Hot Springs' Bathhouse Row has always had a special place in my heart — I even got married in the Ozark Bathhouse when it was operating as the Hot Springs Museum of Contemporary Art. As a kid growing up in Arkadelphia, if my friends and I wanted to do something, it was half an hour up Highway 7 to the Spa City we went, loitering in the mall, getting coffee at the late and lamented Magee's coffeehouse, and putting mile after mile on our sneakers up and down the sidewalk in front of the historic bathhouses. I drank my first glass of (underage) plum wine at a now-defunct Vietnamese place close to the row, and I bought loads of stinky incense at the (also defunct) Golden Leaves Bookshop just off Central Avenue.
Back in those days, the row was basically abandoned. Oh, sure, the Buckstaff Baths were still open — the only one of the original bathhouses that managed to stay open since 1912, and there was the Fordyce Bathhouse that serves as a visitor center and museum, but the rest of those lovely buildings were shuttered, forlorn, and nobody really knew what was to become of them. Ideas would surface from time to time about turning them into lofts or casinos, but nothing ever seemed to come of it.
Fast-forward to 2011, and the U.S. Department of the Interior's on-going renovation efforts on the row had finally reached the point where the park was ready to put the drive to re-purpose three of the bathhouses into high gear. One of the facilities was the Superior, which had stopped functioning as a true bathhouse in 1983. Given the upsurge in the popularity of craft beer across the state, brewer Rose Cranson and crew proposed turning the bathhouse into a brewery and distillery, a plan that would make Hot Springs the only national park to house a facility that made craft beer and spirits. The approval of this plan resulted in the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery, an attractive bar space that has become a real gem in downtown Hot Springs.
The amount of renovation that was needed to turn the century-old building into a state-of-the-art brewery and distillery was a daunting task, from installing the fermenters and other brewing equipment to putting in the tap lines and refrigeration room necessary to keep the beer fresh and good. In fact, even two years later, the brewery isn't quite ready to start pulling pints of their own brew — but that doesn't mean that the public can't enjoy the wonderful space that Cranson and team have built, because the bar is most definitely open, and they're pouring some really great beers from some of the best craft breweries in the country.
Stepping into the bar area, one is immediately struck by the tap line set-up, a large-diameter pipe that is suspended from the ceiling over a marble bar preserved from the original bathhouse counter. This feat of engineering is impressive, requiring some delicate reinforcement of the ceiling that would not only hold the 600 pound contraption, but would also maintain as much of the original architecture as possible. The seating area is a mixture of long, high tables, smaller, more intimate tables, and a line of benches that face the huge windows that line the front of the building — a wonderful idea that allows patrons to enjoy their beverages while engaging in that all-time favorite Hot Springs pastime, people watching.
The Superior has a lot more to offer apart from the beer, though. Tucked away on one wall is a case full of delicious gelato, and the staff will be more than happy to serve it to you as a scoop or in a float made with their house-made root beer. Folks not in the mood for beer will also find drinkables to their liking — in addition to the root beer, there's a fine seltzer made from the natural water that made the Spa City so famous, as well as a large menu of coffee, hot chocolate, and espresso drinks available as well. And for those of you that might come in hungry, well, the Superior has you covered there, too.
The first time I stopped in, my eye was drawn to the bar's meat and cheese plate — which probably doesn't surprise any of you who have read my Eat Arkansas posts for any length of time. Cured Petit Jean meats are sliced thin and served up with a fine selection of Little Rock's own Kent Walker cheeses, including Kent's Bluff Top Gouda and my personal favorite, the Jerk Spice Cheddar Cheese Curds. Add in a cup of the Superior's house-made spicy beer mustard, and there's not a lot better to be had in the city.
Hungrier than that? Then take a look at the Superior Gyro, a classic sliced-and-grilled meat sandwich loaded with toppings and served up with crispy pita chips that are the perfect vessels for dipping into their house-made black-eyed pea hummus. Hearty chili, a vegetarian panini, and even a beer-braised short rib platter with mashed potatoes round out a menu that goes above and beyond typical bar fare.
Cranson took me through the entire brewery set-up, and I can assure you all that good things are going to come from her brewing skills. But even before the brewery starts serving up their own beer and spirits, the Superior is worth a trip to Hot Springs alone simply because they are trying to elevate the drinking scene in an area not known for its exotic beer selection. Events like their recent Evil Twin Brewing tap takeover have put the Superior on the map as a beer tourist destination, while the family-friendly food, gelato, and coffee-drink selections make the place a good destination for tourists and locals alike to enjoy a pleasant afternoon in classy surroundings while soaking in the historical setting. Most importantly, the staff at the Superior are a friendly and knowledgeable bunch, able to recommend a good beer to drink while in the same breath explaining the history of the place. And besides, I guarantee that you've never been in a bar that has seen more naked people in its long history than the Superior. Except maybe Midtown Billiards.
The Superior Bathhouse and Distillery is located at 329 Central Avenue in Hot Springs. There's a great parking deck just across the way on Exchange Street, so park, walk, and enjoy some of the best beer and eats in the state.
A few years back, I asked a buddy of mine who lives in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana to bring me up some local beer. This was back when the Razorbacks actually played football, and my friend would travel north to see the Battle of the Boot at War Memorial — and for the record, we won every time he came. On his last trip up, the beer he brought up was from a brewery I had never heard of: Bayou Teche Brewing, a small brewery out of Arnaudville, LA that made me an immediate fan with the first taste of their LA 31 Biere Pale.
Those of you who attended the Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival this year (and there were a ton of you there) may have seen the Bayou Teche booth, and I hope that you all got to taste what they were pouring. I had the privilege of chatting with the friendly folks at the brewery in the lead up to the festival, and I found them to be some of the nicest folks imaginable — and extremely passionate about good beer.
The Bayou Teche Brewing goal is to make beer that can stand up to the fine cuisine that South Louisiana is known for, and I think they're succeeding with their flavorful brews. And just last week, I ran into Hillcrest Liquor to grab six-pack to go with dinner and my wife pointed out some fresh sixers of the Acadie, Bayou Teche's biere de garde — one of our favorite brews from the festival. I snapped one up, and enjoyed it with some gumbo.
It's always fun to see new beer hit Arkansas, and I haven't been this excited for a new brewery since Tommyknocker arrived earlier this year. In addition to the Acadie and LA 31, keep your eyes out for the Miel Sauvage, a deceptively strong (and delicious) honey beer, and the Cocodrie, an IPA that has just the sort of bite you might expect from a brew named after an alligator. I love our local brewers, but this is definitely a brewery that makes me branch out to the swamps to drink like the Cajuns.
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.
I'm not a wine person, as any of you who have read the approximately 7,000 articles I've written about beer might expect. But when a couple of tickets to the 2013 American Heart Association Festival of Wines fell into my lap, I figured I could let my love of malted barley and hops rest for one night to enjoy the art of the fermented grape. The weather at Dickey-Stephens park was fantastic, and a jolly crowd of folks from both sides of the river were all making merry with their vino and plates of food from various local restaurants. And I have to admit, the event didn't change me into a total wine lover, but there were some definite winners being poured all around the concourse. Here are a few of my favorites, as well as a shout-out to some of the tasty food.
*Cavicchioli Lambrusco (Italy): This style of wine is one that I've always loved, and this was a slightly sweet, lightly carbonated wine that we paired (quite non-traditionally) with a very respectable bangers and mash from Cregeen's Irish Pub.
*Gnarly Head Malbec (Argentina): My favorite red of the night, this was a huge, robust wine that was strong as beef and smooth as silk. Oftentimes, red wine tastes thin and uninteresting to me, but this was a boldly flavored wine that made a nice, assertive pairing to the Spanish meatballs with saffron tomato sauce being served by the Ya-Ya's Euro Bistro table.
*Moet Chandon Imperial (France): Who doesn't like champagne? This crisp, light sparkling wine had some nice notes of pear and honey, and unlike the cheap, sour swill I'm used to drinking at dinner parties and New Year's Eve celebrations, was a glass to be savored and enjoyed. And because I'm a contrary Southerner, I paired this delicious champagne with an equally delicious pimento cheese sandwich from Bray Gourmet.
*Urban Uco Sauvignon Blanc (Argentina): Slightly astringent with a flavor somewhere between grapefruit and green apple, this was one of the most refreshing whites I tried all evening. And while I'm pretty sure that pairing white wine with red meat is a sin, it went quite well with the Chinese-style grilled lamb chop from Cheers in the Heights.
After all that, I'm afraid that the night just turns into a blur of one small pour of cabernet sauvignon (my wife's favorite wine) after another. I do have to mention the excellent pumpkin ice cream being served up by Two Sisters Catering, and congratulations are certainly in order to the organizers of this event. We barely scratched the surface of what was available, something that our heads are surely going to thank us for in the morning. I'm still a beer man at heart, but between the Malbec and the Moet, I'll be sure to make a little room in for wine.
· Blackberry Cobbler Arkansas Lighting has a taste reminiscent of freshly baked blackberry cobbler with a lightly browned buttery crust leaving a fresh, smooth finish on the palate.
· Peach Arkansas Lighting delights taste buds with fresh fuzzy peach notes with hints of buttery pie crust garnished with a light touch of caramel and vanilla.
· Grape Arkansas Lightning evokes a taste of real concord grapes reminiscent of the grape soda you grew up drinking, with a fresh, tart finish.
How fitting it is that Stone's Throw Brewing, Arkansas' newest craft brewer, should hold their soft opening on a Sunday, the traditional day of beer scarcity in these parts. I've been following the "nanobrewery" since last spring, and at that time their future brewing facility and taproom on the corner of 9th and Rock Street was a mass of half-hung dry wall, gutted ceilings, and some shiny new brewing equipment still in crates. But the men behind the brewery — Theron Cash, Ian Beard, Shawn Tobin, Brad McLaurin — have all been working hard to get their brewhouse up to Health Department standards and ready to serve, something that's even more impressive given that each of the four holds down a day job in addition to their beer-making activities.
The scene at today's soft opening was quite a bit different than that first visit: a small, attractive taproom stood ready to greet the enthusiastic crowd who showed up to sample the beer and perhaps get a bite to eat. We arrived just a few minutes after they started pouring, and by the time we got our pints in hand, the place was standing room only. We sampled two of Stone's Throw's house brews, the Belgian Pale Ale and the Ripple Effect Rye and were impressed by both. The BPA was as good as any Belgian-style beer I've ever sampled, with a nice, rich flavor on the front end that gave way to just the right amount of yeast flavor and slight sweetness on the finish. The Rye was a bit wilder in flavor (in a good way), with a dry finish that we found quite refreshing. In addition to the two beers we sampled, the brewery currently also has a house-made stout on tap as well as beers from local favorite Diamond Bear and Northwest Arkansas breweries Core Brewing and Saddlebock. Pints are available for $4 a glass, and a flight of 8 beers (encompassing everything that is on tap) runs a very reasonable $8.
Stone's Throw isn't big enough to house a full kitchen, but don't think that there aren't some good things to eat available. Parked outside today was the Southern Gourmasian, a cooperative effort between brewery and food truck that Ian Beard had first talked about back last spring. Inside, the inter-connected local support continued, with a meat, cheese, and pickle tray that featured products from Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Kent Walker Cheese, and Natchez Restaurant in the Tower Building. Seeing so many local businesses cross-pollinate like this is pretty exciting, and it's the sort of business model that I think has a lot of potential to revolutionize the local food and drink scene here in the Rock.
Take a look down there under the jump for more pictures from the soft opening, and be sure to check out Stone's Throw when they open for real on August 1st.
The growing Arkansas craft beer scene is about to get a little bigger: Stone's Throw Brewing, the new "nanobrewery" on the corner of 9th and Rock has announced that they will officially open on August 1, with regular business hours of 4 p.m.-9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and 12 p.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
I first met the guys behind Stone's Throw while working up a piece for the Times last April, and I found Ian Beard, Brad Mclaurin, and Shawn Tobin hard at work transforming a run-down building into a friendly space for brewing and drinking (fourth member Theron Cash is a pilot, and was absent that day). Beard and his compatriots know beer, they know history, and most importantly, they have a good rapport within the local homebrewing scene that is sure to give them a good base of support while starting out.
With local favorite Vino's Brew Pub making some of the best beer they've ever done, Diamond Bear announcing bigger digs across the river, Rock Town Distillery bringing us the hard stuff, and now Stone's Throw creating a space downtown (not to mention the excellent line-up of Northwest Arkansas and Hot Springs brewers), there's never been a better time to do what we always promote: drink local.
"Candy is dandy," poet Ogden Nash famously observed, "but liquor is quicker." But as Karen Connally sets up the Hillcrest Farmers Market table that will hold the baked goods bearing her grandmother Katie's name, it becomes clear that Katie Connally Confections has managed to find a way to combine sweets and alcohol into a plethora of moist, delicious cakes. The list of available goodies reads like Willy Wonka's liquor cabinet: Key Lime Rum Cake, Whiskey Chocolate Cake, Bourbon Brownies, and Peach Schnapps Pound cakes. She's got a Lemon Twist cake and a plate of brownies that leave out the hard stuff — but as a brownie catches my eye she assures me, "Get the one with the bourbon." I'm not one to argue.
The Connally family ask on their blog: "What makes our Whiskey Cakes so delicious? The chocolate or the whiskey?" Taking my first bite, I'm tempted to say the chocolate, rich with that dark, luscious flavor that good chocolate brings. The whiskey is there, and it isn't shy — but the magic of the alcohol is that is does not overwhelm the flavor of the cake, but rather enhances it. The caramel notes of the whiskey blend with the chocolate to create something different than either would be alone, something almost alchemical — a combination of cocoa with a different kind of sugar (alcohol) than one normally sees. The addition of alcohol to the cakes has the added bonus of making them incredibly moist, and Connally's baking skills are evident by the quality and texture of each cake's tender crumb.
If you're an early riser, catch up with Katie Connally Confections at the Hillcrest Farmers Market every Saturday morning starting at 7 a.m. This market is becoming well-known for having some of the best baked goods in town, and these infused delicacies are certainly up to the level of anything you'll find there. In addition to the Saturday market, the bakery has also been spotted at the Tuesday night Westover Hills Farmers Market, so if an early morning isn't your thing, take some time in the evening to sample some of this goodness. The bakery is also available for special orders by calling (501) 747-1073. Liquor-infused cakes aren't a new concept, but Karen Connally's quality goods are a unique addition to our local baked-goods market, and one that shouldn't be missed.
Beer and cheese... Is there a combination more pleasing to the palate, more ambrosial than a fine craft beer and a piece of, say, aged gouda or maybe manchego? How about if you added a delicious slice of sausage to the mix? Now we're talking.
Three of mankind's greatest culinary achievements will be combined in just such a manner at A Pint, A Wedge, which takes place from 1-3 p.m., May 18 at Bernice Garden. The event is part of Craft Beer Week, and features beer from Arkansas Craft Distributors, cheese from Boulevard Bread Co. and sausage from Hillcrest Artisan Meats.
There will be live music from Judson and Josh Spillyards, Norman Williamson and Ryan Hitt. Tickets are $25 and you can purchase them at Boulevard's Heights location.
Bell just returned from Japan in late March, where he acquired his Advanced Sake Professional certification from the Sake Education Council. Only 109 people in the world have received this unique certification. During his first week in Japan, Bell traveled via bullet train to breweries throughout the country to taste varieties of sake. Each stop hosted a class led by the Sake Evangelist, John Gauntner. “So we had time to see the highest level of sake brewing in Japan,” Bell said to me over a glass of sake on my porch. “It was a treat, some of the breweries didn’t export to the US.”
The final exam asked Bell to answer questions like where a particular sake was brewed or what brewing steps were used for this another sake? Bell then traveled north to Tendō, a small town pocketed between Japan’s snowcapped mountains. He stayed there for two weeks and applied his advanced certification. “I tasted sake straight from the press and learned what’s bottled and what’s pasteurized,” he said. Fortunately for Bell, he experienced hands-on sake brewing, a real rarity, as he endured Tendō’s frigid winter. “The work was done mostly by hand and that’s where I broke my back. Really, my back is still sore,” he said, pointing at it. “Hours would pass and you would realize that the brewery was as cold inside as it was outside. We were essentially brewing in the snow.”
Since the 1980s, Japanese milling industries have advanced significantly in efforts to trim grains with more precision. “It’s not really about how much you can take off the grain, but about how much pure starch you can get from the grain,” Bell said. Milling methodologies have produced higher quality sake at the hazard of reeling in lower profits. Over the past two years, sake has evened out and slightly maneuvered itself back on the market, still straggling behind beer, wine, and liquor. It seems that American culture has slowly regained interests. Kind of like the arrival of European wine — Americans have gone from skepticism to fascination. Meanwhile, brewers in the US have been fishing for higher quality rice. Everyone’s waiting for that one pure grain.
Recently, Bell organized a tasting at Zin Urban Wine and Beer Bar. Good conversation unfolded as we surveyed six different sakes on display, including a bottle that Bell brought back from Japan. Over the next three months Zin Urban Wine and Beer Bar will host more sake tastings. If you would like a bottle before the next one, try Colonial Wines & Spirits, where Bell greatly expanded the sake selection during his tenure there.
I just got off the phone with Rose Cranson, owner and president of Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery, a company which was officially known as Vapor Valley Spirits until earlier this week, when they officially signed a lease with the National Parks Service that will allow them to renovate and retrofit the old Superior Bathhouse into a microbrewery and beer tasting room. The Superior is the bathhouse closest to the Arlington Hotel on Bathhouse Row.
Plans call for a small-batch brewery, a beer-only bar that will serve both Superior suds and those of Arkansas breweries, and a small restaurant serving light snacks that pair well with Liquid Bread. They also plan to make whiskey, brandy and rum on site using local or regionally-sourced ingredients.
Cranson is an Illinois native who moved to Hot Springs two years ago with her husband Todd, when he was hired as the director of the Hot Springs Music Festival. Todd Cranson will be head brewer and distiller at Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery. Long-time hobby brewers, they plan on using the thermal springs that once supplied water for the baths to brew beer. Rose Cranson said the water coming into the building at over 140 degrees will save energy, and contribute to their goal of being as sustainable and locally-sourced as possible.
Beer will be brewed in small, 210-gallon batches. They plan on selling mostly ales, with some stouts, their take on a Belgian saison and others in what Cranson called "the American craft tradition." Cranson said their recipes will rotate seasonally to match the weather. Though they will bottle some special recipes and offer small kegs at the brewery, Cranson said most Superior beers will only be available for sale on tap at the bathhouse. They plan on distributing their spirits to local liquor stores and bars.
Their equipment is being fabricated by a company in Maine as we speak, and Cranson said installation and troubleshooting will be done this summer. They plan on opening the brewery this fall, though Cranson said the beer tasting room will open and begin selling local craft beers before they begin brewing their own.
Lovers of the nog will definitely want to become acquainted with Mr. David Burnette, bartender at The Capital Bar and Grill. For a while now, Burnette has been concocting his personal egg nog recipe and his skill has certainly not gone unnoticed. He has won Little Rock’s “Nog Off” competition located at the Historic Arkansas Museum for the last two years is now considered by many to be the “King of Nog.”
I caught up with Burnette to ask him what makes his nog so exceptional. He was kind enough to not only clue me in on some secrets in creating a great egg nog, he even provided us with a recipe.
Burnette reminds me that egg being incorporated into cocktails is certainly not a new thing, many traditional cocktails call for at least part of an egg. Says he, “A Whiskey Sour or a Ramos Gin fizz, for example, use egg whites to add froth. A 'Flip’ is a traditional-style cocktail utilizing a whole egg, white and yolk, to create a frothy, creamy result.”
The Capital Bar and Grill will be serving their egg nog throughout the month of December, beginning on the 1st. You can purchase it at the bar or by the bottle ($15 per liter). Burnette’s nog can also be attempted at home by following his recipe as published here by Southern Living, where it was featured as one of last season’s best holiday recipes.
You can also see Burnette go toe-to-toe with other worthy egg noggers at this year’s 8th Ever Nog-Off at The Historic Arkansas Museum on Third St. in Little Rock. The event will be held on Friday, December 14th from 5-8 p.m. and is free to the public. The Capital Hotel will be up against a number of other competitors which include The Copper Grill and Loblolly Creamery.
(The Capital Bar and Grill is located within The Capital Hotel located at 111 W. Markham St., Little Rock)
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!
It's pronounced "cash," I asked the executive chef about it a month or so ago.
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