Rare booze in Central Arkansas 

click to enlarge Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve bourbon at the Capital Bar & Grill image
  • Brian Chilson
  • Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve bourbon at the Capital Bar & Grill

Truffles aren't really that good, you know. They just taste better because some Frenchman's pig had to be talked into sniffing them up in the middle of nowhere, and it's hard to talk a pig into doing anything. People love rarity. Ditto on rare cars, rare comic books, rare baseball cards, rare anything. It's all neat to have, but when you get right down to it, nobody wants Superman No. 1 because of its riveting storyline. People want it because every other guy on the block can't have it.

Which brings us to rare hooch. In Central Arkansas, because of a number of factors — from seasonal offerings, to small-batch craft beers, to persnickety Arkansas liquor laws that only allow one distributor to handle each brand — there are some things that you're just not going to find with any regularity in your corner package store. With that in mind, here are a few of the rarities that probably aren't coming soon to a liquor cabinet near you.

What is it? Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve bourbon

Who makes it? Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, Frankfort, Ky.

What's the big deal? Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve — named after the long-gone father of the current owner of Kentucky's Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery and available in 15-year, 20-year and 23-year-old varieties — is consistently ranked as one of the best whiskeys in the world. It's crazy rare, with very low production numbers and a rabid online following of fans who trade leads about availability and are willing to drive hundreds of miles on a "might have." Only a few bottles make it into Arkansas every year, and those that do get snapped up quickly by collectors and whiskey geeks. If you ever see a bottle anywhere, wrestle it away from the guy next to you and stash it back for a bender on your deathbed.

Where can I try it? One of the very few reliable hookups for a glass of Pappy Van Winkle's is at the Capital Bar and Grill, but even they sometimes run dry.

What is it? Yuengling beers

Who makes it? Yuengling Beer Co. of Pottsville, Penn.

What's the big deal? Yuengling is distributed widely, but only east of the Mississippi. Out here in flyover country, we're a Yuengling wasteland, with Arkansas devotees forced to stop for a case or two anytime they're on the far side of Old Man River and then — in the grand tradition of Coors and "Smokey and the Bandit" — truck the suds back to their home base in Arkansas while being relentlessly pursued by Jackie Gleason. Beyond the rarity-fueled covet bump, though, it's apparently pretty standard stuff, coming in seven varieties including a porter, lager and black and tan.

Where can I try it? Put that hammer down and give it hell to Memphis and points east, son. The shelves are apparently awash in Yuengling there.

What is it? Abita Strawberry Harvest

Who makes it? Abita Brewing Co. of Abita Springs, La.

What's the big deal? One of Abita's three "harvest beers," Abita Strawberry Harvest is a pilsner to which fresh Louisiana strawberry juice is added after the filtration process, giving it a sweet flavor. It's a seasonal offering, and like most seasonals, it's a limited edition. John Crow, the owner of 107 Liquor in Sherwood, said Strawberry Harvest has been made even more rare in recent years due to Abita's "tenuous relationship" with its Arkansas distributor, Glazer's, so that Abita sends only a smidgen of the coveted springtime brew to Arkansas (it's fairly easy to get in other places when it's in season, he said, noting that he got his first taste at a friend's house in Los Angeles). The local rarity in the state never fails to set off a phone-tag scramble among beer fans when it's released.


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