February 6, 2014

Interview: Rebel Kettle Brewing

After a solid showing at several beer events around central Arkansas recently, aspiring brewery Rebel Kettle Brewing is starting to create a bit of buzz (pun intended). I get asked a lot about the status of them so I thought I'd sit down with the guys and throw some questions at them about the current and future state of their brew and brewery. Run by 2 friends in the Little Rock area, Tommy McGhee and John Lee, their motto is "Rebel at heart, Rebel in hand."

Here's a bit more from their Facebook page to get you acquainted:

"Rebel Kettle Brewing is an aspiring brewery that holds true to an underground, rebellious style. We are currently not a licensed brewery and do not sell or distribute. We brew on a half-barrel system and share the spoils with family and friends. Our goal is to brew bold, bad-ass beers that defy style guidelines. We stand in rebellion against the idea that all beer must fit within a category. Rebel Kettle Brewing vows to break down the barriers of beer stereotypes and push the boundaries of craft brewing. We are proud supporters of the craft beer revolution and urge people to try something different. Support the revolution, JOIN THE REBELLION!"

Arkansas Beer Scene (ABS): So what made you guys want to open a brewery in the first place?

John Lee: Tommy and I work together and we've been talking about opening a brewery for about 5 or 6 years. Initially it was "let's do like a brewpub" but we realized we don't know anything about the restaurant business. We know beer. This is what we do. So we decided we could take what we know and open a small brewery and bring our craft to Little Rock.

Tommy McGhee: John is actually the one that got me involved in actual craft beer. We went to a lot of festivals and things together, we started home brewing together (although John had been home brewing for years himself) and we just always talked about how doing a brewery would be great. So we basically just one day finally said "let's do it." We just decided why not try it?

ABS: How long ago was that?

John: That was last March (2013). When we first starting talking about it, 5 years ago, there weren't that many breweries in Arkansas. Now that's changed. Hopefully we can get there too.

ABS: To go a little further on that, with all the new breweries in the area, do you really feel there's room for more?

John: Absolutely. There's room for a lot more. The one thing we actually looked forward to was helping create a beer community here in Little Rock and all of Arkansas as well. We're still pretty small as far as breweries per capita here in the state. We want to help make Little Rock and Arkansas a beer destination. We love what Fayetteville is doing with the Ale Trail and would love to see something like that here in Little Rock. Right now we're up to 6 or 7 breweries in the area and we'd love to be a part of that. Each one of these breweries is putting their stamp on their style and beer in general and we want to bring what we like to do to that, which may be a little different. But everybody is bringing something a little different.

ABS: So you don't feel like you're competing as much as just "let's all do this together" sort of thing?

John: It is a family thing. Everybody we've talked to in the beer community here has been really supportive. We've needed a lot of help getting started and it seems like everybody bands together. We've meet some really great people.

ABS: So I love the original old-school artwork. What's the deal with it and who came up with it?

Tommy: I came up with the artwork when we started coming up with this whole idea of a brewery. Pretty much the first thing we did was try to come up with a name and logo and we kicked around lots of different names and John came up with this big list and one that he really liked was Rebel Kettle. I thought it was great too and stood for our general style in music and beer.

I went home and kicked it around and my wife Belle is big into the 40s pin-up stuff and she was saying we should do something rockabilly-ish and one of my favorite bands is actually Social Distortion so it kind of kicked it off for me, sort of a skeleton with a pompadour holding a beer glass with a leather jacket. I sketched it up and sent it to John and he thought it was awesome so we tweaked it a bit from there. Actually the first picture I sent is it. It just fit.

ABS: So does the guy have a name?

Tommy: We came up with Johnny Two-Pints.

ABS: That's awesome. Alright, now a few quick questions for you guys. First, what craft beer was your "gateway" to craft brews, or introduction?

John: Sam Adams Boston Lager, circa 1992.

Tommy: I'll go with Sierra Nevada Celebration.

ABS: What are some of your current favorite breweries?

John: If I had to pick a few.... Sierra Nevada, Cigar City, I'm really liking Jester King and probably my favorite is Crooked Stave.

Tommy: I agree with Sierra Nevada and Cigar City, I love Funky Budha, I like Firestone Walker.

ABS: OK, what are just some of you favorite styles you most like to drink, overall, I know a lot depends on the season.

John: I gravitate towards drinkability. I love saisons, they can be high alcohol beers and still be very drinkable. I love pilsners... I like maltier stuff as well, swartzbiers are great beers, they kind of give you the best of both worlds. The same goes for IPAs, you don't want a heavy IPA, you want something you can drink. That's what it comes down to for me.

Tommy: Some of my favorites are more on the maltier side... browns, porters, stouts. I pretty much go for the darker side.

ABS: OK, now just a few of your favorite current beers, just off the top of your head.

Tommy: At Christmas I had a lot of the 1809 Berliner Weisse, I'm just getting into sours. Also Jester King's Boxer's Revenge, another sour. And Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA.

John: The one recently I can't put down is Crooked Stave Hop Savant, 100 percent brett beer. It's put me in a whole new state of where I want to take Rebel Kettle, changed my perception of beer. It's something new, for me.

ABS: Last question, so what exactly is happening with you guys now? Where does the business stand, when can we expect beer?

John: Right now we're working our business plan, trying to get settled financially. We're looking for a location, hopefully to have one by mid-year.

ABS: Are you talking about a brewing location or like a brewpub sort of thing?

John: Just a small brewery, with a taproom. Initially starting with a pilot system, then the timeline is within 6 months being able to open. We've heard generally it's 6-8 months. Hopefully by the end of the year we'd be looking at opening.

ABS: Do you have a specific area you're looking at?

John: We're gravitating towards North Little Rock, considering where we live. We're certainly not opposed to downtown Little Rock either. We'll open small, hopefully have about 8 taps. Maybe running a session IPA, a cream stout, Dirtbag Brown, maybe another IPA.

Tommy: We want to have a few "always there beers" but we also want to be ever-changing and never settle. We want to be a brewery for beer drinkers, to try things.

John: The goal is a new beer every week. We want staples, but the ultimate goal is variety. Give people something new and different.

ABS: Thanks for your time guys and good luck on your goals!

Follow Rebel Kettle on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RebelKettle

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