A Fly Fishing Magazine Unlike Any Other
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photo courtesy of Dun Magazine
Located on the main thoroughfare in Hot Springs, Arkansas is the most unusual story. It combines a U.S. national park, a hot spring, and some really great craft beer. It was just by happenstance that I came across a woman-owned brewery called Superior Bathhouse Brewery. There are many things that make this brewery exceptionally interesting, including being the only brewery inside of a national park, being located inside a bathhouse, and the only one in the world (that we could find) using thermal hot springs to make beer.
 
I had the chance to sit down with Superior Bathhouse Brewery’s owner, Rose Schweikhart, and hear her story. I thought I’d share it with you because it’s a good one.

 

Jen:  Rose, tell me a little bit about how this whole crazy story began. You seem so young! I’m 35 years old. In my old life I was a musician, a tuba player, and I fell in love with beer while touring England and mainland Europe. I was living in Springfield, Illinois at the time and they didn’t really have any breweries. That was my first thought about possibly opening a brewery.

photo courtesy of - Dun Magazine

Rose Schweikhart, owner of Superior Bathhouse Brewery pulls her self a cold brew from the taps.

Fast forward a few years and through a series of events I’m living in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I heard rumors that it was possible to create a brewery using hot spring water despite the folklore of larger brewers who thought this was not possible.

I started looking into brewing and discovered that the water here is potable for two reasons. First, the water temperature is 144 degrees when it hits the surface. That’s hot enough to prevent bad bacteria growth. Second, the geography of the area is not volcanic, but rather a geothermal fault, which pushes the water through a limestone bed. When I realized this, I got in touch with the woman who is the Park Superintendent to see what the possibility was of having a brewery in the National Park. She told me I needed to see this bathhouse.

JEN: Is it true this bathhouse was vacant for 30 years before you gave it new life? Yes. The bathhouse closed in 1983 and was vacant. In the early 2000s, the Arkansas Congressional Delegation did a funding request for emergency funding for the park and spent $12 million starting in 2004 to stabilize the bathhouses so they could be leased. They spent over $1 million on this building. In 2011, I toured this bathhouse and opened a Request For Proposal. I had never done anything like that. It was an 88 page business plan. I had to make projections and talk to banks. It took a year before I was selected. It took another year of negotiations.

In March of 2013, I signed a 55 year lease. So at this point it’s like I own the building. All the day to day upkeep is my responsibility. I have to do things like save for a new roof.

photo courtesy of - Dun Magazine
photo courtesy of - Dun Magazine

This historic bathhouse has been converted into a commercial brewery and restaurant in Hot Springs, AR

JEN: You’re a woman in a very male-dominated business. What motivated you to do this? I’m an intrinsically motivated person. I’m a big picture, long term thinker. For me, the most joy comes from having a dream and crawling, walking or running to that dream, with all the setbacks and detours. My motivation is the enjoyment of seeing a spark grow into a flame. I love the work and patience you have to have during that process. I love the process, but I recognize that is not for everyone.

 JEN: Fly fishing is a very conservation-minded sport. Is there a conservation aspect to using thermal water? In beer making, the first step is to heat up a whole lot of water. The sustainability aspect of what I am doing is important. That 144 degree head start sure does help. And another thing that I don’t really advertise is I believe one of the most eco-friendly things I could do. I used an already existing, old building that has stood for over 100 years. It has good bones and will last another 100 years.

JEN: You are inside a U.S. National Park. How did you accomplish that? To my knowledge, we are the only brewery in a national park, and this is the smallest national park and the only urban national park in the country. Those magnolia trees right there are in the national park. That asphalt is the city. It has been a challenge. There’s an extra layer of scrutiny because this is federal property. For instance, there are rules about which pesticides and paint you can use in a national park. I have to have the awnings on my building taken to an off-site location to be cleaned because you can’t use the chemicals necessary to clean them in a national park. Having to follow such strict rules has allowed me to be creative in other ways in order to have an identity. It’s a rogue element.

JEN: All of your beer is really good. What is your favorite style of beer? Do you have a favorite? We have 18 beers. I tend to like the British style beers, like a pale ale, or our superior pale ale, which we call SPA. I think with the British ingredients it reminds me of when I was in Europe and there’s a nostalgic factor. Although, I never turn down a crazy IPA.

JEN: Are there any challenges associated with using thermal water? It’s an unusual water chemistry. It’s very alkaline — the pH is very high. Depending on the beer we are making, sometimes we have to add hardness, add salt, to balance the water out. The chemistry of our water is a huge contributor. It keeps my beer special. I believe the water is similar to the water of Cologne, Germany, specifically Düsseldorf type water, which makes for a fantastic Kolsch style beer.

photo courtesy of - Dun Magazine

JEN: What do you love the most? Cracking open a beer at the end of the day. Realizing over 30 people in 7 years have worked to make this happen. The effort that has been put into it. For myself in planning, but then others here who love to make it, and love to wait tables, and love to cook chili. When you get to reflect on that is what I love best about what I’m doing.

JEN: Can you only buy here or do you distribute? We distribute around Arkansas. We make 15-20 barrels a week now, but we are going to start to make more. All of my new equipment is in my warehouse ready to be put in, so we are ready to double our output. I’m not really interested in distribution, though. This is a destination city. We have a racetrack and all these lakes with hiking, and fishing, and outdoor activities. What I am excited about is we are going to start canning our beer. Recycling is so important and those cans can be infinitely recycled.

JEN: You signed your lease in March of 2013 and your grand opening was July 12, 2013. Has it gone better than thought it would? Yes. My projections were half of what they should have been. I doubled my 10 year projection. I have a lot more employees than I thought I would. During peak times I have more than 40 employees.

JEN: Did you do a lot of the work yourself? I’m much more comfortable with a tool in my hand or behind a computer than I am managing people. I did do a lot myself. I have this bolt tattoo because I did the structural underpinning myself with some friends. I cut and installed the I-beams. We had to bolt them together and I got burned by a bolt; I had the actual bolt outline, threads and all, burned into my arm. So this bolt tattoo shows strength and pain. I was going through a lot personally when I was standing in that hole holding up those beams and burning off those bolts. It was a real catharsis for me.

JEN: The hot springs are right behind your building, but how do you get your water? The park maintains the water system like your city maintains your domestic water. The park collects water from the 47 springs located along this hillside. There is a 12 inch pipe running down the street which pumps it into a holding tank, like a regular water tower but only it’s hot water. They have a laboratory and they periodically test the water to make sure it’s potable. The main use of our water is obviously for the bathing industry, the functional bathhouses. They use 1 million gallons a month. I use 10,000 gallons a month. There’s a pump in the back and it comes in like city water in your house, only mine is hot.

JEN: In 100 years, what do you want people to say about what you’ve done? That I was at the forefront of the revitalization of downtown Hot Springs, AR. I think it is ironic that my business is based off of water, and the reason it exists is because of water, and a water-based project is reawakening this historic old town.

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