March 9, 2014

A Visit With Flyway Brewing's Matt Foster

Flyway Brewing is a brewery here in Little Rock and if you've never visited their blog, I'd like to now suggest that you do that. I could go over how they got started and where their name came from and so-on-and-so-forth, but trust me, the blog is simply fantastic and full of great stories from their short history. Go ahead and read it (and bookmark it while you're there) and I'll wait here.

You're back? OK good. Then you now know that Matt Foster is the man behind Flyway, who is trying to get things up and running (or flying) while also balancing a full time job as a high school teacher (and husband, and father). He's a man with a passion for beer and a goal for making and sharing great beer. He's also just a genuinely nice guy.

The facility is a modest one, which doubles as the home of Little Rock's own fantastic Loblolly Creamery during the day. They share the kitchen and freezer and shelf space and Matt was kind enough to show me around and tell me a bit about his plans and what's coming up.

Arkansas Beer Scene: So what's the history of this place? A former bar?

Matt: This place was called The Flaming Arrow and it's an old restaurant apparently from the 70s and 80s. One of my good friends had her wedding reception here and a lot of big movers and shakers used to hang out down here, including Bill Clinton. Rumor has that this is where he met Gennifer Flowers and she might used to have lived in this building. Check on that one, but apparently some of the residents remember seeing him in the hallways.

ABS: Ole Slick Willy might have slept here? Great! Some history! Now you share this with Loblolly Creamery?

Matt: Yes. They've been extremely generous to me and made it possible for me to become a legal Arkansas native brewer.

ABS: And this building is where you plan on staying?

Matt: Yes, staying here indefinitely. I do have plans to move and get my own space in here in some business planning phases, working with the Arkansas Small Business Technology Development Center at UALR, something I can take to bankers and investors to get my own business loan and be able to get some more space and reasonable equipment.

ABS: What is your brewing capacity now?

Matt: It's the SABCO Brew Magic and it's a half-barrel brewing system. It's either a fancy home-brewing system or a great pilot brewing system, there are several ways of looking at it I guess. Maybe famous because Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head started on a Brew Magic as one of it's claims to fame. Piney River started on a Brew Magic too.

ABS: Piney is one of my favorites!

Matt: It's a long list actually. It's because it's affordable and allows you to control a lot of variables and create a really consistent and repeatable product. When somebody goes somewhere and gets your product you want it to all be the same.

ABS: Speaking of getting your product, where all are your beers now?

Matt: Since October I've had a permanent tap at South on Main, rolling out the Free Range Brown Ale. I've had a rotating tap at Superior Bathhouse in Hot Springs. The only other place, besides special events, so far was the collaboration with Rebel Kettle at Big Orange for Christmas.

ABS: Are you trying to expand to more right now?

Matt: No. That's a good question, but I'm pulled in so many directions and have turned my attention to more planning I'm actually going to scale back a little bit and brew less often with more variety. I feel like the Free Range Brown recipe is nailed down. I'll have it at Food and Foam Fest (April) and I think it's the best it's been. It's very approachable and it's a good gateway type beer.

ABS: It's very accessible and easy-to-drink for sure. Very sessionable. So this is your "staple" we'll say, or flagship at this point. What other beers do you have coming up?

Matt: I have another recipe for a "drinker" I'll call it. If Free Range is approachable then Migrate Ale I want to be known as "drinkable". It's a pale ale. I use some two-row barley malts, a little bit of wheat and some Northern Brewer and locally grown Dunbar Cascade hops. I'm proud to say that every batch of beer I've made and served in public has used some locally grown hops. We've gone out and hand-picked the hops ourselves, someone from Dunbar or one of us. I've got a freezer full of them. I may not always be able to do that but because of the size so far I can. I want to source more and more ingredients from Arkansas.

ABS: I saw on your website a Shadow Hands Stout coming up?

Matt: Yeah, definitely, that's part of the plan where I'm going to stop making as much Free Range. South On Main alone keeps me brewing that as I can make just enough Free Range to keep that tap up. That's a good problem to have. The Shadow Hands I have been working on for a while, it's inspired by coffee cake, sort of a coffee cake stout. I have a good brewing buddy that came up with it with me.

ABS: So where might we see these?

Matt: Migrate Ale will be at Food and Foam Fest. I'm going to start rotating a lot more often after that. South On Main has agreed to rotate so they'll have more variety too.

ABS: I love the Shadow Hands Stout label for the record.

Matt: A girl named Jennifer Perren, who graduated from Central High here, she's a senior art major at UALR and just the most talented artist. The original is actually an etching. She did the Free Range label too. She's so talented. There's no label for the Migrate Ale yet but I have tattoo artist here in town working on that one as we speak.

ABS: I hear you talk a lot about organic, you're big on that.

Matt: I feel strongly about organic and I really believe in organic farming practices, I'm not a fan of industrial farming. I'm a proud environmentalist. If I'm going to be making large quantities of beer I want to support things I believe in, you know? I think organic farming is cleaner. I think I'll have a line of beers that are organic, may have to be a little more expensive, and then a line of beers that aren't all organic. I also want to support the Arkansas Native Beer Project, it's something I'm probably the most excited about. It's something we conceived of a while back (ed. note: read the blog!). As recent as the late 50s barley was the number 2 or 3 cash crop in Arkansas. It was grown mainly as a feed crop for livestock. I wanted to grow it here. Now we've got barley growing at Dunbar Community Garden on Chester. We have other varieties growing at Victory Garden, 12th and Oak Street Garden, Laughing Stock Farm, and on research land at the U of A Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. We hope to harvest a couple of tons of barley, and when we do we'll malt it and make the first Arkansas Native Beer. An acre of barley will yield like 2 to 4 tons if I remember correctly. We planted about 150 lbs. so we're talking like 6 tons of barley. That's a lot of barley. I'm going to play around with malting the barley, mash it, boil it, brew it, hop it, ferment it, carbonate it, keg it... the first Arkansas native beer.

ABS: I love it!

Matt: It's going to be a long process, it's going to take years. But so worth it.

ABS: So where do you see yourself in a year from now with Flyway Brewing?

Matt: I'm learning so much. I'm still making mistakes, but I'm learning a lot about brewing and business. It's paying for itself, but I'm not making a living with it. But if going to do this I feel I need to set myself to be successful with my equipment and location. Get a storefront that will enrich my community, put in a brewpub and brewhouse. Be able to make a modest living. Everybody isn't going to be Founders or Dogfish Head you know, but you can make a living doing it the right way. The next year is going to be big. I'm going to try to do it the right way. I'd really like a larger brewing system that can support the business, but on a reasonable scale. I think I see exciting things happening in the next year. I think the scene here is right, in Little Rock and South Main.

ABS: I'll sure be pulling for you. Thanks so much for your time Matt!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again for the great write-up. I'm super-excited about passing out some of that Migrate Ale tonight at Foam Fest. It has turned out to be what I hoped it would be--a drinker!