Diamond Bear 

An Arkansas brewery wanders into Memphis with some tasty beers.


When Diamond Bear brewing company was started in 2000 by Russ and Sue Melton, it was the first commercial brewery in Arkansas in 15 years. It was so named because Arkansas is the only state in which diamonds are found naturally, as opposed to on flashy jewelry. And Arkansas was once known as "The Bear State" for its high incidence of its citizens being mauled by one. While the brewery continues to expand regionally, those Arkansas roots are still thick and tangled: The company's motto is "Beer in its natural state." Which they seem to actually take to heart. Although Memphis can also claim a little hometown pride, since the company's canning operation takes place at the Blues City Brewery on Raines Road.

Co-founder Russ Melton first discovered this passion for regional beers while stationed with the army in Germany and living in Bavaria. "I certainly was a beer enthusiast. I started home brewing, but I definitely had the intention of starting a brewery, he says."

Apparently, living in Germany gives a fella strong opinions on beer, so Diamond Bear focused on solid traditional methods of European brewers. The brewery opened on a strong note, and as generally happens when a craft beer market opens right, the company has grown to about 18 breweries and brewpubs throughout the state — all while Diamond Bear has moved from one expanded facility to the next to meet growing demand.

Since prohibition, though, beer distribution across state lines has always been something of a headache. While available widely in Alabama, Diamond Bear had never broken into the Memphis market in any significant way. All of that changed about a year ago, when the company decided to self-distribute in Shelby County, focusing on the many beer festivals in this half-in-the-bag town of ours. It's been a lively push, and sales tripled (from an admittedly low entry point). Now Diamond Bear beer can be found on draft or in cans in Memphis go-to places like Corky's and Central BBQ, Soul Fish, and Loflin Yard.

Or, if you want to go take it home, you can find it at the Madison Growler Shop in Cash Saver. Their Oatmeal Stout has been one of their best-selling dark beers since the Growler Shop added it to the lineup a few months ago. And it's easy to see why: This stout is solid. What it lacks in hep-cat innovation, it makes up by simply being an outstanding example of the style. What more can I say? It's got hints of toasty oatmeal and chocolate exactly where those sort of things are supposed to be.

Diamond Bear brewery follows that least hipster of all rule books, the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, first introduced by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in 1516. To put this in perspective, the United States didn't pass the Pure Food and Drug Act until 1906 – some 390 years later. The German law stipulates that only water, hops, yeast, and barley can be used in beer. Still, there is a lot a clever brewer can do with only four ingredients. When you drink Diamond Bear's Southern Blonde lager, you can tell.

Its flagship brew, a traditional English Pale Ale, has won heaps of golds and silvers in the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. The Irish Red has placed in both as well. These days, it's hard to run a brewery without an IPA, and ever the Arkansas loyalists, the Presidential IPA was named in honor of the opening of the Clinton Presidential Library. The Double IPA I called Two Term, obviously (biting political commentary withheld at insistence of the long-suffering Mrs. M.).

Tradition is great, but you do have to step out, from time to time. We'll never know Duke Wilhelm's thoughts on the subject, but Diamond Bear has partnered with French Truck Coffee to create a limited coffee stout using French Truck's Le Grand Coq Rouge coffee ... and we'll just let you translate that name for yourself.

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