Here's another great blog post on the outstanding beer scene in northwest Arkansas, courtesy of guest blogger Fayettebrew (Twitter: @Fayettebrew):
A new year for beer is well underway as Arkansas continues to write the early chapters of its story as a craft beer community. Those chapters are telling a story of emergence as growth has taken place quickly within our state when it comes to locally-produced beer. Due to factors such as population and dry counties, Arkansas’ growth is generally developing in the form of two distinct craft beer producing communities: one centered around Little Rock covering central Arkansas and one which originated in Fayetteville and expanded to Springdale, Rogers, and then Bentonville.
As characters in the story of Arkansas beer, these two communities are like siblings - related but not necessarily identical. Central Arkansas is the older sibling thanks to a pair of veteran breweries in Little Rock and it has seen a recent infusion of newer breweries. Northwest Arkansas is younger but wasted little time establishing its presence once it got going - especially the growing contingent of breweries now distributing both kegs and cans/ bottles. If you have not visited Northwest Arkansas' breweries in awhile, 2015 brought exciting developments for established breweries and intriguing debuts from newer ones. With a month of the new year in the book, let us look back at a significant theme from the past year and make a prediction at what may be in store for the rest of 2016 for each of Northwest Arkansas’ current breweries.
(One quick note before beginning: Brian Sorenson of the Fayetteville Flyer and James Spencer of Basic Brewing deserve recognition for the work they do year-round telling the story of craft beer in Northwest Arkansas. Brian’s articles and James’ podcast interviews have created a wonderful record of everything from the origins of our breweries to the growth and development they are currently experiencing.)
Apple Blossom Brewing Company
2015: Collaboration Station - If it seemed to you like Apple Blossom was releasing a collaboration beer every month last year, then you were right on. Their stated goal was to do just that as they worked on collaborations with a variety of partners including other Arkansas brewers (West Mountain Brewing, Bike Rack Brewing), a member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds (F.L.O.P.S.) home brew club, and international home brewing podcast host James Spencer.
2016: Crafting the Agenda - Apple Blossom’s collaborations have helped demonstrate an active network among the brewers in the state, something which will go a long way in improving the Arkansas Brewers Guild’s chances of impacting the laws and procedures which affect the place of craft beer in our state. Additoinally, Apple Blossom’s co-owner Evan McDonald serves as the secretary for the guild. With a rotation of appealing beers and an eye towards progress look for Apple Blossom to take the lead on industry events which support the specific goals of Arkansas Brewers Guild.
Bentonville Brewing Company
2015: Dynamic Debut - Bentonville Brewing Company wasted little time catching up with the craft beer scene in NWA after opening in early June. Between appealing serving options, such as a nitro tap and and an earlier syrup pairing for their wit beer, as well as flavorful renditions of familiar styles - their Airship IPA is a coffee IPA while Roundabout Stout is a chocolate milk stout - Bentonville Brewing has drawn some deserved attention.
2016: Bentonville and Beyond - The attention Bentonville Brewing is gaining is not limited to their taproom as the brewery is already managing over 50 draft accounts in the Northwest Arkansas region. With this distribution already in place and hopefully able to increase over the course of Bentonville Brewing's first full calendar year in production, look for a greater visibility and presence within the state from this recent addition to the community.
Bike Rack Brewing Co.
2015: No More Training Wheels - When it comes to seeing how a brewery finds its form once it has a full calendar year to work with, it is hard not to be encouraged by how Bike Rack jumped into participating in craft beer community in 2015. Noticeably active in Arkansas Brewers Guild events across the state throughout the second half of the year, Bike Rack also made customary appearances at familiar events such as St. Patrick’s on the Hill and Foam Fest Fayetteville, all the while enticing new fans with an expanding lineup of beers.
2016: Friendly Neighborhood Brewery - After getting the Bike Rack name and beers introduced to throughout the sibling markets of Arkansas, Bike Rack looks to be setting its focus in its hometown of Bentonville by inviting locals to take part in the craft beer community through taproom events. Already a strong practitioner of advanced promotion (their “Sooo...Trivia?” posts for their weekly trivia night capture a welcoming vibe that pairs well with the cozy taproom), these events and special beer releases should go a long way toward helping make Downtown Bentonville and The Hub a casual nightlife spot in NWA.
Black Apple Crossing
2015: Cider 101 - The process of opening Arkansas’ first cidery placed the Black Apple Crossing team in a similar position to the Arkansas breweries who were the first to open in their respective communities. Educating curious drinkers on the qualities of both semi-dry and semi-sweet cider with inviting versions of both, Black Apple laid pathways to further explore cider with varieties and seasonal batches incorporating spices, adjunct ingredients and different apples. The Hop Full (a cider featuring hops, which are not a standard part of cider production as they are in brewing) was a great way to showcase how hops can serve as a bridge for flavors toward a dry finish rather than just an amplifier of piney or citrusy flavors in a beer.
2016: High Tide for the Cider Wave - In recent years cider has seen huge gains in sales as producers applied lessons learned from the rise of craft beer as well as a momentum from the overall beverage industry toward more artisanal, flavorful beverages. In this new high tide for cider, Black Apple Crossing has established a buoy for Arkansans to navigate their appreciation of the beverage. In the year ahead it appears Black Apple will take a more assertive approach to make this navigation easier: the Springdale-based company has added draft distribution Fayetteville and one would assume other local markets will follow. With Arkansas cider now a part of the “drink local” mantra, it will be fun to see how Black Apple Crossing helps shape the Arkansas community.
Columbus House Brewery
2015: Hitting the Ground Running - Almost as soon as they opened this past April, Columbus House began ingratiating itself to more active local beer fans through regular running groups and yoga sessions - with beer discounts for participants! Coordinated activities such as these built on the theme of the brewery (their IPA and brown ales are named Weekend Warrior and Nutty Runner, respectively) and took advantage of their location next to the Scull Creek Trail in Fayetteville. By capitalizing on their location and bringing their brand to life, Columbus House made a fast and friendly introduction to the beer community.
2016: Increasing the Pace - Columbus House saw some steady growth through the end of the year with a regular rotation of seasonal beers and the start of draft distribution. Going hand in hand with that growth, the Columbus House crew shows no sign of tapering off when it comes to hosting events. To start, their Nutty Runner 5k in March may wind up being the most creative local beer event of the year as the race features a division where runners will finish a 12 oz. pour of the Nutty Runner Nut Brown Ale at the end of each mile! From there it will be interesting to see what other ways Columbus House comes up with to pair their refreshing beer with active events.
Core Brewing Company
2015: Coming to a Town Near You - Perhaps no other brewery in Arkansas was as ambitious as Springdale’s Core Brewing in 2015. Core opened three more of their Public Houses last year (Harber, Fort Smith, Fayetteville) to bring their total number of pubs to five. With at least three more pubs planned to open in the first half of 2016, including a pub in the Argenta District of Little Rock and one in XNA Regional Airport, Core Brewing is paying heed to the real estate credo of location, location, location to earn its place as the most visible brewery in Arkansas.
2016: Arkansas’ Craft Ambassador - Combine its out-of-state distribution and its growing number of pubs, Core Brewing is set to be the state’s ambassador brewery. When the Little Rock pub opens this year Core will become the only Arkansas brewery with both distribution and a physical location in both of the sibling beer communities in our state! With the ability to welcome new craft beer fans; intrigue current fans with barrel aged and firkin projects; as well as introduce Arkansas beer to customers outside of the state, it is hard to deny Core’s role in progressing the place of Arkansas beer in the region.
Fossil Cove Brewing Co.
2015: Enter the Can - Fossil Cove becoming the third Northwest Arkansas brewery (fifth overall in the state) to package their beers in cans is not as noteworthy as the decisiveness and style with which they did so. Just before the Fourth of July this Fayetteville brewery dropped in on the canned beer wave by releasing two of their most well-known beers in cans (Paleo Ale and La Brea Brown) and later adding both their primary fall (The Blizzle) and winter (Coffee IPA) seasonals to their canned lineup. On top of all that, Fossil Cove also added a crowler system and took the extra step to a print custom label with the same distinctive artwork. Whereas most breweries have used their can designs to further develop the visual elements of their brand, Fossil Cove came in and made the cans bring to life their already established bright visual style. Thanks to a keen approach to maintaining a unity of design within an array of labels, there will be no mistaking a Fossil Cove can or crowler the next time you come across one.
2016: No Place Like (Future) Home - Another development for Fossil Cove last year was the purchase of a larger piece of real estate just down the road from the current location. As planning continues for the future home of the brewery and taproom, look for momentum to build for Fossil Cove through grander events and beer releases. First up: Frost Fest on February 6th. This is the first winter beer festival in Arkansas as well as the first interstate brewery event (breweries from Missouri and Oklahoma will be in attendance) hosted by an Arkansas brewery.
New Province Brewing Co.
2015: Whetting the Appetite - Northwest Arkansas’ soon-to-be newest brewery will hopefully open sometime in the first half of 2016. In the meantime, New Province has done a great job of keeping fans up to date on social media regarding the arduous process of building a brewery literally from the ground up with construction updates and a preview of what they can look forward to if they join their “Citizenship” membership program.
2016: Planting a Flag in the Ground: At the stage in the process where they are waiting for approval from the Arkansas Beverage Control before they can fully open up for business, look for New Province to start with a lineup of their Civilian Pale Ale, Philosopher IPA, Migrant Belgian Dubbel, and Yeoman Porter on tap once they get the all clear. These beers and a brand new facility will be a big part of how New Province makes their mark in 2016.
Ozark Beer Company
2015: Expanding the Lineup - In the year they turned two, Ozark Beer Company seemed intent on expanding its lineup by offering a wider range of beers through their tap room and through its expanding in-state distribution. Serving beers that featured unique brewing processes (use of fresh and wet hops; barrel fermenting) as well as distinct styles (a berliner weisse, a West Coast-style Double IPA, and a smoked porter all debuted this year) Ozark offered local beer fans a tantalizing array of new beers. And such a review would be remiss if it did not make special mention of Ozark’s efforts in the realm of barrel aged beers where rousing beers Boll Weevil, Hayduke, and Bourbon Barrel Aged Double Cream Stout (BDCS) made their debut. Already recognized for their flavorful and articulate beers, Ozark unleashed a memorable creative streak last year..
2016: Great Expectations - In an impressively short amount of time, Ozark’s passionate following has lead to a strong regional reputation with a healthy splash of national recognition (the brewery participated in Oskar Blue’s Burning Can festival this summer and was recognized by Paste Magazine for their Double IPA). Every expectation is that their reputation will continue to grow over the course of this year and it will be of note to see how the Ozark Beer Company team meets not only the increased demand but also the increased expectation for their beers. If there was no grander Arkansas beer in 2015 than Ozark’s BDCS then there likely has not been a more anticipated and hyped release of an Arkansas beer than BDCS 2016.
2015: The Fermentation Destination - It would be a tall order to find a brewery which accentuated its on-premise experience more in the course of the last year than Saddlebock. A new patio was completed that further capitalizes on the views of the White River valley while organized bonfires, private brewing parties, hop harvests, and sponsored off-road races brought groups to this picturesque location. All of that was done on top of the addition of creative and experimental beers such as Winter Daze (vanilla oak bourbon porter) and Blazing Saddles (Sriracha ale). More than a brewery stop, Saddlebock is becoming a craft beer experience.
2016: Eat, Drink, Sleep Saddlebock - The focus on creating a one-of-a-kind experience at the brewery will continue to guide Saddlebock’s efforts outside of the brewhouse. After expanding the tasting room in 2014 and adding a cottage available for rent to guests in 2015, the goal for the year ahead looks to be to add a cafe to the plentiful amount of space Saddlebock calls home. From recent social media posts by the brewery, the menu is beginning to take shape for the White River Cafe. Sooner rather than later, local and visiting beer fans will be able to have an all-encompassing visit on the Saddlebock farm!
West Mountain Brewing Co.
2015: In the Groove - A one-year anniversary of a different kind took place on the Fayetteville square as Ryan Pickop completed his first year as West Mountain’s brewer after starting in September 2014. The year produced flavorful, classically-styled beers which West Mountain has become known for - demonstrating that the beers are in good hands with Pickop. (It was particularly nice to see the West Mountain IPA and Brown Ale consistently on tap.) Home to a unique brewhouse and layout, it is enticing to see the brewery also becoming home to a brewer beginning to explore his own unique preferences for styles and flavors.
2016: Starting a Story - A distinct element of West Mountain is that its larger story can also be told through the three different brewers who have crafted the beers pouring from the tap. The thread of each brewer’s story is interwoven into the larger fabric of the West Mountain story with a quality that adds character and detail. Ryan Pickop’s thread is becoming a more distinctive part of that story and it will be worth seeing how he builds on the traditional styles the brewery is known for by accentuating new and engaging flavors through beers such as the Rye Pale Ale he produced in the fall and the coffee stout brewed in partnership witth next door neighbor Jammin Java Coffee Cafe.
Arkansas’ story of emergence as a craft beer state certainly shares many of the hallmarks of states which experienced similar growth in the past or are currently writing similar chapters to the ones we are participating in currently. While it is hard to resist comparing local beers to beers brewed by craft breweries now serving as elder statesmen or current darlings, it is important to keep in mind that contributing to the growth of local beer within our own state helps advance the place craft beer holds in our country. The advancement of craft beer - or beer in general - may have started without Arkansas but, as part of the “long tail” of breweries in the country, the future of beer in the United States will only be better served by a strong community of Arkansas breweries and supporters.