June 25, 2014

There's Beer In Them There Hills

This past weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to once again visit northwestern Arkansas and take a trip on the Fayetteville Ale Trail. What made this time so special was that this was a guided tour over 2 days and also it was with a bunch of other like-minded "beer bloggers" from around the region. I was able to not only take my time at each of the 7 breweries but also afforded access to the brewers for private tours and information and discuss things with my beer geek brethren. End result? I believe the northwestern corner of Arkansas is turning into one of the best areas for beer in this part of the country, if not THE best.

Each of the 7 breweries have their own unique charms and personalities, all really do offer something different, and (perhaps most importantly) in the end all do a fine job of making good beer. The overall quality has improved since their scene started jumping off and I think it's due in large part to the friendly brotherhood they seem to have. It's not a competition against each other it seems to me, just an overall competition to raise the area as a whole. For the record they even have 2 more breweries "close" to opening, plus Core Brewing is building a huge taproom separate from their brewery. The hits just keep coming.

I could write about each of the breweries ad nauseam but I'll let you go discover the nuances for yourselves. I'm sure everyone will take something different away from them all. I can give you a  tip also... don't do all of them in 1 day. I've done it before and you really miss a lot by not taking the time to soak each place in, and also you'll just be a lot more sober at the end of the day. I suggest a 2/3/2 format: 2 on Friday, 3 on Saturday, 2 on Sunday. This should give you plenty of time to sample product, eat a bit of food at some stops and also more time to meet people and get a feel for the area as a whole. Don't rush! Another tip? Keep up with your special (awesome) Ale Trail passport and don't forget to get it stamped!

I know I said I wouldn't bore you with TOO much info, but I will share a little about each stop and a few pictures if you're interested. Click on any of the photos for a larger version.

We started on Friday night with 2 stops; Tanglewood Branch and Apple Blossom Brewing Co. These 2 places couldn't be much more different. Tanglewood Branch has a very "neighborhood bar" feel, with a really laid back vibe and a feeling that everybody not only knew everybody else, but probably knew their dogs also. I had a very nice and malty Proper 1420 and got to chat with owner J.T. Wampler, or "The Wamp."

Tanglewood Branch
Beer & Bacon Mondays at Tanglewood

The whole bloggin' gang at Tanglewood Branch (photo credit: Tom Gilbert (@tngtulsa))
The next stop on Friday night was for dinner at Apple Blossom Brewing Company, where we had a great quick tour and update, a nice dinner and some great beers. What I liked about this place was that their beers were all not "simple" styles (not that I have a problem with those) but showed a lot of uniqueness. I had a delicious Gose Salt Beer for example that was salty and tart with a hint of coriander. Seriously. I also had a Old Iron Belgian Strong Dark Ale that was almost equally as delicious. This place is really making some good beer and I've seen some improvement on each of my 3 visits I believe. They're really turning into a favorite of mine.

Inside the brew room at Apple Blossom
Great Selection at Apple Blossom

You MUST remember to get your passport stamped

On Saturday, after some coffee and a visit to the Fayetteville Farmer's Market (highly recommended), we started our day at West Mountain Brewery on the square. Sort of the running joke was that this place apparently had "brewery" in their name for the better part of a decade, without brewing any beer. Well it was worth the wait. They're right next door to Tiny Tim's Pizza and are turning out some quality beers that pair nicely with the 'za coming from next door. Over the weekend I had a Blonde, Brown Ale and Black IPA (on nitro) that were all spot on for their styles. They only have a tiny brewing room but pump out a lot of quality beer from it, keeping their tap handles heavy with house beer.

West Mountain on the Square

House Taps at West Mountain

Pair it with some Tiny Tim's pizza for best results
West Mountain Black IPA on nitro... delicious
Happy faces at West Mountain (photo credit: Tom Gilbert (@tngtulsa))
The next stop on the beer bus was at Saddlebock Brewery. It may just be a bit outside of town, but it has the feel of being out in the middle of nowhere, basically in a horse pasture near a river. It's just beautiful and I love how the brewery itself just fits right in, styled like a barn. We got a tour from the owner and head brewer himself, Steve Rehbock. It's easy to see why this place was named one of Yahoo Travel’s Top Five Coolest Craft Brew Tours in America in 2013. Steve designed it all to be super efficient and the tour is really just fascinating. Upstart breweries should consult with this guy about how to set-up their facility. I had the session IPA during the tour and it was a pleasant, hoppy session beer, not a palate blaster.

More beer than horses

Session IPA on the patio

Steve Rehbock leading the Saddlebock tour
And we're off to Core Brewing and Distilling Co. for our next guided tour. Compared to most of our stops, this place is huge. It needs to be as well because they are bottling and canning a whole lot of beer right now, basically because they're selling a whole lot of beer right now. There's no telling how big these guys will get in the coming years. There is more expansion coming and they're just getting their distillery up and going. We got a great tour and knocked back some samplers. I had a pint of their Toasted Coconut Brown Ale and if you like sweet beer, and coconut, you'll be wanting to find this.

Lining up some Core tasters

Respect your wiener

The canning line at Core Brewing

Taps at Core Brewing
Our next to last stop of the tour was at Ozark Beer Co. where brewer Andy Coates is making some OUTSTANDING brews. Southern Living Magazine named Ozark the "Favorite Southern
Craft Beer in the State of Arkansas (June 2014 issue)" and right now you'll not get an argument out of me. Their APA and Onyx Coffee Stout are just as good as they come, period, and I also had a taster of their Belgian Golden, IPA and Cream Stout and was very impressed with them all. I brought a 12-pack of the APA home with me but fear it's not going to see a very long life. Watch these guys.

Growler full of coffee stout heaven

Ozark Beer Co. tanks

A coffin for standard lagers? Ozark buries them.
The final stop! We hit Fossil Cove Brewery where we got a quick tour and spent some time sampling beer (see the theme here?). Another of those places that's got a cool, laid back vibe. A bunch of friendly beer lovers, dogs, bicycles and a really fun taproom. I think I've liked their beer more as it's progressed a bit over the last year, to where now their Paleo Pale Ale is nearly a staple for me. On this day I tried their Anniversary Ale, a very pleasant farmhouse ale, and finished with The Whizzle, a clean, light and refreshing "White" IPA.

Fossil Cove taproom

House selections at Fossil Cove

Watch for some bottles and cool packaging in the near future
OK, so if you're still reading you must really be thirsty by now to get your taste buds up to Fayetteville and hit the Ale Trail. Personally I'm already planning my next visit up in that direction as a 3 hour drive is so well worth it for the pot of hops that waits at the end. Their scene is solid and only going to get better with the way they work together to promote this thing. Go see for yourself.

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