to the decor with musical instruments worked into the space in various ways, to the focal point of the space being a live performance stage in the back corner.
The only place you will find SQZBX beer is on site, and that is intentional. The small brewery is perfectly sized to meet their own needs and not much more according to Smith. It helps them control the quality of the beer and keep the food and the beer offerings in harmony with each other. They currently have capacity for 4-6 on tap at any given time with things rotating often.
As for the beer itself, they also take advantage of Hot Spring’s amazing water supply. Their current line up of lighter ales are some of the cleanest beers I’ve ever experienced. It is hard to emphasize just how crisp these beers are, it is unlike anything else in the state. Smith says his brewing philosophy is as few ingredients as possible, and avoids throwing in extra ingredients outside of grains, hops, and yeast. The beer is easily approachable with a low hop profile, but still more than interesting enough for craft beer fans.
Craft Beer Cellar | 120 Ouachita Ave, Hot Springs
While not a brewery, the Craft Beer Cellar is a celebration of all things craft beer and an absolute destination spot in Hot Springs. It is what would happen if you mixed a coffee shop, tap room, and the beer section of a liquor store together.
Inside it is cozy and warm with seating all around. It quickly reminds you of a late 90’s coffee shop complete with open mic nights, poetry groups, and worn leather sofas. It is a space to sink into and enjoy, and never feel pressure to leave as soon as you finish your beverage. It makes Craft Beer Cellar a gathering place for the community in a way that few other tap rooms manage.
On tap they have a roundup of some of the best beer brewed in the state. There are always several kegs on tap that are impossible to find in Central Arkansas, making it even more appealing. The group does a fantastic job of sourcing and bringing in items even from the smallest breweries in the state. Besides the tap they also have a massive selection of craft beer in bottles and cans from around the region and the world, again featuring many beers that are extremely hard to find anywhere else.
They also feature a number of educational classes throughout the month looking at home brewing basics, general beer knowledge and more. It is a great place to not only enjoy beer, but to grow the craft beer community in the area and the state.