Get ready for a new kind of beer festival for Arkansas. On Friday, May 13, the Arkansas Times holds the inaugural Firkin Fest, benefiting the Argenta Arts District. The event starts at 6 p.m. at Argenta Plaza, 520 Main St. in North Little Rock. Tickets are $35 in advance (via bit.ly/firkinfest16) or $40 at the door. That covers more than 15,000 samples of beer, music from talented local pop singer/songwriters Isaac Alexander and Jason Weinheimer, and food from eight local restaurants: Arkansas Ale House, Damgoode Pies, Old Chicago Pizza, Skinny J's, @ the Corner, Cafe Bossa Nova and Zaffino's by Nori.
For the uninitiated, a firkin is simply a unit of measurement describing a vessel containing cask-conditioned ale, or beer that has not been cold-filtered, pasteurized or carbonated. Firkins are often used by brewers to experiment with new flavor combinations — they take an established beer and add flavors that might range from fruits, nuts or berries to herbs, spices and coffee. This approach often leads to surprising results, which makes tapping the firkin all the more exciting.
I recently attended a cask-conditioned ale class at Pulaski Technical College's fantastic classroom and brewery located in its Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute building. Students learned the history and process for packaging and serving traditional cask-conditioned ale from Mike Byrum of Fermentables and special guest Josiah Moody from Moody Brews. We also learned to fill casks with beer. We put a traditional English-style pale ale into three 5.2-gallon "pins" (smaller firkins) and conditioned these to serve at the festival, adding a little something different to each one.
You'll be able to taste these three variations and plenty more from not just local breweries, but breweries from across the country and as far away as Germany. It's a great chance to try some unique beers.
Due to the nature of firkins, the list that follows might change, but here's what I've been told at this point we can expect to find at the inaugural Arkansas Times Firkin Fest:
Located 30 miles north of New Orleans in Abita Springs, La., this regional favorite has grown to become the 15th largest craft brewery in the country.
A version of Shotgun Double IPA that has extra hops added and is cask-conditioned. The beer is produced in the brewhouse, dry hopped, and aged in the same manner as Shotgun Double IPA. After aging, even more Citra, Centennial, Simcoe, Amarillo and Cascade hops are added to the cask.
A cask-conditioned version of Louisiana Spiced Ale that has citrus peels added. The beer is produced in the brewhouse and aged in the same manner as Louisiana Spiced Ale. After aging, lemon and orange peels are added and the beer is cask-conditioned.
An American Brown Ale with real coffee and vanilla beans added.
The Springdale-based brewery recently opened a pub in North Little Rock, adding to Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Springdale and Rogers locations as part of seemingly endless growth.
Jalapeños are added during secondary fermentation and to the firkin as well.
Brewer Josh Quattlebaum, formerly of Boscos, now heads up Damgoode's River Market brewpub, which supplies beer to all the Damgoode locations.
A hop-forward Glacier Smash IPA with elderflowers added.
One of Arkansas's oldest breweries, it's still going strong with a vibrant brewpub in North Little Rock.
A tripel aged in bourbon barrels along with Arkansas grown strawberries added.
A medium-bodied vanilla porter.
This Torrance, Calif.-based brewery specializes in unique takes on classic styles, which sounds like a recipe for success at Firkin Fest.
A blend of orange blossom honey, fresh grapefruit zest and the brewery's light and crisp Koschtal Eddy.
A rich blend of locally roasted coffee, chocolate and peanut butter in a smooth, toasty brown ale.
Always ranked among the top breweries in the world by ratebeer.com, beers from this Grand Rapids, Mich., brewery have been available in Central Arkansas for two years.
Made with seven varieties of imported malts, this beer gets vanilla beans and bourbon-soaked oak chips added.
This Munich, Germany, brewery was created out of a merger between Hacker (founded in 1417) and Pschorr (founded in the late 1700s), so it knows a little something about brewing beer. No word on the details of its offering.
Mississippi's first package brewery since Prohibition, Lazy Magnolia is steadily expanding its reach throughout the South with beers like Southern Pecan, Lazy Saison, Southern Hop-spitality and Jefferson Stout.
An 8.5 percent ABV Belgian-Style Golden Ale brewed with an infusion of honeysuckle flowers.
An 8.5 percent ABV Southern-style Imperial Stout.
Little Rock's fastest growing and perhaps most active brewery will have four firkins, including one still to be determined.
A dark, robust beer with notes of coffee and chocolate.
Lost Forty's beloved bock made with Arkansas honey gets an infusion of coffee.
Beer, plus grapefruit soda? Sign us up.
Brewmaster/founder Eric Marshall apprenticed at breweries throughout Germany and served as a brewer at Victory Brewing Co. before starting his own outfit in 2008 in Tulsa.
Marshall's pale ale has a little citrus taste to it.
An excellent wheat beer plus citrus.
This Springfield, Mo., brewery produces beers like the Towhead American Blonde, Oktoberfest and Chocolate Thunder porter.
A brown ale with mint and oak chips soaked in whiskey added.
This Munich-based brewery has been in business since 1634. Its firkin will be a surprise.
This Rolla, Mo.-based brewery was founded in 2010.
This golden ale with prominent malt flavors has been aged in a used wine barrel.
A stout with the aroma of dark chocolate. It has been aged in a used wine barrel.
The product of a cask-conditioned ale class at the college.
Cask-conditioned English Style Pale Ale
Cask-conditioned English Style Pale Ale with U.S. Golding hops
Cask-conditioned English Style Pale Ale with U.S. Golding hops and French Light toast oak
Central Arkansas's newest brewpub already has a well-earned reputation for quality beer and a willingness to experiment.
100 percent Brett Pale Ale aged on a tropical fruit medley and chocolate habaneros.
Double Brown Ale aged with lactose, coffee, cacao nibs, cinnamon and vanilla beans.
You'll recognize this Manhattan, Kan., brewery at the liquor store by its wildly illustrated tallboy cans.
A hop heavy beer with citrus flavors gets the addition of Columbus, Chinook, Cascade, Amarillo and Bravo hops along with grapefruit.
A pale ale soured with Lactobacillus, it's twice kettle- and dry-hopped to balance the tartness with bright hop character.
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