Crafting a Legacy

With a new crop of craft breweries flourishing in Arkansas, there's never been a better time to take one off the tap
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Looking through the numbers of the American craft-beer boom, it’s tough not to call it a Renaissance. As of June, there were 2,483 craft breweries in operation across the country—up from 1,970 in 2011. Back in January, the research group Mintel released a report forecasting craft sales will grow from $12 billion in 2012 to $18 billion by 2017. The point is, if beer is proof God wants us to be happy, he must really—but really—want us to be happy.

In Arkansas, especially these past few years, we’ve gotten exponentially happier. While comprising a relatively small segment of the whole (the 13 breweries profiled here are just about all the places licensed to brew in the state), the fervor for the stuff here in Arkansas is certainly no less in scope or intensity. With the introduction of the Native Beer Act (see p.87), craft-brewing has taken root and produced a deluge of sweet, sweet suds in the market, prodding a boom in product and further fueling the already potent home-brewing market. All of which is to say that there more reasons than ever to pour one out.

And even if we’ve only got one brewery for every 291,592 people, earning us spot No. 41 nationwide, and a fairly modest offering compared with, say, one for 25,030 in Vermont, we are pretty darn pleased. (It bears mention, also, that we’re still far above Mississippi, which came in at 51—and, really, isn’t that what matters?)

 


 

Diamond Bear Brewing Co.

Specifics: 323-C S. Cross St., Little Rock; (501) 708-2739; diamondbear.com

Hours: Noon to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

You’ll Have: English Pale Ale, Diamond Bear’s award-winning flagship beer.

Since its founding in September 2000, Diamond Bear Brewing has been the definition of perseverance. In the brewery’s early days, it was forced to send its beer off to an outside company for bottling because of a lack of in-state facilities, with results that didn’t meet the expectations that owner Russ Melton and his staff had for their beer in terms of freshness. Soon enough, the brewery invested in an old, cantankerous bottling machine named “Helga” and began doing their own bottling in the converted auto-garage brew space they call home. The change resulted in an award-winning lineup of beers that includes the richly flavored English Pale Ale, the hoppy masterpiece Presidential IPA, its even hoppier companion Two Term Double IPA and lighter fare like the Southern and Strawberry Blonde summer lagers.

The brewery has become a local favorite and has even moved into markets in Mississippi, pushing Diamond Bear’s current Cross Street facilities to the limit; and a move to North Little Rock that’s been in the works for two years is finally taking shape. The new location in the old Orbea building just across the river will allow Melton’s team a greater capacity for brewing and bottling, and will give them room to expand their tap room by the beginning of 2014. More space also means expanded retail hours, something that’s important, given that the brewery is the only place in Little Rock that sells packaged beer on Sundays. —mr

 


 

Stone’s Throw Brewing

Specifics: 402 E. 9th St., Little Rock; (501) 244-9154; stonesthrowbeer.com

Hours: 4-9 p.m. Thursday and Friday.; 12-9 p.m. Saturday; 12-6 p.m. Sunday

You’ll have: Two-timing Ale (an American IPA)—if available, because Stone’s Throw brews are popular and tend to go quickly.

03_stonesthrow_TGood luck finding a seat during peak hours at this MacArthur Park nanobrewery in downtown Little Rock. But sometimes you have to stand to drink great local beer—and great local beer is exactly what this brewery delivers. Opened this past summer by four homebrewers who met through the homebrewing club Central Arkansas Fermenters, Stone’s Throw Brewing usually offers up to four of their own delicious pours on tap, along with beers from local and regional breweries such as Diamond Bear Brewing Co., Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. and others. With a love of different beer styles among the quartet of owners, Stone’s Throw looks to offer a variety of brews as the seasons change, from saisons to double IPAs to porters. Plus, food is available in the tap room from Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Natchez Restaurant and other eateries, and local food trucks such as The Southern Gourmasian make weekly visits. The tap room might be cramped, with a few seats at the bar and a handful of tables and chairs, but an array of seating options is often set up in the brewing area for overflow crowds. —ss

 


 

Boscos Restaurant & Brewing Co.

Specifics: 500 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock; (501) 907-1881; boscosbeer.com/littlerock

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

You’ll have: The always-on-tap brews such as the Flaming Stone are tasty, but sample a special and seasonal beer such as Boscos’ Big Dam Pale when available.

With the majority of the best riverfront property used for parks in Little Rock and North Little Rock, most businesses don’t have an opportunity to exploit Arkansas River scenery, with its downtown bridges, river trail and other sites. This River Market brewpub is one of the few with a riverscape, providing a commanding view of the river from the pub’s second-floor patio. Grab a seat and enjoy a wood-fired oven pizza or a plate of shrimp and grits while sipping a Great American Beer Festival medal-winning Boscos’ Famous Flaming Stone Beer, a traditional ale that goes down easy. The small, Mid-South-based chain, headquartered in Memphis, has garnered several medals for other brews, too, and the Little Rock location offers four always-on-tap beers, along with four rotating pours. Inside, Boscos is a stylish gastropub, with dark-wood tables, comfortable and spacious booths, an elegant rectangular-shaped bar and a brewing area viewable from the restaurant floor. The menu here goes beyond the simple bar grub of wings, burgers and fries, and brunch is offered from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. Arrive early on a Sunday, and enjoy oysters Benedict or andouille and chicken hash as the Arkansas River flows silently by. —ss

 


 

1013FeatBeer3Fossil Cove Brewing Co.

Specifics: 1946 N. Birch Ave., Fayetteville; (479) 445-6050; fossilcovebrewing.com

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday; 2-11 p.m. Saturday; 2-10 p.m. Sunday

You’ll have: A sampler of five brews ranging from the dark Oatty Stout to the lighter Water St. Wit.

Having a panicked moment of “we must be lost” is completely normal when trying to find this tucked-away brewery in north Fayetteville. Once you spot the dinosaur logo among the row of warehouses, and the row of cyclists pulling over for a pint on the patio, you’re in the right place. Inside, brewers are busy churning out batches of their trademark T-Rex Tripel and Paleo Ale, and customers pack the year-old tasting room even on weeknights. With a handful of tables and a sizable bar—complete with a flat-screen TV to catch a game—the dimly lit tasting room is surprisingly welcoming, and with food trucks often staking a claim out front, it’s easy to see why people are staying for several rounds rather than just a sample. A metal building is still a metal building, though, so things can get a little stuffy on hot days. But there are few better places to beat the heat—consider a pour of their IPA No. 3, which has a crisp, surprisingly sweet flavor that helps balance out the otherwise bitter beer variety. And if you’re looking for more-than-your-average IPA, keep an eye on the Fossil Cove Facebook page for Friday-night brew infusions, when bartenders add an extra flavor punch by infusing beers with fresh mango, strawberries, cocoa nibs, jalapeno or extra locally grown hops. —evz

 


 

Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery

Specifics: 29 Central Ave., Hot Springs; (501) 624-2337; superiorbathhouse.com

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday through Sunday.

You’ll have: The brewery hopes to be producing its own beers by November, but until then, it is serving one of Arkansas’ best line-ups of craft beers, including Tommy  Knocker, a Colorado brew that has only been in Arkansas since the start of 2013.

As part of a long-term plan to lease out Hot Springs’ famed bathhouses for new uses, the United States Department of the Interior went in an unprecedented direction with the Superior Bathhouse by turning over the historic building to brewer Rose Cranson. Cranson’s subsequent conversion of the building into a taproom, brewery and distillery has earned her some bragging rights, as the brewery is not only the first (and at this point only) brewing facility located in a National Park, but also the only one in the United States that utilizes naturally hot water in its brews. The spring that runs beneath (and into) Superior comes out at around 150 degrees and, unlike many hot springs, lacks the high sulphur content that often renders such water non-potable.

The bathhouse’s renovated tasting area boasts hardwood tables, sleek stainless-steel seating and a bar that combines a century-old marble counter with a custom-designed tap line suspended from the ceiling in a large metal pipe. The result is a tasteful mix of new and old—the careful result of Cranson’s attention to detail along with requirements from the feds to keep the historical site intact. In addition to beer, Superior will be distilling its own rum and whiskey, making it only the second distillery in the state. —mr

 


 

West Mountain Brewing

Specifics: 21 W Mountain St., Fayetteville; (479) 442-9090; facebook.com/tinytimspizza

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

You’ll have: Their ever-popular IPA, which goes fast, so pick up a growler during the week.

1013FeatBeer6While Tiny Tim’s pizza has spent more than a decade on the downtown Fayetteville square, its in-house brewing operation, West Mountain Brewing, took a little longer to get going. Owner John Schmuecker says everything that could go wrong in launching the brewery, did. First there was a fire. Then dented equipment. After 13 years of setbacks and battling Murphy’s Law, brewing didn’t finally get going until 2011. Since then, it’s been going strong, with new varieties popping up on draft seasonally. West Mountain’s crisp IPA is on tap year-round and pairs well with the pizza served up throughout the two-storefront operation. With throwback wood-paneled walls and a healthy serving of Razorback decals, it’s a college bar through and through, but just far enough removed from campus that you won’t be overwhelmed dropping in for a beer or two. If you need to run, check out their half-growler (aka “Howler”) to-go containers. The blue logo-emblazoned bottles hold around two pints and sell for less than $6 each. Before you go, be sure to check out the unique, all-wood logo inlaid in the bar on the brewery side of the restaurant. It’s so gorgeous, you’ll be wary of using it as a coaster. —evz

 


 

Apple Blossom Brewing Co.

Specifics: 1550 E. Zion Road, Suite 1, Fayetteville; (479) 287-4344; appleblossombrewing.com

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

You’ll have: A spicy Maverick Roggenbier rye or the Fayette-weisse, an easy-drinking American lager.

Situated on the edge of Lake Fayetteville Park just down the road from the Northwest Arkansas Mall, the newest addition to the Fayetteville brewing scene serves up a nice injection of “local” to an area otherwise taken over by convenience chains. Apple Blossom opened in July, and though a little generic on the surface, its strip-mall storefront brings the bonus of having ample seating in the open, light-soaked dining area. The brewery started with a 10-barrel brewing system (visible through windows near the main bar), and owners are already looking to expand in order to meet the demand. Beers rotate frequently based on popularity and season, and co-owner Ching Mong says that the Ozark’s Porter has been the most popular with customers so far. When it’s on the menu, don’t pass up the Maverick Roggenbier, a rye-based brew with a strong citrus scent and smooth, spicy taste. Once that disappears, autumn seasonal fans should keep an eye out for a pumpkin ale to pop up on the menu. —evz

 


 

Tanglewood Branch Beer Co.

Specifics: 1431 S. School Ave., Fayetteville; (479) 856-6500; tanglewoodbranch.com

Hours: 2-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 5-10 p.m. Sunday

You’ll have: Their American-style Cossatot IPA, brewed with cascade and chinook hops.

1013FeatBeer5You’re not seeing things. This south Fayetteville brewpub is indeed housed in a former gas station, with a car wash around back. Parking can be slim pickings, so carpooling is essential for groups. Inside, it’s easy to spot Tanglewood’s house beers from among guest taps along the paneled wall behind the bar. Each house tap handle arches up in a tangle of branches in homage to the company name. As many customers come to this laid-back spot for food—a mix of sandwiches, pizza and salads—as come for the brews. The bar’s crowd is more mixed than many in town, catering not just to the college crowd but to neighborhood regulars who have been enjoying good brews since before it was trendy. Tables inside and out on the narrow front porch are often piled with board games. Like customers, staff at the bar keep things light. Goofy weekly events, like a Monday beer-and-bacon happy hour, pop up regularly, drawing in new customers with their kitsch. Keep track of what’s happening on the pub’s Facebook page: facebook.com/tanglewoodbranch. —evz

 


 

Vino’s Brewpub

Specifics: 923 W 7th St., Little Rock; 923 W 7th St; vinosbrewpub.com

Hours: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Sun. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – Midnight Fri. and Sat.

You’ll have: Look for anything that says “cask conditioned” for one of Moody’s excellent small-batch experiments.

Step inside Little Rock’s oldest brewpub and there’s no telling what might be found in brewmaster Josiah Moody’s fermenter. Moody, who started as a home brewer, has taken the small brewery on the corner of 7th and Chester to new heights of inventiveness since joining the team three years ago. Working with local urban grower Dunbar Community Garden, Moody has developed beers using everything from expected ingredients like hops to more outlandish things like Scotch Bonnet peppers, which showed up in one of Moody’s milk stouts earlier this year.

Where Vino’s has really come into its own is with cask conditioning, a process by which the brewer adds ingredients to already-fermented beer to modify the flavor profile. Nowhere has this process been more successful than with Moody’s “Slaughterhouse 5” series of saisons, where five kegs of farmhouse ale became five separate beers by add-ins ranging from ginger and lemongrass to mango and habanero peppers. Moody admits that not all his experiments see the light of day, but maintains that keeping an eye on what produce is available locally not only inspires him to create new flavors, but does something just as important to him as producing great beer—it promotes local products in a way that is different from what anyone else is doing. —mr

 


 

Hog Haus Brewing Co.

Specifics: 430 W. Dickson St., Fayetteville; (479) 521-2739; hoghaus.com

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

You’ll have: The Woodstock Wheat, a smooth, subtly fruity hefeweizen.

1013FeatBeer2Consider this Dickson Street spot the grandfather of Fayetteville breweries. Previously known as Ozark Brewing Co., Hog Haus has been brewing in its current iteration since 2004. Many of the beers have stayed the same, too, with favorites like Hog Haus’ Woodstock Wheat hefeweizen, Java Porter coffee-flavored stout and Pale Rider pale ale on the menu year-round. The cavernous space includes plenty of seating downstairs, plus a second bar, balcony and private rooms upstairs for crowded weekends. Like most spots on Dickson, Hog Haus is a favorite for college kids and visiting families. Things are calm around lunchtime, so beer lovers looking to enjoy a pint in peace should consider coming in for a noon-hour nip to pair with a burger or Reuben. If you have time to unglue from your bar stool, take a peek into the glass-windowed brewery that can be seen under the stairs to the second floor. If the face doing the brewing inside looks familiar, it should: Head brewer Steve Rehbock also serves as the owner of popular Springdale brewery Saddlebock. —evz

 


 

Refined Ale Brewing

Specifics: 2221 S. Cedar St., Little Rock; (501) 280-0556; refinedale.com

Hours: No retail hours, available at area retailers.

You’ll have: The Golden Light, a crisp brew perfect for ballgame weather.

Arkansas’ only African-American owned brewery is also one of the state’s smallest, with no tap room, no tours and a capacity of only 35 gallons a week. Owner Windell Gray has been self-distributing his Refined Ale products—boasting call-it-like-it-is names like Beer, Golden Light and Malt Liquor—from his location on Cedar Street to various bars and retail shops since opening his facility in 2010. Like many local brewers, Gray started off brewing beer (and making wine) at home as a hobby, then decided to see if he could make his product work commercially. Gray’s mission is simple: to make beer that appeals to the average beer-drinker’s tastes without adding a lot of extra ingredients that serve only to lower the quality of the brew. Gray brags that his beer contains only “water, barley, hops and yeast,” something that can’t be said for many other makers of malt-liquor and light-beer products that include taste-killing adjuncts such as corn and rice to stretch their recipes.

Gray has flirted with the idea of starting a “Refined Ale” wine line, particularly sweeter wines like moscato that suit the profile of Arkansas grapes nicely, but for now, beer is king. Refined Ale is the only Little Rock brewery besides Diamond Bear to sell its products in a bottled form, and, as such, is a little more accessible than other producers. Gray’s self-distributing model has landed him on the shelves of places like The Fresh Market, Kroger and area liquor stores, with his simple and distinct labels representing just what Gray wants from his brew. —mr

 


 

1013FeatBeer9Saddlebock Brewery

Specifics: 8244 Habberton Road, Springdale; saddlebock.com

Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1-8 p.m. Sunday.

You’ll have: Dunkelweiz: Complex. Satisfying. A bridge to the old country.

Plunked down in rural Springdale roughly two or three clicks from nowhere, Saddlebock Brewery, with its red sides and white trim, is giving barns everywhere a better name. Spread over three sun-dappled floors, visitors find the epitome of European-inspired efficiency—the sort you’d expect to find from a European-style operation, which it is. With 12 fermenters (six of which were recently added) capable of producing upward of 330 barrels, a veritable stockpile of imported and local grains, and the fact that the brewery distributes half-growlers and taps of the suds to well more than a hundred retailers statewide, there’s no denying that the entire process is rather impressive for a venture that hit its first anniversary on Sept. 22.

But as impressive as the brewery is—the fact that it’s on a working farm; the fact that spent grain is passed on to a local farmer—still, the facility itself merits only a fraction of your attention. Why? Because of the beer itself: Hefeweizen, Dunkleweiz and Light of the Ozarks Light Lager, among a slew of other delectable pours. And, of course, the Arkansas Farmhouse Ale, which seems to best encapsulate the operation. Traditional farmhouse ales have roots in northern France, Belgium and northern Germany. Saddlebock’s version, while faithful to the style, is made from locally grown rice and grits—about as Arkansas a beer as we’ve ever heard of. And if that’s not impressive enough, consider this: Along with Little Rock’s Diamond Bear, Saddlebock is one of the two Arkansas breweries attending this year’s Great American Beer Festival. —jph

 


 

Flyway Brewery

Specifics/hours: October marked its restaurant debut at South on Main; flywaybrewing.com

You’ll have: Free Range Brown Ale. Locally grown hops make this full-bodied brew all the better.

On the Flyway Brewery blog is a chronicle of how a brewery comes to be. Documenting the transition of going from a smaller-scale home-brew operation to buying equipment, applying for licenses, waiting for licenses and perfecting recipes (think, “Early Bird IPA,” “Migrate Ale” and “Shadowhands Stout”), it’s an outline of the necessary steps that taking such a plunge requires. However, for as thorough an account as the blog provides, it’s only when you sit down with brewer Matt Foster that you really get what’s pushing the process forward: It’s him.

While the brewery is still very much in its nascent stages, something that Foster is more than comfortable admitting as he discusses limited-scale production and sourcing (see page 85), there’s little doubt that his aspirations for the place are impressive. And when you consider the way he’s laid the groundwork for partnerships within the community (with Dunbar Community Garden and Loblolly Creamery) and fine-tuned his brews (“by taking it out to you all and listening to your suggestions and making subtle tweaks until it was perfect,” he wrote back in June), there seems to be little doubting the brewery is one that’ll flourish. —jph

 


 

Core Brewing & Distilling Co.

Specifics: 2470 Lowell Road, A3, Springdale; (479) 879-2469; corebeer.com

Hours: Noon to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday

You’ll have: Core ESB. This flagship draft is a delectable, full-bodied ale (and a personal favorite).

1013FeatBeer4Tracked all the way back, the 20,000-odd barrels of beer produced annually by Springdale’s Core Brewing got their start on a groggy morning more than two decades ago. Jesse Core, then a freshman ballplayer at the University of Arkansas, was taken aside by a microbiology teacher who told him that if he’d only make the early class, he’d teach him to make beer. That evidently made an impression, as Core’s interest yielded to a profession, and a home-brewed creation (the ESB) has become a whole line spanning the beer spectrum from Bohemian Pilsner to Chocolate Stout. And, what’s perhaps most impressive, the sheer volume of the venture, which had to pass through so many loops, bends and turns before it got to this point, has been in a state of practically perpetual expansion since opening in Sept. 2010.

However, it’s only in seeing inside the newly opened 10,000-square-foot facility where space is already in short supply that it all really hits home how much the brewery has expanded. Although the endeavor hasn’t been without its toll—Core compares it to running with their hair on fire, citing gray hair and a weakened stomach lining as results—there’s little doubting the awesomeness of the product. We’re excited to see where they go next. —jph

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