Superior Bathhouse Brewery & Distillery, Hot Springs, Arkansas
The mineral-rich, naturally heated waters in Hot Springs, Arkansas reportedly provide a great many benefits — relaxation, detoxification, enhanced immune and digestive systems, healthier skin…
Rose Schweikhart Cranson thinks so. She and her husband Todd have opened Superior Bathhouse Brewery & Distillery in Downtown’s Bathhouse Row, continuing the district’s recent revitalization.
During its heyday at around the turn of the 20th century, driven by the belief of the healing powers of the springs (and the desire to cash in on those powers), Bathhouse Row boasted at least eight bathhouses. However, once modern medicine began discovering more convenient remedies to cure most ills, the district declined. By the 1980s, many were long shuttered and in disrepair.
And now, a brewery.
According to the National Park Service, the Superior Bathhouse opened in 1916, and was the smallest on Bathhouse Row. It was also the most budget-friendly, catering to those who wanted (or could only afford) the most basic hydrotherapy and spa services. It closed in 1983.
Of course, building a business from scratch presents a myriad of challenges. Doing so in an historic building (in a National Park, no less) only multiplies them. The tasting bar, located in the bathhouse’s former lobby, features a 97-year-old marble counter that, due to regulations, cannot be altered in any way.
So how do you install the taps? The Cransons enlisted a local welder to fashion a unique draft tower, mounted from the ceiling. The draft system makes a dramatic statement in the tasting area, and can even be seen from the street.
Behind the bar is a wall of safe-deposit-like lock-boxes where patrons’ valuables were kept while they bathed. These will house mugs for the new patrons who enlist in Superior’s mug club.
Meanwhile, the brewery, built in the former males-only bathing room with direct access to the springs, isn’t yet online (they hope to be brewing by the end of the year). Once it is, it will be truly unique, taking full advantage of its location to become not just the only brewery in the National Park system, but the world’s only brewery to use naturally heated spring water in the brewing process.
“It’s normally not potable—just think about Yellowstone—but ours is fantastic,” said Cranson in a recent interview with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The water’s mineral content will provide a unique twist to each beer’s flavor profile, and they’ll save time and money by using only minimal energy to heat it.
Once available, the Superior’s house beers will be sold under the brand name Vapor Valley. Naturally.
In the meantime, for those wanting to retoxify after a thorough cleansing, patrons can enjoy regional brews from several nearby states.
Thinking of stopping by? The Hot Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau is packed with all the info you need to plan a trip.
Know of an historic brewery, or a brewery in an historic place? Drop me a line at thebeerverse[at]gmail[dot]com and I’ll check it out!