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Diamond Bear blues

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Amid the hoopla surrounding Diamond Bear Brewery's announcement of a move to a much bigger, custom-built space on the North Little Rock waterfront next year is a mechanical headache that has choked off the flow of Diamond Bear's bottled brews to retailers. Russ Melton, president of Diamond Bear, said the company has been struggling since late January to sort out problems with a more sophisticated bottling machine. Though they plan to start putting out bottled product at full bore again this week, the ensuing beer drought has been bad enough that Diamond Bear sent a letter to stores and other distributors, explaining why they couldn't supply them with bottled beer.

Melton said their old bottler could fill and seal 60 bottles a minute. Their new bottler has the potential to churn out 300 a minute, while allowing less air into the bottle that could affect shelf-life and taste. Melton said they had planned to buy the bottler just before they were ready to move to North Little Rock, but it was a situation where they either had to purchase the used machine now or lose the opportunity. Given that, they went ahead and bought it, then moved it to their current space on South Cross Street in Little Rock. "When [the new bottler] was moved, it wasn't properly secured," Melton said. "That, in addition to its complexity, just made it a difficult start-up ... it's like going from a biplane to a Phantom jet."

On the plus side, Melton said that last month was their best month ever for draft beer sales, and the major kinks with the new bottler have been worked out.

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