Monday, April 13, 2015

Drinking locally in Fayetteville

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2015 at 10:05 AM

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By the end of last weekend, I began to think of myself as a sodden version of Phileas Fogg—call it "Around the World in 80 Beers." Oh, it wasn't nearly that many, of course, and the "world" in this case mostly consisted of what was in walking distance from Fayetteville's excellent Chancellor Hotel. But since I'm based out of the Catfish Mothership down here in Little Rock, I had to make my weekend in the Ozarks count as much as possible—and thanks to the great brewing going on up in the hills, that was very easy to accomplish. 

Did I manage to hit every great drinking spot in town? No, I did not—apologies in advance if your favorite watering hole is not mentioned. Did I try a beer from every brewery in northwest Arkansas? Again, no—mostly because alcohol poisoning doesn't sound pleasant. I never thought I'd see the day when there was so much local beer in the state! If your local pub or brewery isn't mentioned here, please give them a shout-out down there in the comments so we all know where to go next time.

Round one wasn't actually in Fayetteville at all, but in Bentonville. After an early morning of excitement working in the kitchen of Dickson Street's Bordinos with executive chef Ethan Altom, the wife and I were more than ready to clock out and have some fun. Having not been to Crystal Bridges yet, checking out the special Van Gogh to Rothko exhibit seemed like just the ticket—and we had a blast seeing some wonderful art in a museum that is easily one of the biggest non-Smithsonian museums I've ever been in.

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And since we were in Bentonville, a visit to Bike Rack Brewing (the city's first brewery) seemed like a fair way to reflect on what we'd just seen. I'd stopped by Bike Rack once before—before business hours, unfortunately, although brewmaster Joe Zucca let me come in for a minute to look around. This time the place was hopping, and in no time flat we had couple of tall glasses of beer to get the festivities started. Bike Rack's taproom isn't the largest one I've been in, but the blonde wood tables and large windows make for a space that is both clean and well-lit, just like Papa ordered. The beer was pretty good, too. Let's break it down: 

*Bike Rack Brewing FAST India Pale Ale: Named for a local cycling club, this IPA is a lovely copper brew with a fluffy head that I found to be a very friendly brew—and this despite the fact that I am not the hophead that my wife is. It isn't quite right to call this beer a "starter" IPA, because there are complex flavors at work here from the citrus notes on the high end to a nice low end full of caramel and malt flavor. But if you're the type of IPA drinker who wants to brag about how many IBU you pound on the daily, this isn't a brew for you. If more subtle hops are your thing, this is an excellent choice. 

*Bike Rack Brewing Slaughter Pen Pale Ale: In keeping with their cycling theme, this crisp pale is named for a set of riding trails in the Bentonville area. Bright in flavor and color, the first word that comes to mind on the first sip is "refreshing," which I found quite appropriate for a beer made in honor of trail riding athletes. It's a balanced beer, flavorful and slightly sweet without being overpowering or too assertive. This is the perfect beer to grab a growler of for your next backyard barbecue—it was made for hot weather and smoked edibles.

Because we had to drive back to our base of operations in Fayetteville, we elected to just stop with those two beers, but that was enough to earn Bike Rack a permanent place on the "must-go" list for whenever we are in Bentonville.

Once we parked the car back at the hotel, we left it there and decided to see what sort of shenanigans we could get up to within walking distance of the Chancellor. Turns out, it's a lot! We made the short walk down to Dickson Street and slid into Brewski's Draft Emporium, a bar that has boasts a huge wall full of taps and a fridge full of bottles. Think of the Flying Saucer if all the school girl servers were replaced by surly bro-types who seemed offended and confused when we asked for a tap list. Three times. 

We get it. It's Dickson. It really doesn't matter what sort of service a bar provides with the college right up the hill. They had a few Ozark Beer Company brews on tap, though, and since those are hard to come by down here, we ordered a couple. Closed our tab after one round, though.

*Ozark American Pale Ale: Having only had this one out of a can, we were excited to try it on tap—and it did not disappoint. The flavors here are balanced and taut like a sprinter getting ready to take off, bursting with light, clean flavors that never strike a sour note. This is a true "fridge beer," the sort of thing you always keep on hand because it goes so well with things like burgers, fried chicken, and life in general. There's a good reason this beer has been recognized by national publications like Southern Living, and I highly recommend you see what all the fuss is a bout.

*Ozark Cream Stout: This dark brew is poured from a nitro-tap, and the substitution of nitrogen for carbon dioxide means a luxurious mouth-feel and supple texture to each swallow. For me, the deep raisin notes on the bottom end were a touch overwhelming, leading to a bit of an aftertaste that I didn't care for. That's a matter of personal taste, though—I don't care for a lot of sweetness when it comes to the stouts I drink. If you like that type of flavor, this is a well-made brew just for you.

We left Dickson after that and headed over to Maxine's Tap Room and it was here we found the bar experience we wanted. A bar that was dusky without being dingy. Bartenders that were knowledgeable, friendly and unobtrusive, possessed of excellent cocktail skills for the non-beer drinkers in our party. A crowd that was obviously there to have a good time but knew how to go about it. Maybe we're just too old for Dickson Street, but N. Block seemed to do us just right. The old-fashioned drinkers around us were complimentary of their drinks, but there was only one thing on my mind:  Local beer.

*Ozark Belgian Golden: I'm normally not a huge fan of these big Belgian beers, but I was impressed with this tawny brew. The flavor has a distinct note of pear with just a little kick of spice to it, and everything finishes with a clove and banana taste that doesn't linger. Those of you out there who swear by Belgian brews need to get your hands on this one—it's a marvelous representation of the style.

*Fossil Cove La Brea Brown: The fine folks at Fayetteville's Fossil Cove Brewing have become on of my favorite Arkansas breweries. The La Brea Brown is a fantastic malty brew that is a pleasure to drink. Just a good solid beer with a ton of good flavor.

*Fossil Cove Paleo Ale: When it comes to what I call "every day beers," the American Pale Ale is a style I always turn to. This APA is no exception, with a balance of hops and malt that makes for a pleasing, smooth brew that works well with food or as a brew that can be knocked back at the bar without being overwhelmed by too much of any one flavor. A great, well-rounded brew.

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After our night out in the downtown area, we made sure to stop by Apple Blossom Brewing for dinner, because we love their food just as much as we love their beer. The shrimp and grits are amazing, and if you leave without a slice of the bourbon chocolate pecan pie, you are sinning against all that is good in the world. They're doing some tasty brews, too, and we made sure to sample a few.

*Apple Blossom Armstrong APA: Another great APA from Northwest Arkansas. Hoppy without being bossy, this one is a great pairing to Apple Blossom's Caribbean grilled shrimp or chicken fingers. This is a beer I wish I could pick up from the local liquor store, because it's just a great drinking beer.

*Apple Blossom Fayetteweiss: Hot weather means wheat beers, and this light, crisp hefe is just the ticket. Banana, citrus, a hit of coriander—this bright yellow brew hits all the right notes a good wheat beer should, and its relatively low ABV means you can enjoy a couple of three of them without feeling groggy. As the Arkansas summer begins to assert itself, I recommend turning to the Fayetteweiss for relief.

*Apple Blossom Oak Aged Brett Saison: I love saisons, but this one might have been a bit much for me. It's big. It's boozy. It's not a beer you should approach without the understanding that something bold is about to enter your face. The flavor on the front end is delightful, full of the wild and crazy flavors that saisons are known for, but the back end hits like a shot of liquor—something that appeals to some beer drinkers but just isn't for me. Don't get me wrong, this is a tasty beer, it's just a little to big for what I want out of a saison.

*Apple Blossom Moira's IPA: This IPA is a good one—not too hoppy, but bold enough to please any IPA drinker. The wife loves IPAs, and while this one was a little mild for her taste, I thought it was just about right. Definitely worth trying, and again—it pairs with the food quite nicely.

So that's a dozen local brews in just a few days time. We came, we saw, we earned Untappd badges galore. Fayetteville is a great town for grabbing a local brew, and even though this list is large, we only scratched the surface. Have a brew you want to try? Or a bar we should hit next time? Let us know down in the comments.

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