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Superior Bathhouse Brewery Tour

This destination brewery transformed from bathhouse to brewhouse using thermal spring water in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.

Superior Bathhouse Brewery Tour

Superior Bathhouse Brewery just might have everything I look for when seeking out a place to visit.

When my wife and I plan our vacations, we use a few simple parameters to guide us: our destinations should be scenic and open to physical exploration, they should stimulate our senses and deepen our appreciation of the natural world, and they should include plenty of opportunities for gustatory enjoyment and relaxation.

When vacations remain stateside, our highest priority is visiting National Parks and local craft breweries.

Our most recent vacation destination was kind of decided for us (a nephew’s wedding in Arkansas), but that didn’t deter us from making mountains out of molehills – so to speak. In fact, the Ouachita Mountains in central Arkansas more than satisfactorily checked most of our vacation planning boxes.


Superior Bathhouse Brewery dark beer on countertop
So, how is the beer, you ask? In a word: superior! As a seasoned beer evaluator and veteran brewery tourist, I don’t throw superlative adjectives around without thorough consideration.


But it was only after I began investigating Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas that I realized this particular park came complete with its own craft brewery. It’s the only brewery situated on National Park property in the entire United States, as a matter of fact. Another box checked!

Superior Bathhouse Brewery has its own wonderful story to tell, but to appreciate it fully it’s helpful to understand it in the context of the Ouachita region’s natural history, so let me begin with a brief overview.When Thomas Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Ouachita region (in modern-day Arkansas) became part of the rapidly growing United States. A year later, the exploration team that included William Dunbar and George Hunter, reported back to Jefferson that the native peoples gathered in the area to soak in the hot water to improve their health and recover from maladies. As word of these miraculous springs spread, President Andrew Jackson later signed legislation to establish a four-square-mile Hot Springs Reservation in 1832, in order to protect the water for public use.

By 1836, Arkansas became this country’s 25th state and Hot Springs Reservation was placed under the control of the Department of the Interior. Six years earlier, the first public bathhouse was constructed in town, followed by many more on Central Avenue – or the famed “Bathhouse Row.” Some are Victorian, some are Art Deco, but each one is more ornate and elegant than the last. Meanwhile, Congress expanded the park boundary by over 4,000 acres (still today though, Hot Springs National Park remains the second-smallest in the system).

By its peak in 1947, it’s estimated that the “Valley of the Vapors,” as the city of Hot Springs came to be known, had hosted over one million people who came to soak in its healing waters. In the coming decades, the allure waned, and one by one the stately bathhouses closed. By 1985, the Buckstaff became the lone survivor. To preserve the old buildings and their history, Bathhouse Row was named a Historic National Landmark in 1987.

The smallest of all the bathhouses was the red-bricked Superior Bathhouse that stood at one end of the row. It was built in 1916 and it managed to keep its doors open until 1983.


flights at superior bathhouse brewery
Because the hot spring water exits the earth at a temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit, time & money is saved by not having to heat the brewing and cleaning water very much.


After lying vacant for thirty years, the space was re-imagined as a brewery and family-friendly restaurant and event venue.

In 2011, Rose Schweikhart moved from New Jersey to Arkansas to pursue her vision of owning a brewery. The one daunting thing that stood in her way of converting the old bathhouse into, well, anything, was dealing with the fact that the property was in the hands of the federal government. She negotiated a lease on the former bathhouse with the Department of the Interior, and then, two years and an 80-page proposal later, the Superior Bathhouse Brewery became a reality.After signing the lease with the DOI, construction began in late spring of 2013 and today the Superior Bathhouse is home to the only brewery in an American National Park. But that’s not SBB’s only claim to fame – it’s also the only brewery in the world to make its beer from thermal spring water.

Aside from the water’s quality, which is no trivial detail at a brewery, the fact that the spring water exits the earth at a steady temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit means that time and money is saved by not having to heat the brewing and cleaning water very much. The spring water is pumped straight into the brewery from a collection cistern and the only thing that has to be done to the water for brewing is to adjust the pH levels.

Head Brewer Jimm Powell has a strong background of brewing beer at home, and he has extensive training at White Labs, a major yeast supplier to the craft brewing industry. He is assisted in the brewery by John “Bergie” Bergdorf, who formerly worked at the prestigious Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in California.



After a long day of hiking in the hills and a couple hours soaking in the hot spring baths, sipping a few Superior Bathhouse beers is about as curative and restorative as it gets.


So, how is the beer, you ask? In a word: superior! As a seasoned beer evaluator and veteran brewery tourist, I don’t throw superlative adjectives around without thorough consideration. My wife, who also has a refined palate, and I tasted our way through six very different beers on the menu – which was only a third of the available choices. The beer selection ran from old school IPAs to the hazy/juicy variety, from sours to milkshake beers, from golden stout to oatmeal stout, and a handful of interesting styles in between.

I can confidently say that all the beers we tasted were clean, well-made and thoroughly enjoyable. Though I would never think to order a full pint of pepper beer, the Spicy Ride Jalapeno Ale was unquestionably among the flavorful standouts. In terms of stylistic purity, most of them nailed the guidelines; with the exception of a hazy bock beer, I’d say the brewers have a very good handle on their craft.

Now I know the federal government frowns upon breweries making claims about their beer contributing to your well-being, but after a long day of hiking in the hills and a couple hours soaking in the hot spring baths, sipping a few of these local beers is about as curative and restorative as it gets. “To your health” is a most appropriate toast at Superior Bathhouse Brewery.

Ready to visit Superior Bathhouse Brewery? You may contact them here:

Superior Bathhouse Brewery
329 Central Avenue
Hot Springs, AR 71901

Contact the brewery:

501-624-2337
www.superiorbathhouse.com


Superior Bathhouse Brewery Bathtub

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