Clear your schedule. Book the babysitter. Find your DD. The event of the year for beer drinkers with discerning palates is on the horizon. On Friday, Nov. 1, the Arkansas Times and the Argenta Arts District present the second annual Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival. It'll run from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. at the Argenta Farmer's Market lot at Sixth and Main streets in North Little Rock. Tickets are $35 in advance at arktimes.com/craftbeerfest or $40 at the door. But don't dawdle; last year's even sold out, leaving some thirsty folks outside the gates.
Below, find short profiles of all the participating brewers. Even if you can't make it to the festival, consider it a near-comprehensive survey of the craft beer market in Arkansas.
Boscos Boscos has been brewing in our own backyard, down in the River Market district, for 10 years, but it got its start 21 years ago in Memphis. It's one of the few breweries in the country that makes a German "stein beer," heating up granite rocks in its pizza oven and dropping them into the beer during the brewing process to add a caramel flavor and taste. The result: The award-winning Famous Flaming Stone. Boscos is not a bottler, but besides enjoying beers at the restaurant you can buy the brew by the growler (64 ounces, $10 for beer, $3 for bottle), and you can buy said growlers on Sunday, manager Courtney Bibb would remind you. LNP
Core Brewing Northwest Arkansas has gone from a relatively parched beer market to having its own seven-brewery tour circuit — the Fayetteville Ale Trail — in short order. How to distinguish yourself from that pack? For Core, out of Springdale, it has been to roll out a true bonanza of brews (at the festival will be its ESB, LegHound, Hilltop IPA, Pumpkin Pie Lager, Imperial Red IPA, Black Lightning 2xIPA, Oatmeal Stout and Imperial Chocolate Stout). It's also pioneering a weird, fun series of online video documentary shorts with its owners and staff, sort of a "Duck Dynasty" set in the brewery, that generates lines like, "I might put you in a wood chipper one day, but I love you," and a comforting number of bleeps, on the way to teaching you about brewing. SE
Dark Hills If you follow Dark Hills Brewery President Connie Rieper-Estes on Facebook (she's "Connie Rieper-Estes Gluten Free Consultant"), you'll learn things like the fact that Celiac disease affects 1 in 133 Americans. Or that a mouth swab is the best way to determine if you're gluten intolerant. One factoid she's likely to tout soon: Not all gluten-free beers are equal. Some brewers use barley as their grain and extract the gluten from it. That process leaves behind small traces of gluten, according to Leigh Nogy, Rieper-Estes' partner, which is a problem, when even parts-per-million levels of gluten can cause a celiac sufferer problems. Dark Hills, a project Nogy and Rieper-Estes have been working on since around 2000, is completely gluten free. They're working on financing to open a small commercial operation in Bentonville. Once they open, Nogy, says there'll be no gluten allowed in their facility — not even for people's lunches. Dark Hills got an early endorsement when the brewery's Creamy Buck Wheat Amber — made from buckwheat, honey and sorghum molasses — won a gold medal in the Gluten Free category at the 2013 U.S. Open Beer Championship. LM
Diamond Bear It's likely you've already gotten acquainted with Little Rock's oldest craft brewery, now in its 14th year. At the festival the proprietors and master brewer will serve the brewery's decorated lineup of Pale Ale, Presidential IPA, Southern Blonde and Rocktoberfest, and probably brag on their new North Little Rock location: the former Orbea building at 600 N. Broadway. "We picked up the keys on Oct. 4," Diamond Bear founder Russ Melton said. Renovations are underway. Eventually the new digs will mean bigger on-site events and greater production. "You'll see some more brands, greater variety," Melton said. "We can only get as aggressive as our supply allows." Look for a more-aggressive Diamond Bear, then, right soon. SE