Owner of Saddlebock Brewery in Springdale, Steve Rehbock, was a home brewer 10 years ago when he noticed a trend hitting the country. Similar to the coffee explosion in the 1980's, the United States was beginning to buy and love craft beer. Since all of the large beer companies had sold to foreign investors, and the only way to get an American beer was local crafters, market projections showed continued growth for the industry. That's when Rehbock decided it was time to take his home brewing goals to a whole new level.
Now, Rehbock owns a successful brewing company that reaches throughout Arkansas, is taking on investors, opening a café, and continuing to expand production every year. We sat down with Rehbock to see what, besides great timing and an eye for business and great beer, made him a success.
What has made Saddlebock Brewery such a success for close to three years, while other brewery start-ups that opened the same time as you were not able to stay in business?
We started as a brewery to make beer. We didn't have a lot of profit goals, but we also wanted to have a business model. You have to understand what size brewery you need to be to stay in business. Some of the breweries also didn't treat their people and investors well, and we treat our people good here. In the end, it's about getting people to invest in your company, and then treating them right. Our location has helped us also. We're not quite in town. We're in the country, but not too far.
How far does Saddlebock beer travel these days, and when did you begin selling beyond Northwest Arkansas?
We now sell all over the state. We started distributing to central Arkansas a couple of years ago. We opened up a storage facility there and as our market grew into those other areas, we hired a distributor to take our beer everywhere but to Washington County, because we still deliver that ourselves.
How has the brewing process changed since you first opened to meet demands?
We are constantly adding equipment. When we started, we only had two good fermenter and four used ones. We sold the four used and now we have 16 fermenters, a bottling machine, a canning machine, a 10,000 sq. ft. warehouse across the street from our tasting room so now we can buy packaged materials in bulk and keep our prices down. In the tasting room, we had to add more seating because we didn't expect so many people to come out. We didn't expect it to be as much of a destination as its turned out to be. I think we're just close enough and not too far, and we are on the river so people can float in. Because Arkansas is about 48th in craft beer in the country, we have a lot of room to grow. The Brewers Association monitors and runs studies to forecast nationwide craft beer sales -- nationally, craft beer makes up 10 percent of sales, while in Arkansas it only makes up 2 percent. That number is doubling every year in Arkansas.
What have you learned about being a success in the brewing business?
Number one is make a really good product. Don't sacrifice quality for anything. A lot more of the package goods are going to be drawing our sales. The cans and bottles available in liquor stores are going to be the big volume.
We're changing gears a little bit, looking for a lot of growth. In the next couple of months, we're opening a corporation and taking on investors. We want to add a lot more fermenters and continue to grow. We're opening a café, because the most common request we have is for food. We have new creative drinks coming out, like a beer-wine blend. We're going to start going into more of the grain to glass. We grow hops but we're going to grow more hops, and also grapes to start making wines. We may be able to build a boat ramp because we back right up to the river.
Saddlebock Brewery is located in Springdale and is open Monday - Thursday2 - 9 p.m., and Friday - Sundaynoon - 9 p.m.You can buy merchandise, see more about their brewing operation and their newest ventures like their portable party barn by visiting their website at www.saddlebock.com.