Since first opening its doors, it was clear Lost Forty Brewing was going to be a game-changer in central Arkansas.
With award-winning brews, community-building events and fan-favorite menus, Lost Forty has cemented itself into the hearts (and stomachs) of locals and travelers alike.
We caught up with Amber Brewer, the creative director and brand manager for Yellow Rocket Concepts that owns and operates Lost Forty, Big Orange, Local Lime, Heights Taco & Tamale Co. and ZAZA Fine Salad + Wood-Oven Pizza Co., to talk about the brewery's roots, how it navigated a pandemic and what's next.
Hanger Hill/East Village is a very different place today than when you first opened your doors in December 2014. Tell us what it's been like to watch that change happen, especially as one of the main catalysts for the area.
Watching our downtown neighborhood grow has been one of the greatest joys over the last six years. As more retail and hospitality businesses locate here, more office spaces pop up and more residents move in, the area has become super vibrant.
We hope Hangar Hill/East Village continues its current journey to being a well-recognized destination for great food, award-winning beer, entertainment and business. The more the merrier!
2020 required everyone to change course, but especially the food and drink industry. Were there any changes you made that you felt were an improvement even to pre-COVID operations or that you see yourself keeping in place in the long term?
We have found that the pandemic was both a highlighter and accelerator. Our weakest links were highlighted and the rush to adapt to a shifting business model accelerated change to shore those up. Our production and logistics crew found many innovative ways to adapt to dramatically shifting volume levels; our marketing team pushed hard to accelerate our digital advertising, virtual engagement experiences and online sales tools; and our taproom and operations team found new ways to approach operating our facility to accommodate restrictions.
Many of the systems we put into place had been on the back burner for a while and the pandemic gave us a push to get some new technology in place that we needed, almost all of which we will keep around, including our online ordering system, our outdoor seating, our new cleaning protocols and new menu.
The biggest change resulting from the pandemic you can actually see is our new outdoor patio dining area. This new area was critical to our survival while indoor dining was closed. Because we were able to get construction done quickly, our servers were able to work and our guests could still join us, all in a safe environment. Instead of moveable structures, we decided to build it out as a permanent fixture from the onset to seat 50 people.
Taking home the title of Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year, as well as a gold medal for one of your brews, at the Great American Beer Festival last year was no small feat, especially in a pandemic. What did it mean to you and your team to receive that recognition at that time?
Although winning the Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year award was absolutely unexpected and thrilling, the timing of the receipt of the award was so incredibly significant. Because this particular award is one that takes company culture, brand marketing and awareness, community engagement, market reputation, company values, portfolio, etc. into account, our entire team — our taproom restaurant employees, our sales team, our distribution partners, our marketing crew, our designers, our founders and our patrons — all won.
Winning an award for a particular product is wonderful, but this felt like an award for the entire Lost Forty family and all of Arkansas. We won this title during the middle of a year of an evolving pandemic, economic uncertainty and political unrest — a frenetic and divisive time. The inclusive nature of the award really lifted the spirits of everyone involved in our brewery, uniting everyone for a moment to celebrate and reflect on our accomplishments and how thankful we are for our community. We were excited to bring home some good news for our state during such a dark time.
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In December 2020, you announced plans to expand into the former Rebel Kettle Brewing space, also in East Village, and recently revealed the title: Camp Taco. What can you tell us about the plans for that location and what you hope it'll become for Little Rock?
Since Lost Forty’s opening, we have significantly increased the number of barrels of beer we produce each year. To keep up with production, the scale of our equipment had to grow. Although we are able to create incredible, small-scale, experimental, wild beers onsite using barrel-aging, now brewing small quantities of beer for research, recipe development and just plain fun inside our brewhouse has grown more and more challenging. We're looking forward to using the small-scale equipment at the newly acquired space as an incubator, a platform for our brewers to experiment with recipes, ideas, materials, etc.
For our brewers, working in the new space will be a bit like going to camp, a time to play, have fun and indulge. The space will take inspiration from both summer camp and woodland camping across the decades, everything from 1967-inspired seating to television displays from the '80s to wood paneling from a company that hasn’t changed their product since 1972, [to embody] a cabin and campsite that’s been in the family for generations.
We will serve our favorite food to make while camping: the taco. Camp Taco at Lost Forty will feature a "tacos and snacks" menu created by our executive chef Scott McGehee and his culinary team, two signature margaritas, 16 Camp beers made onsite, outdoor seating in an astroturf-lined yard, live music, an amazing patio and an indoor campers lounge.
Lost Forty Mottos Breakdown: "Seek. Find. Enjoy." and "Honor the Craft. Love the Land. Drink to the Future."
[Both] were both part of our mantras from the beginning (one just being a more succinct way to represent the longer phrase) and have been incorporated into our materials and crew culture ever since 2014.
Seek / Honor the Craft: Knowledge is gained through learning and practicing, the very essence of brewing. Our team are forever students, a crew that is insatiably curious and creative. We encourage our team to experiment and ideate, but to always be rooted in the foundations of the craft — a balancing act we strive for in beer-making and all we do.
Find / Love the Land: Lost Forty is an actual parcel of land in Warren, Arkansas. It is the last remaining swath of virgin timberwood of its kind and only survived the timberboom-era clear cutting race due to being "lost" in a survey error. This piece of land is now protected in a trust and deemed a "living library" by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission because of its rare and unspoiled soil and tree types. It's a state treasure. This part of our phrasing reminds us of our name’s heritage and that sometimes you have to get lost to find things of great importance and value.
Enjoy / Drink to the Future: And after all the work is done, it’s time for beer. This part of our phrase reminds us to lift our heads and remember not to see the forest for the trees. Enjoying the journey, enjoying the moment and taking the time to dream about what’s possible tomorrow is an important part of our brewery work-life balance.
Ending on a tasty note, what's the most underrated item on the Lost Forty menu?
The most underrated beer in our distributed lineup is Squirrel Sailor Hazy IPA. Beer fans are drawn to hazy-style IPAs because the hop particulates left behind in the beer after the brewing process give the hop lover more of a citrus punch than filtered IPAs. Many hazy styles tend to be full-bodied, thick and high in gravity/alcohol. In Arkansas, beers above 6.3% cannot be sold in grocery stores, leaving most hazies only accessible in liquor stores. We brewed Squirrel Sailor to be lighter in alcohol so it could be on shelves anywhere statewide, thus available to haze-crazed beer drinkers everywhere. This is a lighter, yet still flavor-packed hazy IPA that you shouldn’t miss!
The most underrated menu item is hands down The White River pizza. There is not a pizza like it in the state (or that I have had anywhere else!). The ricotta-lemon cream has an incredibly light texture, and fresh lemon juice and zest bring just the right amount of vibrancy to the earthy artichoke hearts. This pizza does not have tomato sauce, letting the cheese, lemon, herbs and ingredients shine. Do not miss this pie!