The year before I moved to the area, Benton County was dry. That would have been a non-starter. Fortunately, things evolved toward a more progressive frame of mind in regards to libations. In fact, the good folks in Little Rock have even recently seen their way to allowing out of state wine be delivered to your door step. Yeah!
The good news keeps rolling. The citizens of NWA are blessed to have a large variety of extremely good craft breweries that have exploded in production and popularity over the last few years. Here are a few of my favorites in alphabetical order.
Good food, good drink, and the outdoors are inexplicably intertwined in NWA. Of all the breweries in the area, Apple Blossom Brewery probably captures this bohemian trinity the best. Located just off the bike trail by Lake Fayetteville, a visit there is a great reward for that loop around the lake or the longer ride down from Bentonville or Bella Vista. They have a very good menu, good service, and a recently updated selection of brews on tap. ABB tends to offer some of the more unorthodox offerings on the beer scene in the Bubble. I am particularly partial to their Soulless Ginger which has an a nice clean and zesty finish. Their Earl Grey ESB has an unusually smooth, refined, and earthy flavor which I think Jean Luc would even approve of. Altogether a nice scene, and on a nice day it’s great to chill out on their wrap around porch with friends, family, and your canine companion.
Recently relocated to Ozark’s old location in Rogers, Bentonville Brewing Company is a relatively newcomer to the NWA brewing scene. What they lack in brewing punctuality they made up for in quality. Their Kolsch is excellent and goes down way too smoothly. I am not normally a big fan of IPAs but “Homewrecker IPA” threatens to do just that, beckoning you to drink just one more “…yes honey, I am on my way now…” The folks at BBC also regularly host some awesome events in collaboration with the local restaurants and shops. We attended their Beers and Hymns event which was a ton of fun and got the whole crowd in the Holiday spirit.
Starting as a “nano brewery” this place has grown exponentially in the last few years to become a prominent player in the NWA beer scene. With two locations, the original is in the Arts District on A Street and they recently opened up a second location on 8th Street both with outdoor seating. Both locations are awesome, with the the Arts District being right next to Peddler’s Pub where you can grub on some good pizza and the 8th Street location having one or more food trucks on hand to feed the masses. Both regularly have really good live music, are dog friendly with a fun and friendly staff.
Oh and the beer. The beer is excellent. They usually have 5 or 6 on tap, with two or more being seasonal. I am a fan of the Amber Ale as well as their wickedly tart Grapefruit Saison. If you are into IPAs, they have knock your toe clips off Double IPA. Insider tip: for $100 you can become a permanent “Trale Builder” and enjoy some great perks…including a biggie boy glass to flaunt your membership exclusivity!
I honestly don’t know a whole lot about these folks other than they make some kick ass ciders. Celebrating their second anniversary this month, I first came across them when changing up gears at Bike Rack and noticed they made a guest appearance on the pour menu. Sourcing apples locally, I first tried BAX’s nicely balanced 1904 cider. I prefer dry, tart, German Reisling-like ciders and the 1904 didn’t disappoint. Be careful though, at 7.8 abv, it could put a ‘hurtin on you like your dim Uncle Pete. Located in downtown Springdale, I have been impressed with what I have tasted so far and intend to find out more.
“A 3 barrel brew house owned and operated by 3 University of Arkansas graduates who love Fayetteville and the craft beer industry“ is how the newest brewery to the Bubble describes their brewing Vision Quest. To that I say “BRAVO!” Opening their doors in 2015 and just off the bike trail in Fayetteville, they have an interesting array of traditional and non-traditional forms of fermented happiness. I honestly don’t know a whole bunch more than that…but with its proximity to the bike trail and some rave reviews I am planning on correcting that ignorance toot sweet!
With multiple locations, Core is one the more venerable brewers in the area having been established in 2011. Their calling card is a little Weiner dog named Barney on their cans and they have several locations. Their Brewery location is in Springdale and there is also a nice Public House on the bike path which is conveniently about halfway between Bentonville and Fayetteville. The Public house is also fun to throw some darts, shoot a little pool and listen to some live local music. There is a Pub in Rogers and a location in downtown Bentonville as well as others springing up regularly. Also if you are stranded at the XNA you can also enjoy some good food at their outpost there as well. They have many many good beers and a few weird (in a good way) ones. I am a fan of the Arkansas Red and the Behemoth Pilsner. For the more adventurous they also some quirkier ones like Toasted Coconut and Jalapeno ESB.
Founded in 2012, Fossil Cover has nice Jurassic theme going with with their brews. Their tasting room and brewery is located conveniently not far off of Gregg Ave, easily biking distance from the trail. I always thought of them as the “grown up” of the brewers in NWA, despite their cartoon inscripted cans. Their most famous beers arethe crisp Paleo, tasty La Brea Brown, and bold T-Rex Tripel. They also have some ongoing experiments with their “Evolution Series”. For example, currently the crew at Fossil Cove offer T-Rex on Peaches which is their Belgian Tripel soaked in bourbon and wine barrels with a heap full of Ozark Peaches layered on top to put a little southern sugar in that that Trip.
This brewery has a very special place in my heart. Perhaps it was because it was my first beer-crush in NWA. It was a cold day in November of 2014 and our first time to NWA. I was still kind of freaked out about the whole “move-to-Arkansas-thing”. Our small SoCal tribe found a surprising hip gastro pub downtown called Tusk and Trotter which brightened my mood immediately. I looked up at the giant chalk board post on the wall in the restaurant to see a list of locally sourced meats, vegetables, and grains used to make everything on the menu. I am a fan of Belgians so I skeptically ordered up Ozark’s Belgian Style Golden Strong. It was love at first sip.
Moving out of their old brew house (recently where Bentonville Brewing Company has set up shop) they are now just outside downtown Rogers in a retro-fitted historic flour mill. Like all the brew houses around NWA, it has a very cozy and family oriented atmosphere. They even have a play area under the stairwell for the youngsters. If you are fan of sours they also do a nice seasonal Berliner Weisse in the fall. Hard work, honest beer indeed!
If you didn’t know any better you might think New Province was the latest brand from one of the mega brewers. It is not. It one of the newest brewers in the NWA bubble making some great beer for all to enjoy. They also seem to be enjoying some white hot popularity as of late. While you really can’t go wrong with anything from their wide selection, I have recently become enamored with their Fallen Queen Witbier. They also release a set of new small batches every Tuesday in their taproom on Hudson. Get there early on Fridays…the place gets jammed.
Don’t despair, you aren’t lost…just keep driving. The first time I set out to find Saddlebock I was beginning to get nervous. I thought I could hear the banjos. Saddlebock is just a bit out in the boonies but it is worth the drive. They have a very laid back tasting room with some good munchies. They have several good standards on tap including a very nice Heifeweizen, several IPAs, Lagers, and Stouts. One of my favorites is the Lost Bridge Smoke, with just hint of a smokey flavor that goes great with ribs or steak.
Bubbles in the Bubble
Those are the primary craft brewers I have experienced in NWA. They are all part of the local “ale trail“, but over three years of trying I think I have only made it to three in succession…despite scheduling a driver. Its just hard to pass up all the good stuff in one place let alone the more than half dozen in the area.
Of course, that’s not all. There has been an explosion of really great craft brewers across the state with double digit growth in craft brewing for last several years.
As you can see, NWA has many many great places to eat, drink, and be more than a bit merry. And if you don’t like beer…well there’s a few other things to enjoy too.