Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A prelude to beer

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 8:34 AM

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  • JESS ROBERTS
  • Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs, Colorado

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Now you all may or may not have heard, but this fine publication is hosting a Craft Beer Festival on Friday, November 1. The event sold out last year, so if you'd like to get a ticket, better click on over here to purchase. This year's event features 52(!) breweries pouring over 250 beers, and I don't know about all of you, but that sounds like pure heaven in the form of malted barley and hops.

After languishing for decades under the cruel yoke of mass-produced and decidedly weaksauce lagers (I'm looking at you Coors/Bud/Miller), America has decided in the last couple of decades that they'd prefer some taste in their beer after all. And while those cheap and easy lagers are still the top sellers in the Natural State, Arkansas has come a long way in just a few years in terms of craft brewing. Our local breweries will be out in force at the festival this year — which is great for all of us in Central Arkansas who haven't had a chance to sample some of our fine breweries in the Northwest part of the state.

We've posted a list of every brewery represented, but 250 brews can be a bit daunting. Have no fear, for Eat Arkansas' resident beer nerd (me) is here with a few suggestions on what you might like to drink based on your favorite styles. Of course, a lot of you will ignore these suggestions and stagger blindly through the night, drinking whatever is set before you: I respect that.

*Saisons: The farmhouse ale, or saison, is quite possibly my favorite beer style of all time. These crisp, citrusy ales are full of flavor and just a little bit wild. Fans of lighter beers will find the bright, clean flavors of this style quite compelling, while fans of more robust brews can still enjoy the complex layers of flavor that this style brings to the table. The best saisons at this years event: Slaughterhouse Saison (Vino's Brewpub, Little Rock), Arkansas Farmhouse Ale (Saddlebock Brewing, Springdale), Hennepin (Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY), Le Merle (North Coast Brewery, Ft. Bragg, CA).

*IPA: It's tough to pin down only a few great IPAs represented at this year's festival, because the India Pale Ale is perhaps the trendiest beer of the current craft brew boom. IPAs are bold, heavily hopped, and generally feature a flavor that opens up into layers of sweet and bitter as the beer warms. There's been a trend to make IPAs stronger, hoppier, and tougher to drink, but at its best this is a great style for lovers of beer with big flavor. Look for these in particular: Presidential IPA (Diamond Bear Brewing, Little Rock), Hilltop IPA (Core Brewing, Springdale), Hoptimistic IPA (Charleville, Sainte Genevieve, MO), West Coast IPA (Green Flash Brewing, San Diego, CA).

*Stouts, Porters, and other dark stuff: Now some beer nerds out there will think it a sin that I'm combining all these things into the same category. I agree (somewhat), but I'm also aware that to a lot of folks, dark beer is dark beer. I'm a big fan of the dark stuff, but no beer is the subject of more divisive conversation than one that sits dark in the glass with a heavy head. Here are a few that will surprise you with their flavor: Old Rasputin (North Coast Brewing), Shiner Black (Shiner Brewing, Shiner, TX), London Porter (Bosco's Brewing, Little Rock), Buffalo Sweat (Tallgrass Brewing, Manhatten, KS), Vanilla Porter (Breckenridge Brewing, Breckenridge, CO).

*Personal Favorites: And finally, a selection of beers I just think you should drink no matter your preference. Pilsners, barleywines, Belgian strongs — they'll all be there. Here are my personal "don't miss" beers: Scrimshaw Pilsner (North Coast Brewing), LA 31 Biere Pale (Bayou Teche, Arnaudville, LA), Anchor Steam (Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, CA), Seadog Blueberry (Shipyard Brewing, Portland, ME), Small Batch Pumpkin Harvest (Tommyknocker Brewing, Idaho Springs, CO), Arkansas Outside Ale (Vino's Brew Pub).

This is just scratching the surface of the great things that are going to be available, so be sure to give us your recommendations down in the comments. And for those of you who can't make it to North Little Rock on Friday (or just can't get enough beer), Big Orange West is hosting a beer dinner tonight featuring Finch's Beer Company that will serve 4 courses and 5 beers for $40, while the Midtown location will be hosting a New Belgium dinner with the same course/beer set-up for $45 tomorrow. And because Big Orange loves you Times readers so much, they'll give 25% off the cost of each dinner to everybody with a valid ticket to the Craft Beer Festival. So that's three great chances this week to drink great beer, eat great food, and meet fellow beer nerds. It's a great time for beer in Arkansas, and it's never been easier to drink well.

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