May 2, 2022 - News

Benton County approaches a decade of alcohol sales

photo of beer
Drinking this IPA at Ozark Beer Co. in Rogers was made possible by a 2012 vote. Photo: Alex Golden/Axios

Every bar, brewery and liquor store in Benton County was established within the past 10 years, after voters approved going wet in 2012.

Why it matters: Alcohol sales are important for economic development and quality of life, J.R. Shaw, executive director of Visit Rogers, told Axios.

  • Wet counties are seen as more progressive and attractive to residents, tourists and people looking to move or do business here, he said, adding that alcohol manufacturing and sales also create jobs.

By the numbers: Benton County has about 600 active permits, including 144 retail beer permits, 70 retail liquor permits and 87 grocery store wine permits, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

  • The Alcoholic Beverage Commission doesn't track liquor sales or related tax revenue.

What they're saying: Lacie Bray co-founded Benton County's first brewery, Ozark Beer Co., in 2013 in Rogers.

  • "We really understood and took seriously that we were creating a beer culture here," she told Axios, adding that many of their customers had never been to a brewery or tried craft beer.

State of play: Bray said Ozark had a hard time finding someone willing to rent to them because brewing in Benton County was so new. Now, Ozark sells in stores, restaurants and bars all over Arkansas and southwest Missouri in addition to its taproom.

  • And the brewery is growing beyond its regular customer base. In recent years, Bray has noticed more out-of-towners coming to check out the local beer scene.

Flashback: Tom and Steuart Walton spearheaded the effort to overturn Benton County's dry status.

  • Their campaign commissioned an economic impact study from the University of Arkansas Center for Business & Economic Research, which estimated a $33 million-a-year upside to going wet.

Of note: The Department of Finance and Administration could find no record of Washington County ever going dry after the end of Prohibition.

  • As a result, it has longtime staples like Maxine's Taproom in downtown Fayetteville, which has been in business since 1950 and still serves up a stellar Old Fashioned.
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