There is a certain charm about breweries outside of the major metropolitan areas of the state. It feels like a boozy pilgrimage to go visit places like Prestonrose, Gravity BrewWorks, Slate Rock, and others that exist in little pockets of the state. It is an adventure that the breweries in Little Rock and NWA can’t recreate.
As I turned off a gravel road in Lonsdale (between Little Rock and Hot Springs) on my way to StudDuck Beer’s Brewery on a cold rainy day in October I wondered if I had taken my sense of adventure too far. It took me a second to find a small dirt trail off the gravel road that appeared to wind through the woods. It also had me wishing I would have swapped my sports car for my wife’s SUV for this adventure.
Thankfully the trail was in better condition than I gave it credit for originally, and what I found was more than worth the trip.
StudDuck was founded by Brad Bassett and Jerry Luckett and opened about a month ago on the land that was once Bassett’s great-grandfather’s farm. Bassett himself grew up and still lives on the property, sleeping in basically the same spot as he did when he was born, just a few yards beyond the brewery.
Like most remote breweries, there is always a connection to the land around the brewery that makes it special. The brewery and taproom, formed by two shipping containers, is a part of the surrounding woods, not separate from it. Stepping inside Bassett brought elements of the area with him such as wood trim pulled from his great-grandfather’s barn that once stood on the property. It feels almost like a deer camp where friends will sit around the fire pit in the back, drink beer, and make jokes that only they understand. It fits in perfectly with the environment.
The beer, as expected, fits in perfectly too.
“When Jerry and I met we were about as different as you can get, but we both loved homebrewing and drinking beer,” Bassett says. “We complement each other in every way, and it is always a good time to sit around and brew together. We bounce ideas off of each other and come up with fun ideas that reflect what we are as a brewery.”
While there are several expected beers on tap, the biggest seller is not even a beer at all. Their flagship, Harbor Water, is described as a “hard sweet tea” and it is exactly that. They ferment very traditional southern sweet tea to 5.2% abv, the result is a very sneaky drink that has no hint of the alcohol within whatsoever.
“We brought it up to around 10% at one point and it still hid the alcohol within. We thought that was a little dangerous so we brought it back down to around 5%,” Bassett explains.
The traditional beers are all named in a patriotic theme that, again, fits the atmosphere perfectly. The Patriot is their traditional American Pilsner meant to satisfy the local Budwiser drinking crowd in the area. Then they get into more craft centric beers like the Minor 49er (a California Steam), Dick’s IPA (named after Nixon), Amendment 21 (a German Hefeweizen named after the amendment that ended prohibition), the Ol’ Hickory (a nut brown based on an original recipe created by George Washington himself), and the Kamehameha (a pineapple cider named after the first ruler of Hawaii).
The beers all are simple and easy-drinking, with a certain refined homebrew characteristic that is very intentional. Both Bassett and Luckett homebrewed for about 10 years before opening the brewery, and continue to do things like condition the kegs instead of running CO2, which retains a bit of rustic charm.
Bassett says he hopes to teach people in the area to appreciate craft beer and even experiment with it on their own. He wants to someday be equal parts homebrewing education as it is a functional brewery.
“I would love to teach homebrewing classes here. We would start with one of our beers, give people all the ingredients and recipes that go toward making it, and teach them how to homebrew on their own,” Bassett explains. “I feel like once people start to understand craft beer and everything that goes into it, they begin to appreciate it more. We are as much about education as we are drinking beer.”
Bassett, who has a background in teaching, frequently refers to himself as “just an ole redneck in the woods brewing beer”, but really StudDuck is so much more than that. It is a pilgrimage worth taking into not only beer but rural Arkansas itself. The beer respects the area and land around it, while simultaneously changing and educating the area to respect the beer brewed.
128 Bassett Trail, Lonsdale, AR
Open Daily, 2-9pm