Monday, August 15, 2016

Perspective...Beer and Arkansas


  1. 1.
    the art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point.
    "a perspective drawing"
  2. 2.
    a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.
    "most guidebook history is written from the editor's perspective."
    (synonyms: outlook,viewpoint, POV, standpoint, position, stance,stand, frame of mind, frame of reference, approach. Example:
    "her perspective on things had changed"

  3. Perspective is a funny thing. It is so personal, that many times we are not able to think clearly and see things correctly. We need time and space to see things (as in definition 1), to ensure that our personal position, (definition 2), does not weigh to heavily on the facts. That is no easy task. Due to its personal nature, we have a hard time letting go of our biases. Silly Humans.

  4. Lets go back. I could start 12 years ago when I moved here, but, truth be told, we don't have to go back that far. Lets start in 2010. There was only one in-state production brewery, there were less than 5 total. The shelves at the local bottle shops were in a sad state, covered mostly in macro beers from "The Big 3." Any out of state craft/import product was shoved to the side, on the floor, out of the cooler and gathering dust. If it even existed, as most liquor stores knew where their bread was buttered. Its Arkansas, stock the Jim, Jack, Crown and cases of adjunct lager as water backs for those and you're golden. Yum.

  5. In 2010, Northwest Arkansas had a new brewery emerge. With a craft beer craze across the country spreading like wildfire, a River Valley native, living in NWA, tossed aside his corporate job for the brewing life. It started with contract brewing then his own brick and mortar, followed by bottles, cans and 73 (maybe a touch less) off site pubs. They've also expanded in Missouri, retracted from there, tried Mexico, and just recently moved in to Tennessee. They are, for better or worse, depending on many ways the face of Arkansas craft beer. Or were.

  6. That brewery, since opening and proving we had a craft thirsty demographic, opened the floodgates for many other local entrepreneurs to give their mash paddle a go. Northwest Arkansas as a collective has ballooned to more than 10 breweries plus a cidery and Little Rock is not far behind, with several other rural areas adding to the mix. Less than 5 to 20 plus in state in 6 years is quite the boom. The numbers bear out that the population is not only supporting them, but begging for more.

  7. The state and the consumer have both benefited from the added selections. Economically it has provided jobs and consumers are, by and large supporting all of these ventures. It has also drawn interest from large, national craft brands, the biggest domino being Founders Brewing from Michigan just over two years ago. After getting distribution from them, other stalwarts such as Green Flash, Bells, Lagunitas, and Stone have joined the fray. This is, in my estimation, all a good thing. We have international, national, regional, and local breweries jockeying for position where once Blue Moon and Corona dominated the cooler. The shelves that once boasted Sam Adams and Shiner Bocks as sole craft representation have been replaced with a plethora of breweries that did not exist even a couple years ago; or if they did, acquiring them was not something that could be done in state.

  8. Bottom line: We've grown.
  10. Now here are the problems with that growth. 

  12. Quality has slipped. Really slipped. Of course the big craft companies have QA and QC standards that are beyond what the local guys can touch, so usually, they're okay on things such as infections, half fills, exploding bottles, et al. 
  13. Usually.
  14. Goose Island, former craft brewery, now masquerading as an independent wing of the Evil Empire, has had to recall more than half of last year's Bourbon County Stout due to infections. That they blamed on Chinese bottles. Uh huh. I think the answer is probably more close to home. When you are purchased by an large corporation, who has investors, who presumably want returns, you cut corners. You get sloppy. You use cheaper ingredients. You move production out of original state to be made in a Budweiser facility. Of course things will change. Things ALWAYS change.

  16. The shelves have also gathered a number of regional craft breweries who are newer, looking to expand out of their home state and find a burgeoning craft market without too many competitors. While some of these have come in and been a hit and a welcome surprise, far too often I see no turnover and poor ratings. A 40 aggregate rated IPA just isn't going to sell. So it sits. Then it gets moved to the pick 6 shelf. Next thing you know, that 40 rated IPA is a year old, getting rated even worse. Its an uphill battle without the big money to do an all out assault into a new state. Without that major push, brands come here with no recognition or fanfare, get tried by a handful of us adventurous types, and then forgotten. It is a cutthroat business and a harsh reality.
  17. Still others, mainly local, with far less funding, have major quality control issues due to various reasons, both verified and assumed.

    Several in state breweries...well, most in state production breweries have had exploding cans on shelves or in refrigerators. The blame has gone towards can lining, bad yeast, unintentional shipment, "distributor error," and on and on. Obviously there is a learning curve, and with growth and expansion new challenges arise. I will say, that more than one of the breweries I've personally had exploding cans from, has made right. With replacement beer, sincere apologies and even follow up letters with reasons. I know one even pulled a whole batch of beer back. That is admirable and shows a dedication to customers and craft.
  18. Issues arise with others however who never take responsibility and instead, rely on tired excuses that most true craft customers have grown weary of. Half full bottles, infected bottles with pellicle showing, explosions in store; there is a bigger issue here. Many customers firmly couched in the industry have simply moved on.

  19. The issue for me is the fact that too many consumers think that it is okay. With the explosion of this industry we love, we have gathered market share like a downhill snowball. We've brought in folks from all walks and most are committed to never going macro again. However, there are so many out there still learning, and if they start to think that average beer is good beer, just because of its price point, it says its local, or craft, or small batch, or whatever--we'll have a problem. We'll have a large group of craft beer that isn't craft at all. It will just be smaller batches of mediocre beer. Mind you, I don't mean mediocre in the sense of whatever style you like, I am simply for these purposes referring to the basic quality of the beer. Lack of attenuation, infection, under filled or out of date product. These issues need to be solved first and then we can get into a bad recipe/good recipe/bad execution discussion. That is a whole 'nother issue.

  20. We as consumers, spending our hard earned money on traveling, trading, brewery visits, or even just buying at your local store deserve better. We deserve products we can be proud of, that we can share and brag about. We deserve better than corner cutting and poor packaging standards. In states with thriving craft beer communities, brewers and breweries are held accountable, and the good ones learn and grow from it. We need to, as a community, start to hold the breweries accountable for the beer we buy. Even when we are biased towards some breweries, for whatever reason, we know that there are better local breweries out there. If you love one, help them get better. Hold the distributors accountable for the beer they bring into state and stock; old and not selling needs to be dropped to make room for newer things. 

    We've gone from 48th to 38th in just a couple years of breweries per capita (peruse that link while there, lots of good info).That is a good thing. We've come quite a ways in a short time. Now we need to take the next step and have great beer coming from those breweries, not just average quality. I believe the potential is there from most. Is the drive? Is the willingness to adapt and push the envelope moving forward? I hope so. Accidents happen. We all understand that. Its how you move on from those accidents that determines staying power. I would love for all the breweries we have to continue to thrive; to be challenged by each other and by new breweries, both local and otherwise, coming to market. A rising tide raises all ships, and there is plenty of room out there for growth (Vermont has 44 breweries and 1/5 our size. Highest per capita in US). 

    If we shift our perspective slightly and focus on quality as 1a and growth as 1b, we all win. Lets just make sure it is growth in the right direction...not just for the sake of growth. 



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How To Rate Wrongly

Several things I've read recently have spurred this post. One a Facebook group rant (h/t Jason Sykes) and one a post by fellow blogger, Jonas Schaffer at arkansasbeerblog.

What is a bad beer? (Pandora's box, standby) I am of the notion/subset/feeling that unless a beer is infected, light-struck, over-aged, or just generally giving 'Off-Flavors' that it isn't BAD.
Now, before we get too far into this, let me give you my explanation, my go to story:

Budweiser (amirite?) Evil Empire that they are, surely employs a team of quality control agents, tasters, and neophytes. Sorry, where'd that last one come from? Anyhow. They clearly are making the beer they are choosing to make, i.e. they know what is leaving the factory, how it tastes, how it is received, and so on. They, on whatever scale you employ, are making 'good' beer. It is beer that is not infected, and while mostly a shadow of lie of a deceitful concept; it still qualifies as beer.
Now here is where I have to eat crow that has eaten humble pie, I have to admit something GOOD about them.
They make the most consistent beer. EVER. Brewed at multiple locations in numbers we can't even fathom--it all tastes (not really, but you get the picture) the SAME.
The pale yellow color, the watery look, the lack of lacing, the distinct ability to have zero aroma, the palate cleansing properties that make it a great Dark Lord to Cantillon transition: ALWAYS THE SAME.
To me, that is good, dare I say great. Do I drink that swill? Of course not, I prefer flavor, but their model, their profitability, their consistency, must be respected.
I know many craft brewers who would love to have the the lack of conscience, I mean, ability to put out beer to hit the same numbers, the same attenuation, the same efficiency EVERY TIME.

As Sam Galgione (Dogfish Head) once famously said, "They (Anhueser Busch) spill more beer every year than I could possibly make."

So that brings me back to this: What is bad beer? Or a better question: What is GOOD beer?
For me:

  • I want a well crafted beer. Period. I am less concerned with scale, as long as it is done well.
  •  I like certain styles above others, and certain groupings within styles above the style as a whole sometimes.
  • I like to try all types of beer, if for no other reason than to keep my palate guessing, to keep it fresh.
  • I enjoy hard to get beers, and special releases, but I'll admit, cost does play a factor as well. Especially for everyday type beers.
  • I like when I get surprised by just how good a beer is.
  • I enjoy finding a beer I know I make a 'Gateway Beer' for non-craft drinkers.
  • I like beers for a season.
  • I get tired of drinking beers just for a season.
  • I like the hunt, the travel for a beer.
  • I like the 'share-ability' that comes with beers. 

And last but most important,
  • I like the passion that all people have for beer. 
And that brings me to back to the beginning. I hate all things pumpkin, always have. Pie, candles, teas, coffees, decorating, Charlie Brown (not really, I love you CB!), and definitely pumpkin beer. 
So what?
I am completely happy for you degenerates who love that stuff. It leaves more beer on the shelves for me this time of year. And when it comes to rating these types of beers, I try to rate based on style, not my palate. It would not be fair to a world class rated beer to have an outlier like myself voting on something I already knew I didn't like.
I mean, it'd be like rating Dark Lord a 1 star. Right, Matt? Love ya buddy.
If I drink a 90 rated pumpkin...or a pilsner (is there a 90 rated pilsner?) I am going to shift my focus from what I personally prefer, to what that beer should taste like, what it should be, how it should measure up. If they fit that first criteria (not infected, et al) then I try to just be fair. Or just not even rate it. 
Raters, this part is for you. Stop picking fights with people who have rated your favorite beer below the level you deem acceptable. It's their mouth, fer cryin' out loud. Its a bad look for us geeks/nerd/enthusiasts who just want to bring more people over from the dark side. Healthy debate always encouraged though. Of course.

So, there's my say. If you're rating a beer, please, at some level, keep those of us in mind who have not had a chance to have it. Don't skew it completely. 

You never know, your crazy, off base rating may be the only one I'll see and then when I miss out on a great beer, I'll blame you for the rest of my life. FOR-EV-ER.

As always, 



Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Year Late(r)

A year ago I had plans to go to Denver for a beer trip with my cousin. Things happen, life got in the way, and we ended up in Asheville, NC instead. Which, by the way, is also a heck of a beer trip. Enjoyed some great beers at some new-to-me breweries, met some great people, and had a good time with my cousin. But I felt sad I'd missed Denver. Just a little.
Fast forward to today. I'm about 30 hours from arriving in Denver. I've just finished packing. I'm drinking a Jester King Boxer's Revenge (with some other treats to follow) trying to clear cellar room for what is sure to be a significant haul upon my return. 
I. Am. Excited. 
Now the caveat. This is not a beer trip. Make no mistake, I always work in beer--and Mrs Butler is great about accommodating that--but this is a family trip. 12+ hours drive with the kids. Museums. Zoos. Pools. The great outdoors. 
And you know what? I think I may be even more excited.
To many, that may sound like a buzzkill on a trip to a beer Utopia, but for me, it sounds like an adventure. I'll still get to taste a boatload of new beers. I'll still work in a couple breweries. I'll still be bringing back a bunch of beer to enjoy here at home, hopefully with friends. On top of that? I get to share it with the family. 
We love museums. We love zoos. We love natural scenic beauty. Pools? I'll leave that to my girls. Well, ok, fine. I'll play nice.
We also get to see some old friends and take in a baseball game...and it just so happens the Cubs are in town to play the Rockies. 
No. I promise. We did NOT plan that.
Early plans have us hitting TRVE, Great Divide, Crooked Stave and hopefully Trinity Brewpub. Along with Falling Rock Taphouse & Vine Street Pub & Brewery. For one week, that is plenty. Sure if I was just on a guy's trip, we'd hit more breweries. Sure, there wouldn't be museums, there'd be golf. There wouldn't be great outdoors, there'd be great beer gardens. No zoos, more bars. And sure, that would be great.
But I'll take the animals, the museums, baseball and the scenery with my family. Maybe I'm getting old, and that's ok. 
I'm just excited to go. 


Thursday, July 24, 2014


The recent trend with 'local everything' is something I try to support and typically enjoy doing. You're helping your community (or a community you are visiting) and supporting small businesses and it feels good. The problem I have with this is...local doesn't always mean better. 
For me, this hits home most with craftbeer. Granted, Siloam Springs does not have a brewery (yet) but Northwest Arkansas has multiple with more on the horizon. Getting great beer from brewery to my mouth is my prime objective. I trade worldwide for it, Mrs Butler brings beer from all her trips and I actively seek out local stuff where I take my travels. So I am clearly invested in the process. The problem is this: just because it's small, just because it's local does not make it good.
I recently had a discussion along these lines with a local brewer. Not mentioning specifics of the discussion, I can honestly say we share the same feeling. I WANT to buy your product. I AM a consumer. I LOVE good beer. I am also NOT going to spend on an inferior product. I just can't. With the quantity I buy and trade, I can't AFFORD to. And here's the thing: I just won't.
Make a good product or offer a good service--beer, clothes, coffee, photography, food, and so on--and not only will I support your business...I will shout about it from the rooftops. I'll get on social media. I'll write a blog. I'll talk it up in person. I'll drag people to your store. Here's a hint: that'll get you more business. Which I'd guess you want. And probably need.
Now. Conversely, I am not one to put a business out there as bad or awful with one mistake. Or without addressing management. I've got a restaurant background, and I'd like to have one ahead of me, so I appreciate the personal approach first. But if you are not succeeding, not listening, not attempting to improve? I'll just stop giving my money. That won't hurt conglomerates, but it will hurt Mom & Pop places. I don't want to do that. I don't.
I've said time and again: my goal in this craftbeer era is to put a dent in ABInBev and MillerCoors. I want the little guys to grow and flourish and expand. However, I'm not willing to put bad beer in my belly to help someone else out. Shoot, as a stay at home dad of three girls? I need the good stuff when I have the chance, I don't want to waste any time on bad beer. Or bad food. Or bad what-have-you. 
In this social media age, proprietors should know how they are doing based on customer ratings. It's not hard, it's free and it could make all the difference in staying afloat. 
I hope more businesses start making better, not just 'selling' local.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ale Trail Blogger's Weekend

A couple weekends ago I had the honor of being invited by the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau to come out and experience The Fayetteville Ale Trail with several other writers from Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. In addition to getting to tour the numerous breweries in the region, we were able to take in a couple more of Northwest Arkansas' sights. A group of beer lovers, touring breweries, drinking beer, talking beer, sharing beer? 
Yeah, I think you can guess how that went.
Those of us from outside of Fayetteville were generously provided accommodation at The Chancellor hotel, just off the historic square downtown. Great views in all four directions, from atop the hill, the hotel was well appointed, the staff was helpful, and did I mention that location? Very nice, and would certainly direct friends and family to this property.
We started Friday night off at Fayetteville's answer to the corner pub, Tanglewood Branch Beer Company. The furthest south of all the breweries, it's the place to go where everybody does know your name; cyclists get happy hour, any hour; games sit waiting to be played, and coffee is at the ready at a separate counter. They have a small number of taps divided between their own beers and other craft selections. We arrived and were greeted by the owner and brewmaster, JT Wampler, better known as Wamp. Sitting down with our group, he described his thought process, his philosophy and some great beer stories. Very engaging and likable, it's easy to see why Fayetteville has rallied around his bar and helped maintain it through ups and downs. Most likely the best atmosphere of the bunch, and that is saying something. It was a great starting point for our weekend's journey.
*PROTIP: Best corner bar atmosphere. Proper 1420 is a nice twist on an English Mild
Our second stop on the first night was Apple Blossom Brewing Company, who I wrote about not long ago. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay long as I had a previous commitment with the wife and oldest two daughters. There are some things more important than craftbeer folks: prioritize! I made the most of my time by grabbing a newer offering, their Gose, while chatting with brewmaster/co-owner Nathan Traw. I was able to grab a quick word with Ching Mong, one of the owners and my interviewee not long ago as well. The Gose was light and refreshing, more salty than sour, but very nice. Sadly, I missed the brewer dinner and tour, which I heard from several other attendees was brilliant. Dang.
*PROTIP: Under a year old and full service with lots of promise. The Soulless Ginger is unique and tasty
I'll skip the extra-curricular activities from the evening after I rejoined on Dickson Street and move right along to Saturday...another time, another post perhaps...
Saturday morning after a stroll in a soft, misty rain through the Fayetteville Farmer's Market on the square, we convened for lunch at West Mountain Brewing Company for some pizzas, beer and Q&A with brewmaster Will Gallaspy. They had five of their own offerings on, the Black IPA on nitro chief amongst them in my opinion. As a surprise treat, Will brought out some of his homebrew, a lambic from 2012. Very nice, and a good showcase of his talents. Buoyed with pizza and beer, we ventured on
*PROTIP: Location on Fayetteville's Square provides access to pre or post beer and meal activities. The Black IPA on nitro was the winner
Next up, set apart from the others for many reasons, but most of all distance, we hit Saddlebock Brewing Company. Just 15 minutes off of Highway 71 Business, it's not a long way off, but you are in a different world. On the banks of the White River, the vision of Steve Rehbeck--Chicago transplant, Brewmaster, owner--is green and sustainable. He gave us the tour of his gravity fed process, starting on the top of three floors in his barn designed brewery. The largest in scope with 20 beers being produced, he distributes pressure capped growlers and 22 ounce bombers throughout Arkansas. Very engaging and driven, you can feel his passion when he talks about the brews, from the hard work to the future of his business, including his plans for a B&B across the street. Stay tuned for big ideas from Saddlebock
*PROTIP: The scenery and location are unparalleled by the region's breweries. Go with the refreshing Helles Lager
Onward we traveled, towards Core Brewing Company. Located in Springdale, Arkansas, Core has the the edge so far in distribution and in operation. Unfortunately, Brewmaster Jesse Core had a previous engagement on this day. Luckily there was plenty of beer to comfort us, so we each grabbed a pint and began the tour of the impressive facility. Starting from the system--which Jesse wrote the code for himself--to the on-site chemistry lab, to the fledgling distillery, and the new-ish canning line which is helping with distribution production, you can tell this is a well conceived notion. They'll soon be expanding to other states as well as Mexico and will also be opening a brewpub in Rogers in the coming weeks. 
*PROTIP: Strong vision, distribution edge, and plenty of money backing. Go with Black Lightning Black IPA
Second to last, we hit the newest and northern-most kid on the block, Ozark Beer Company. Brewmaster Andy Coates wasn't in, but Lacie Bray gave us the lowdown on their concept and the background. Andy has previously worked at Great Divide and Goose Island, pre--ABInBev--so the chops are there, and the beer proves it. Having previously also worked at West Mountain, Andy & Lacie came back due to Arkansas pushing new liquor and beer laws through that are favorable to brewers. They've just begun canning, much to the delight of all in the northwest Arkansas region. They're only producing five beers, but they are all SPOT ON. Going with mostly low ABV session beers, they are really living the "Hard Work, Honest Beer" motto they advertise.
*PROTIP: Choose anything: you seriously cannot go wrong.
And finally, our motley crew found our way to Fossil Cove Brewing Co, thanks to our driver, obviously. Greeted immediately by dinosaur bike racks, dogs and a food truck before we even see a menu, this place screams "local." With Wednesday quiz nights and Friday "Randall Nights"  Brewmaster Ben Mills is capitalizing on proximity to the university, the highway, and Northern Fayetteville shopping traffic. The small brewery, maxed out already, is looking for expansion alternatives as demand continues to grow. Excellent food trucks such as Tyler's House BBQ service the customers needs for food and games, outdoor seating, and TVs keep the patrons around.
*PROTIP: Try the small batch SMASH beers
And thus ends the adventures of our merry band of beer bloggers. At least all that is fit to print. Massive thanks again to the Fayettevile Visitors Bureau, Jessica Leonard (our intrepid leader from the Bureau), all of the breweries, the brewers, their staff and of course all the other participants. 


As promised, there may be a gap-filling, behind-the-scenes blog at some later date...I'll be seeking permission from those involved in all the beer shenanigans.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

35, Part 1

I have to say, birthday 35 was pretty great. A near two week vacation to Brussels and England. The former for beer and relaxing, the latter to reunite with friends and attend the wedding of our friends, the pub landlord from our village when we lived in England. And we had beer there too. I mean, c'mon.

Brussels has long been on my bucket list for a beer-cation. When it first made the list, it was because I was into dubbels, tripels, and quads. Mainly due to their strength, my craftbeer infancy, and my wallet appreciated the bang for the buck. The last couple years, Brussels has meant one thing: Cantillon. Sure, I was happy to partake of all the other lambics, and other styles, but, if I'm being honest (and I am) it was always Cantillon.
Mrs Butler and myself enjoyed walking around, taking in the sights, seeing the Grand Place, going to the war museum, EATING. We enjoyed our B&B, the company of our friend who came up from Germany, and making new friends thanks to the craftbeer world & social media. All those things hinged on the beer, the bars, the culture of beer. Well, at least for me.
Moeder Lambic was a great experience. Matter of fact, we went three separate times. How can you not? They have Cantillon on cask, a host of world greats, including largest US selection, and they let me walk their cellar. Orval fresh as SIX days, old as eight months. Comparing them side by side was a real treat, and I kind of fell in love with it all over again. Rare and vintage beers, including 2002 Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek....only 180€. I passed. The staff was great, and by night two, we felt like regulars. Really a must for anybody visiting Brussels who has interest in beer.
Delirium Cafe was ok. Much hyped due to the largest beer selection in the world, but overcrowded for the same reason. Three floors of fun, we enjoyed the top floor, where we could hear ourselves think. Enjoyed several Mikkeller Spontan series variants here--the Gooseberry, Cranberry, and Framboos. Was nice to see my local regional gems Prairie available too. A definite place to stop in, but not my cup of tea. Also, unfortunately, to get there, you must walk past a thousand maĆ®tre d's all aggressively clamoring for your business. 
We visited two hidden gems beside one another, though their names escape me. Found through an Instagram friend, one was a hub for the great thinkers, artists, and writers of the early 20th century. Remnants of their time spent drinking plastered on the walls in the form of scratched notes, pencil drawings, IOUs and correspondence. A pleasant place if you can find it, but beware the steep spiral staircase--use the rope!
Next door was a bunker from WWII, a series of underground rooms. Very cool atmosphere: dark, smoke darkened walls, good beer selection and picnic table community seating. Interesting place, definitely not touristy in any way.
That brings us to Cantillon. First, everyone who says it's in a rough neighborhood, doesn't know the differ difference between rough and poor. Second, if you're in Brussels and skip it, you are missing out on not just world class beer, but history. My wife and I were joined by our friend Neil who is stationed in Germany, and an Instagram friend, Andreas, an American photographer living in Brussels. Lucky for us, Andreas speaks multiple languages, is a member of the Cantillon Museum, and gave us a better tour than we could've given ourselves. For 7€ you get a pamphlet that guides you along a self tour through the various rooms of the 100+ year old brewery. Mash tuns, open fermentation tank, barrel room after barrel room greeted us as we moved throughout the old wooden building. Wood being an important distinction, because that is where the wild yeasts that gives lambics their delicious tartness live. Sticky floors from rupturing casks, spider webs in every corner, and the gleam of the one piece copper coolship are memories I'll have forever.
Upon finishing the tour, you get two taster glasses of some of the Cantillon basics. After that, you're welcome to sit and order on premises bottles that are a bit more rare. I say a bit, most US beer nerds would lose their minds and half their I did. Of course, I brought a small haul home too. How could I not? We had a Zwanze 2012 and 2013 and a 50°n-4°E between the four of us, over three and a half hours. Sitting there, talking beer, life, with a couple other beer friends, in that place was the check mark on the bucket list. Such a great time. 
Funny thing too, Mrs Butler, who has never appreciated beer, decided at Cantillon that she does like sours. Go figure, when she decides to do something, she does it big. Not only does she like a rarer style, she likes the best, and hardest to acquire. Not to mention the inevitable price tag. Oh well, we knew she had good taste, she landed me...
I'll write about the England side of the trip next time, more memories made with good friends over good beer. A continuation of one of the best two weeks of my life. 


Friday, May 2, 2014

Apple Blossom: A Budding Brewery

One of the newer players in the Northwest Arkansas craftbeer market is Apple Blossom Brewing Company. Just 9 months removed from their August 21, 2013 opening, they've set themselves apart from the rest of the newer breweries by being a full service restaurant as well. A risky move, but they're succeeding on both fronts. 

On this particular gorgeous Spring day in Northwest Arkansas, I've been afforded the opportunity to sit down and pick the brain of Ching Mong, one of the managing partners, about their beer, their philosophy, what's coming up, and the overall craftbeer scene in the region. Oh, and of course try some of brewer Nathan Traw's new offerings, starting with Unwind Wheat. This is no ordinary wheat, it's not straw colored, it's a rich mahogany. With crazy aromas and flavors, and a zesty citrus finish, it lines up perfectly with their commercial description:

         "We used Chamomile as a substitute for bitter orange peel and more balanced fermentation profile than other commercial varieties. We added Chamomile in two different stages of the process, using both hot and cold sides of the facility. Over 6 lbs of chamomile, 4 lbs of coriander, & 1 lb each of lavender and lemongrass went into this beer. We roasted the coriander prior to using it to bring out the oils for easier extraction. This gives it a big orange citrus flavor, with a hint of lavender and lemongrass in the aroma. A very delicate beer that intensifies in flavor as it warms. Pairs well with just about anything."

With this delicious beer in front of me, and Ching on the other side of their massive bar--hand crafted in Ireland no less--I get ready to ask my questions. Conversation flows, and it's less interview, more regular bar chat. Although an owner, he is very hands on and even more charismatic. We start by talking size of the operation, and he explains to me that though they have six fermentation tanks currently, they are in the process of ordering three more and nearly doubling output. They already keep twelve of their own hand crafted beers flowing, and plans have them adding another copper drop down and adding four to six more lines in. He quickly mentions they have plans to add guest beers to the their line up, which drives me right to the next question:
Do you think the amount of local craft breweries is good for business--rising tide lifts all boats--or has the competition been a struggle?
Well, apparently, there is no bad blood between any of the guys on the local scene, and furthermore, Ching adds, "the competition is pushing them all to be better." They even have tentative plans to do a collaboration brew with Tanglewood Branch Beer Co from the south side of Fayettevile. No ideas yet, as they are still brainstorming, but it is good to see some friendly competition and camaraderie amongst the brewers.
The only real problems, he notes when pressed, is "simply keeping up with demand." Which is why I suppose they are looking for those extra tanks. That leads me to ask if they have plans to move into full distribution from doing it themselves. They are hoping to be bottling or canning "within a year or so" and there is a handshake agreement with Glidewell to start moving their product into restaurants very soon. The impending assistance with distribution is likely the next step that will allow some of the owners to be less 'hands-on' and focus more on the steps for future growth. 
What's nice to hear as well, is that the entire original team is still there, with Nathan overseeing every brew. With his background working at Mother's in Missouri and Red Lodge Ales in Montana, he has a strong pedigree. Ching even says that soon, with expansion, they'll be having to hire an assistant brewer to help keep up with demand.
This brings me to order another beer, as my appetizers have now arrived--beer cheese dip served with homemade chips and  Fayette-Weiss fries. Each are made with the house flagship beer, Fayetteweiss, a "gateway beer for non-craft folks" made in a lager style, but clean and pure with no fillers. Both are delicious and I choose a Belgian IPA to accompany,the Wild Boar. It's toasty and nutty with mild European hops, and that classic Trappist finish.
The food is excellent, and it is evident that it's perfect to accompany the beers they offer, as is the case with most of their plates. In speaking with Ching, I get a serious sense from him that they have a real plan. I mention this to him and he notes his other restaurant ventures, and how he has learned from mistakes and incorporated ideas to help further ventures. Over reaching too soon is far and wide known to be the cause of bar/restaurant failures, and here, at Apple Blossom, he notes "we have a plan, to build a base before taking the next step."  These are things this customer likes to hear, especially with lofty bar dreams of my own someday. 
It seems that with such a beautiful facility, quality food and beer, and a management/ownership with a vision, Apple Blossom is not only a player in the ever burgeoning craftbeer scene, they are a leader. The risk of adding full service has set them apart, and has paid off. I think that not only will Apple Blossom  Brewing Company be around for years to come, they will be paving the way and setting the tone for future ventures.