Well unless you've been living under a rock, you may have heard a thing or three about the upcoming Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival on November 2. The event runs from 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. at the Argenta Farmers' Market at Sixth and Main streets in North Little Rock, and should be an excellent time for every lover of hops and malted barley. This week's Toast of the Town issue gave a nice overview of each brewery that is going to be serving up their wares at the festival, but I thought it might be helpful to give some recommendations for specific beers to try. After all, three hours isn't that long of a time, and there's a lot of suds to suck down before grabbing a taxi back home. So without further delay, here's the official Eat Arkansas guide to good beer, presented with the understanding that this is not an exhaustive list of the delicious brews available, but just some of my favorites.
Anchor Brewing: While Anchor is famous for their warm-fermented "steam" beer, it's the Anchor Porter that dark beer lovers should seek out. The porter is a full-bodied beer that tastes of cocoa and raisins, with nice toasted malt tones. Unlike some porters that have a tendency to get cloying, the Anchor Porter has good carbonation, providing a crispness that keeps the beer refreshing.
Brewery Ommegang: Fans of farmhouse ales (which I definitely am) should stop by this Cooperstown, NY brewery's booth for a taste of their Hennepin saison. Newcomers to the style will like the bright, golden beer, and veterans of farmhouse ales will be pleased with the tangy Belgian yeasts used to make a beer that has flavors of coriander, cloves, and banana. The Hennepin is a very tasty, very drinkable brew.
North Coast: California's North Coast Brewing is one of the best brewers in the country, and while many North Coast fans swear by the Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, it's their Scrimshaw Pilsner that might just be my favorite beer of all. Floral and sweet with a nice balance of briny and bitter flavors, this pilsner is far more bright and full-flavored than most beers of this style. It drinks easy and has a flavor profile that simply doesn't get old.
Abita Beer: My first experience with this beer from Abita Springs, Louisiana came in a small bar in the French Quarter. I was just barely over the legal drinking age and completely in the dark about what to order. A kindly bartender recommended an Abita Amber, and I was hooked at the first malty, rich swallow. The Purple Haze is more famous, and fruit beer fans might enjoy it — but that basic amber is one of the best brews in these United States. It's a beer with some heft that doesn't throw its weight around.
Tallgrass Brewing: This Manhattan, Kansas brewery is the hip new kid on the Arkansas beer scene, and I've enjoyed their 8-Bit Pale Ale and Buffalo Sweat Stout. What's not to be missed, though, is their Halcyon Wheat, a brew that takes wheat beer to another level. This is a beer with bold flavors to please most hop-heads, but it still has that funky, grassy taste that wheat beer lovers crave. A very crisp and very drinkable beer.
Diamond Bear: Two beers you shouldn't pass up from Arkansas' major craft brewer are the Pale Ale and the Presidential IPA. Both beers are loaded with floral hops flavor, with the Pale adding a malty back-end to each swallow that really makes for a complete drink. The IPA isn't as strong as some in the style, but it has a nice way of opening up as it warms up slightly. These are complex beers that still remain grounded and accessible.
Vino's Brew Pub: Little Rock's original brew pub is bringing their new Pumpkin Spiced Ale to the festival, and this is a heady brew with cinnamon, nutmeg, and biscuity malt notes meant to remind the drinker of pumpkin pie. Don't let the flavor fool you, this is a 7.5% beer that is deceptively smooth and flavorful. It's a new seasonal for Vino's, so take advantage of the chance to try it before it goes into hibernation until next fall.
There are so many other brewers at this festival that I have barely scratched the surface of what is going to be available. If your favorite wasn't mentioned, let us know about it in the comments — everybody wants to know what's good to drink. Here's to a good event, and please keep in mind that if you try all the beers on this list, you should not operate a motor vehicle. Be safe, and enjoy the beer!
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