Business Spotlight: Against the Grain

4 by 4 Brewing has doubled its barrel production in the last year in a growing craft beer market

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4 by 4 Brewing Co. LLC has grown quicker than its ownership team of eight anticipated.

The microbrewery nearly doubled its barrel production in 2019 to 1,100 barrels, and after a major brewhouse renovation two months ago, head brewer Chris Shaffer predicts he’ll produce close to 2,500 barrels in 2020.

“Demand has grown more than we’ve tried to push it,” says Derek Shimeall, head of operations. “We had predicted to do this in year four or five, and it was done in two years.”

Revenues also outpaced initial projections. Last year, Shimeall says the microbrewery sold $800,000 worth of product.

The ownership group invested roughly $200,000 on the recent equipment upgrade – nearly matching the $300,000 spent in the startup. That includes the group’s purchase of a beer infusion system called maxxLup from Paul Mueller Co. The system, which can cost up to $100,000, is mainly used by national breweries, Shaffer said, declining to disclose how much the company spent on the machine.

Four couples launched the sixth local brewery in December 2017. As the market anticipates its 10th player – Prehistoric Brewing Co. LLC – Shaffer and Shimeall say there’s room for more.

“If you look at other regions similar to Springfield, we’re not where they’re at in terms of numbers,” Shimeall says, pointing to northwest Arkansas.

At least 16 breweries are operating in the Bentonville, Rogers and Fayetteville, Arkansas, areas that collectively serve a population of 200,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data and SBJ research. That means there’s at least one brewery for every 12,500 people in the northwest Arkansas cities, compared with Springfield’s one brewery for every 18,597 people, according to SBJ research.

“There’s a perception that Springfield is saturated. I think there’s room for more, and I think it’s indicative of the fact that we’re struggling to keep up – we’re all expanding,” he says.

Not all of the area’s breweries experienced production growth in 2019. Mother’s Brewing Co. and Springfield Brewing Co. were down 12% and 25%, respectively, from the prior year, according to SBJ list research.

“We know people are going elsewhere, but we have to offer different beers, beer styles and a different concept. If we all do that and are cognizant of that, we’re fine and we keep growing,” Shimeall says.

Standing out
One way the 4 by 4 Brewing owners have tried to differentiate themselves is location.

The group set up shop in Galloway Village, across from Sequiota Park, Shimeall says, noting half of the local breweries are located in north Springfield. Great Escape Beer Works joined 4 by 4 Brewing in 2018 in the southeast Springfield neighborhood, according to past SBJ reporting.

“Our whole concept from the beginning was a family-oriented, neighborhood brewery,” Shimeall says. “We wanted to be south side, we wanted to be in a niche neighborhood area, and the park and trail was an overwhelming no-brainer.”

The microbrewery also offers a dog-friendly, indoor beer garden with a projected TV screen and cornhole, table tennis and life-size Connect Four. It’s a weather-proofed alternative to its competitors’ outdoor features, Shimeall says.

The brewery has 16 taps, which feature eight staples and eight rotating drinks. Shaffer says crowd favorites are the Dolly Whopper IPA, Parkside Pineapple IPA and The O.G. Hefe. A pint of beer costs $5-$6, and a half a pint is $3.

The brewery also offers 12 selections of blended brews and allows customers to come up with their own combinations. One example is mixing a beer with Spring Branch Kombucha’s lavender or lemon hop kombucha, Shaffer says.

4 by 4 Brewing recently rolled out alcoholic seltzers that have already hit local store shelves. The microbrewery currently produces watermelon mint and orange mango seltzers, which Shaffer says was an idea driven by the business partners’ four wives. He says the seltzers have 95 calories, zero grams of sugar and zero carbohydrates.

“We’re always looking to do something that someone else is not doing. We’ve always been different in our own kind of way,” Shaffer says.

While 4 by 4 Brewing might be the first local brewer to make seltzer, Mother’s Brewing Co. recently announced plans to introduce a hard seltzer line, called Ready, in March.

The beverage category has grown in popularity nationally. From November 2018 to November 2019, hard seltzer sales at retail stores reached $1.3 billion, which outpaced the sale of sauvignon blanc and craft beer 12-packs, according to consumer research firm Nielsen. The firm predicts the number of players in the hard seltzer game will double in 2020.

Custom order
4 by 4 Brewing also has partnered with other businesses in town to create specialty beers.

Jesus Perches, longtime friend of Shaffer and co-owner of Mexican restaurant Tortilleria Perches, says the two businesses created the restaurant’s special brew, Perches Lager, for Cinco de Mayo in 2019. Since then, it’s become his best-selling beer. It’s made of New Zealand Pacifica hops and Cluster hops, he says, and has 5.3% alcohol by volume.

“We didn’t think it was going to be a big hit like it has been,” Perches says. “I have 13 taps at my restaurant, and it’s up there with Modelo, Pacifico, Corona – it’s our highest moving beer.”

Perches declined to disclose the lager’s sales but says the restaurant purchases at least a dozen quarter-barrel kegs per month. He says he anticipates rolling out another 4 by 4 branded beer for this years’s Cinco de Mayo.

The microbrewery also has created brews for Tim Bair of Bair’s Sports Grill and The Rock restaurants, Lavender Farms, Flat Creek restaurants and the band Members Only. Shimeall declined to disclose how much revenue the partnerships create.

“I don’t ever think of the partnerships as a percent to revenue,” he says. “We’re just paying for marketing in a different way. It’s just another model of differentiating and connecting into the roots of the community.”