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.