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story.lead_photo.caption Janelle Jessen/Herald-Leader Casey Letellier poured freshly brewed beer from the tap in Ivory Bill Brewing. The tap handles are made from reclaimed cypress shelving from Siloam Springs' original 1940s IGA Grocery Store building.

Ivory Bill Brewing is bringing Siloam Springs its first brewery and giving new life to a downtown building.

After 10 months of renovations and preparation, owners Casey Letellier and Dorothy Hall are planning a grand opening from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15.

When Ivory Bill Brewing opens, it will offer three flagship beers on tap, as well as sparkling water and cream soda. The three beers will include regular, described as refreshing and light; extra, described as a little bit stronger and hoppier; and dark, which is softly roasty with notes of chocolate, Letellier said. Customers purchase beer to drink at the brewery or in Crowlers -- large aluminum cans -- to take home. Because of the quirks of small brewery licensing, they are also open and can sell beer on Sunday.

"We wanted these to be good everyday sorts of beers, not just strong stuff tailored to the craft beer enthusiast," Letellier said.

Lettelier and Hall are hopeful that Ivory Bill will provide a community space where neighbors can sit together over a pint and see what they have in common, they said.

"We want to make a place that locals feel like belongs to them, as well as a place that gets people off of (U.S. Highway) 412 and into our beautiful downtown," Lettelier said.

Letellier has been brewing for more than 15 years and has long dreamed of one day opening his own brewery, he said. His brewing style is influenced by the time he spent living in England, where he experienced the local pub as a place for "good, honest conversations encouraged by delicious beer," he said.

Hall and Lettelier were both involved in the early years of 28 Springs, Hall leading in the kitchen and Lettelier running the bar. Hall went on to cook at The Hive at 21c in Bentonville and Lettelier began brewing at West Mountain Brewing in Fayetteville.

The couple decided to open their business in Siloam Springs because it is home, they said.

"We love living here and raising our boys here," Letellier said. "We're actually in easy walking distance from our house. In a lot of ways, the process would have been easier in one of the bigger Northwest Arkansas corridor cities, but we feel like we can make a difference here."

They named their business after the ivory bill woodpecker, which was declared extinct in the 1920s but was rediscovered in Arkansas in 2005.

"It feels like such a wonderfully improbable story of rebirth," Letellier said. "Siloam Springs has been under prohibition since the 1920s and only in the past couple of years has finally, improbably, repealed those laws. It feels like a great parallel story, a great Arkansas story. Also, what a beautiful bird."

The couple is sensitive to Siloam Springs' dry history.

"We are super excited and feel like it's really important to us to be good neighbors because we do recognize that this is new and there are people who have associations of 'Oh, breweries are like this,' and we want to change their minds," Hall said. "But we recognize that this is a new thing for our town."

They emphasize that their business is family friendly, with cream soda available for kids, and said their two sons, age 8 and 10, have been involved from the very beginning.

"They definitely feel like this is their project too," Letellier said. "We have put them to work on lots of things and they both have their own space. They each have a desk so after school they do homework, hangout and color."

Downtown development

The building where Ivory Bill Brewing is located, at 516 E. Main Street, has a long history. It was built as a Pontiac dealership in the 1940s, but it has also served as a Greyhound Bus Station, a hula hoop factory and most recently as a gym, Lettelier said.

Hall and Letellier started demo in 2017 and have been working 70-plus hour weeks since to finish the project.

"We had great help along the way, friends and family who showed up to help evenings and weekends, and amazing electricians from Maples and plumbers from SMS," Letellier said.

One of the couple's favorite parts of the renovation is the window wall between the taproom and the brewery. The windows are reclaimed from a college dorm in Tyler, Texas. The massive door and floor to ceiling frame for the windows was built by the couple's neighbor, Mike Rood.

The couple has used reclaimed treasures throughout the building to maintain the original feel. For example, furniture is made from reclaimed maple boxcar floors, the taproom walls are clad in salvaged pine flooring that is more than 100 years old, and the tap handles were made from cypress shelving from the original Siloam Springs 1940s IGA building. The walk-in cooler door, facing the taproom, was also salvaged from the grocery store, and lights were salvaged from a barn in Kansas.

The brew house, the vessels the beer is brewed in, were built for the Orange Brewery in London, England, during the 1980s. They were imported to a small brewery in rural Iowa, before making their way to Siloam Springs "by way of the largest Penske truck we could rent without a CDL," Lettelier said.

"The brew house is wonderfully pokey and British, complete with wood cladding," he said. "The most notable are the open fermenters, which look quite different from the cylindroconical vessels used by most American breweries. Rather than being shiny, tall tanks with rounded tops and conical bases, our vessels are short and squat with removable dust cover lids. This style of open fermenter makes for happier yeast, which thrive when allowed to work without being confined within a sealed and pressurized vessel. Happy yeast make delicious beer."

The beer making process begins with hot water combined with malt to create mash, which looks like a giant bowl of oatmeal and smells amazing, Lettelier said. The next step in the process is fermenting, which takes about a week. Once it is fermented, it is pumped into the cold room where it is chilled and cleared and begins to look like what people think of as beer, he said. It is either packaged or piped directly to the tap.

"It's about as fresh as an experience of beer that you could possibly have," Lettelier said.

The building is decorated outside by a large mural of the brewery's namesake, an ivory bill woodpecker. The mural was designed by Kirk Demarais, and illustrated and painted by Ian McCloud. A facade grant from Main Street Siloam Springs helped cover the cost, Lettelier said.

"We love seeing it as we drive over the hill toward the brewery," he said. "Eventually, we plan to extend the mural to cover the whole east wall of our building."

The couple said they are excited to be part of the development of East Main Street.

"We are so stoked about being on East Main," Letellier said. "We love all the work that has gone into developing Broadway, and we love all the Latino-owned businesses on the top of the hill on East Main. We are excited to be part, along with Pour Jons and TC Screenprinting, of what we hope will be a bridge between the two districts."

General News on 09/12/2018

Print Headline: First brewery to open in Siloam Springs

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