Situated in the Ouachita Mountains and partly surrounded by the Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas, is a charming city that is best loved for its rich history, breathtaking mountain views, historic spas, and natural thermal water that flows from dozens of hot springs. The mineral-rich waters are now being put to a fun and tasty use: to make a delicious assortment of beers at the Superior Bathhouse Brewery.
The Superior Bathhouse Brewery is the only brewery in the world that’s using thermal spring water to make its beers, according to its owner Rose Schweikhart. It’s also the only brewpub in a United States National Park. The craft beer made at the Superior Bathhouse Brewery ranges from light to dark and from mild to strong. I spoke to Rose about what else makes her beers so special.
“Our water makes fantastic beer,” shared Schweikhart. “Water is the main ingredient in beer, and beer styles from around the world were historically developed around the qualities of each region’s water! I knew that if I had a water source unique to my brewery, it would help me craft a beer with a very special identity. Unlike the water from most thermal springs, ours is potable. It is very pure and ideal for brewing.”
The Superior Bathhouse Brewery has a consistently rotating set of 18 taps, and they typically change on a weekly basis. They brew seven or so year-round flagship beers that are usually available. The flagships run the gamut from light to dark, hoping to please a wide range of beer palates.
The brewery’s Madden’s No. 1 is a light blonde ale that’s meant to recreate a beer brewed illegally during prohibition by Hot Springs gangster Owney Madden. He may have been nicknamed “The Killer,” but there’s nothing lethal about the beer made entirely from scratch at the brewery.
The Superior Bathhouse Brewery’s Kolsch is an ale with a German flair, which is appropriate since the chemistry of the thermal spring water in Hot Springs is similar to the water that led to the creation of the Kolsch style in the Cologne (Köln), Germany region. It is a bright golden beer featuring German Perle hops. The Superior Pale Ale (or SPA) is a British-style pale ale featuring English yeast and English hops, a nod to the time Rose spent in Manchester, England when she was in graduate school.
Beyond the European influences, the Goat Rock Bock is one of the few lagers produced by the brewery. It’s a dark beer with chocolate notes made in the Texas bock tradition. The Foul Play Stout is a tasty oatmeal stout that boasts notes of roasted coffee and English hops.
Fun seasonal beers such as a fall Oktoberfestbier and a March Irish Red are also popular each year. The brewers enjoy following the constantly changing IPA trends, and the Superior Bathhouse Brewery has made a Space Force hazy IPA with blood oranges, an extra dry Brut IPA, and a double IPA called Rule No. 1 (“If you didn’t have fun, you should have!”).
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So, does the owner have a favorite? “Our brewery team cranks out so many interesting beers day in and day out that it’s hard to pick a favorite. My favorite flagship is our Northwoods IPA because I’m a die-hard hop head. But my day-to-day favorite is probably whatever the newest creation happens to be. It’s common for us to make a beer as a one-off release, and I may never have the chance to enjoy it again.”
“I have a philosophy that the experience you have while you’re drinking a beer is as important or even more important [than] the beer itself as far as your enjoyment goes! I like to think that, when our customers sit in the former bathhouse, they can contemplate history while simultaneously enjoying a beer. That’s an experience you’ll only find in Hot Springs National Park,” observed Schweikhart.
When Schweikhart first came to Hot Springs in 2011, she wondered why there weren’t any breweries in the city that’s known for its special thermal water. When she saw the Superior Bathhouse in the area of the city called Bathhouse Row, she was inspired by its potential and knew in her heart that an idea was blossoming. After all, what a cool place to have a business.
Bathhouse Row, as the name implies, is a row of old bathhouses that started serving customers over a century ago; it’s listed as a U.S. National Historic Landmark, and over two million visitors explore the area annually to enjoy the springs that flow from Hot Springs Mountain. Schweikhart said, “The Superior Bathhouse is a former historic bathing facility built in Hot Springs National Park in 1916. It operated as a bathhouse until 1983 [when] it closed permanently, as did most of the bathhouses in Hot Springs due to the decline of the bathing industry.”
Now the Superior Bathhouse Brewery benefits from being in a visitor-heavy location. Tourists stumble upon the establishment by accident, not because they are seeking out a craft brewery. “The flip side of this customer diversity is that we may have customers who have never had a craft beer or are hesitant to experiment with darker or hoppier varieties. We can usually win those folks over with one of our lighter beers like Madden’s No. 1 or Kolsch. Once they’re convinced we make delicious suds, they often embark on a tour of our other 17 taps!” said Schweikhart.
“We also make sure to cater to our ‘beer nerd’ crowd. I think our ‘trendy’ IPAs like Space Force and Brut keep repeat visitors coming back year after year to see what the brewers have been up to. For the adventurous or indecisive folks, we can offer a beer bath—that is a flight of 18 4-ounce pours for the opportunity to sample every single beer on our menu.”
The brewpub also attracts a bustling crowd for meals. It’s been important to Rose Schweikhart to keep the menu simple, and she uses as many local ingredients as possible in her food, which is cooked from scratch daily using whole ingredients. They cater to a wide variety of dietary needs, and vegans and vegetarians can find delectable menu options. In fact, the brewery’s black-eyed pea hummus has gathered a cult following. (Trust me, you need to try this along with a beer or the tasty house-made root beer.)
For 2019, the Superior Bathhouse Brewery will offer outrageous new beers and food menu updates. There are also plans to open an outdoor biergarten space this year. Schweikhart will continue to honor the past, too. She shared, “It’s a huge honor to be entrusted with the care, upkeep, and growth of one of our nation’s historic treasures. I am thankful every day that my business idea lent itself to the adaptive reuse of such an iconic building and that it was available when I arrived in town. As a transplant to Arkansas after growing up in New England, I’m glad that someone who is ‘not from around here’ was allowed to follow her dream in this beautiful little town.”
Header image courtesy of Superior Bathhouse Brewery.