Before 2021, I knew Jesse Burks as the amiable, whimsical subject of this story — a foot surgeon with a deliciously twisted sense of humor who, in his spare time, churns out tiny little horror movies with actor Michael Berryman about ice cream trucks, mimes and circus tents. What a polymath, right?
Turns out, Burks has also brewed beer for 20 years as a hobby. Fast forward to 2021, and the Burks family has gotten serious about it with a new brewery in Bryant, slated to open this spring in a warehouse complex tucked away in Bryant just off of picturesque Highway 5. I talked with Burks about Burks Brothers Brewing, LLC — B3 Brews, for short, lake beers and the strange origins of some of B3’s abundant wall art.
The last time I talked to you about the brewery, it was still in the formative stages. Can you catch me up?
We’re getting close. It’s kinda funny — going through the whole process of getting our federal permit and our state permit, you would swear that I was making nuclear weapons. I’m like, “Wow, this is a really big undertaking.” Somebody said, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t know you’d have to do all that when you started it?” Because you get, like, halfway through and think, “Well, hell, I gotta finish it now.”
Ha! And that’s coming from you, someone who is not unaccustomed to following rigid protocols.
Exactly. The other day, I was telling somebody at the hospital, “You know, I did less to get my DEA number to prescribe morphine than I had to do to make 5% beer.”
Right? I feel like in some ways, the old leftovers from Prohibition are still hangin’ around Arkansas — blue laws and all that.
They are! Yeah, I did my fellowship over in Austria, so that’s where we got kinda exposed to a lot of beer. We lived over a little place called the Strudelstube and we’d go down there and eat almost every night and drink beer — beer in Germany and Austria, that’s just a normal, everyday thing. So when we came back here and I’d kind of started doing some of the homebrew stuff over the years and just got more into it, and then a few years ago I said, “You know, we really need to try to jump on the craft beer bandwagon.” And so we got our first little logo made and finally incorporated, and in November of 2019, we actually signed a lease on a big open warehouse space, and we’ve been building it on our own ever since. My dad came in and did all the aluminum studwork, and then my sons and I came in and we’ve been building everything by hand — the bars, everything. … We have a 10-tap system, and we’ll have five of our beers. Beers one through four are basically always going to be our standard beers that we always have, and beer number five will be one we’re always kind of experimenting with. People may love it or they may hate it, and we’ll decide whether to bring it back based on that. The other five taps we’re going to reserve for small breweries in Arkansas. Little bitty ones — like, Lost Forty, they have wonderful beer, but they don’t need me to sell their beer. There’s a little place in Lonsdale called Stud Duck. It’s an awesome little thing. And I’ve talked to Native Dog Brewing in Camden. So we’re gonna always have small breweries like that on the other five taps, where people may not be able to run to Subiaco and get the beer from the monks, but we’ll have some there.
All the stuff on the walls at B3 — is that your personal memorabilia?
Some of ‘em are pictures of our little kids, and other stuff is just interesting. I got a bunch of old history pictures off of Etsy. One of the nurses that we work with at the hospital had a baby picture — her little baby picture is just, like, a creepy little baby picture, from almost 40 years ago — and I had it blown up and it’s in a frame.
And one of the nurses in our office — she passed out one day and hit the counter and cut her eye open, and she showed me a picture of her on the way to the emergency room, and I was like, “Can I have that and put it in a brewery?” And she was like, “Well, yeah!” And I blew it up and put it in the brewery. So it’s just all sorts of odd, interesting stuff in there. Things to talk about.
Do you have a beer planned for the tap that’s your personal favorite? That’s like, ‘OK, this is my go-to beer’?
My wife brews, too, and the boys brew, and we all kind of have different beers that we like. I’m a big fan of Irish red beers. My wife loves fruit beers. My middle son, Gunnar, he loves what you call “lake beers.” You know, where you can drink 15 of ‘em.
Yeah. Good to have a beer you can drink a few of in the afternoon and not just be gone.
Exactly. My son Harley loves IPAs, so naturally we’re gonna have IPAs. And since we’re able to do small-batch beers, we’ve also been doing some limited barrel-aged beers. Those will come, and when everybody drinks ’em, they’re gone.