WORDS & PHOTOS / STACEY BOWERS
Last Friday marked the third annual Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival, a smorgasbord of brews from across the state and all over the nation. This year’s festival boasted 250 beers from 50 brewers. There were representatives from craft breweries as far away as Cooperstown, New York, and San Diego, California, to breweries located mere blocks away from the festival site in the Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock. For $40 ($35 in advance), you’re given a plastic solo cup and basically told to “have at it,” meaning you can have as many (very large) tastings from as many (potentially all) breweries as you like. All those fancy beers you’ve been dying to try but can’t afford are yours for the taking – and you take, and you take. And you get doted on by the brewers, who give you koozies and keychains, and the restaurants, who offer delicious nibbles, and you take. It’s gluttony at its frothy finest.
What I Gleaned from the 2014 Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival … Besides a Hangover:
1.) An absurdly long list of new favorite stouts. I’m a stout girl. I mean, I like stouts. As far as stouts went at the festival, Texas-based Southern Star Brewing took the cake with its Buried Hatchet Stout, which actually tastes like cake – German chocolate cake, to be exact. I’m also a bourbon girl, so the perfect marriage of beer and bourbon that is Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout stole my heart and a good chunk of my sobriety (ABV is about 14%). As far as milk stouts go, up-and-coming Little Rock brewery Blue Canoe Brewing had my attention with its Whittler Milk Stout, and my imaginary award for best coffee stout went to Missouri-based Mother’s Brewing Co. for its Winter Grind.
2.) Apple Blossom Brewing Co. will not let you cut in line. And the owners may threaten you with physical violence, but it’s worth it for the Fayetteville-based brewery’s Kessler Belgian Single Ale. Part of the proceeds from the sale of this beer benefit the maintenance of Fayetteville’s Kessler Trail, so you’ll feel great about drinking this delicious brew, even if you hurt tomorrow.
3.) Pretzel necklaces are a thing. And, unfortunately, you can’t buy them at the festival, so you should make one ahead of time. Basically, they’re ribbons strung with dozens of pretzels that you wear around your neck and munch on throughout the night to prevent hunger and belligerence. They’re like adult versions of those candy necklaces you wore when you were a kid, but they’re not made of chalk. I’m thinking of patenting a popcorn chicken version.
4.) Arkansas might be the craft brew capital of the south. Ok, that’s an understatement as long as Texas remains in the union, but there were 13 Arkansas breweries represented at the festival, which doesn’t account for every brewery in the state. I know of at least five breweries who, within the past couple of months, have announced plans to open in downtown Little Rock. 2014 might be the year of beer for the Natural State. I’ll drink to that.