We’re just one day away from the beer-lovers’ highlight of the year: the Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival! This year’s event celebrates malted barley and hops with 50 brewers pouring over 250 brews — and if you’ve read our brewery preview, you know that there are some really great folks coming to Argenta to promote their fire water.
Our goal for this piece was to pick our top ten brews to be on the lookout for at the festival, and it wasn’t an easy task. If your favorite beer missed our list, be sure to tell everyone about it down in the comments — this is by no means a complete list of things to try.
*Ommegang Three Philosophers: Sometimes we get so wrapped up in all the new releases that we forget to visit my favorites as often as we’d like to, such as Ommegang Three Philosophers. A big 9.7% ABV Quadrupel that’s a unique blend of a Belgian-style dark ale and Liefmans Kriek, it’s a complex beer loaded with dark fruity notes like raisins, along with roasted malt, molasses and brown sugar. Made for sipping, perfect for sampling.
*Bayou Teche Bierre Noire: If you haven’t tried anything from Bayou Teche yet, a great place to start is with one my favorites of theirs, Bierre Noir. It’s a really easy-drinking Schwarzbier brewed with Munich, Caramel & Black malts and Mt. Hood hops. The nose is pleasently roasty and the flavor has nice notes of bitterness and a dry, French roasted coffee taste. It’s great for cooling the palate while eating some spicy foods as it’s got a really smooth, clean finish.
*Goose Island Bourbon County Stout: Every year about this time we start to get excited for Goose Island to release some of their Bourbon County Stout line, and this year at the festival there will be 3 of them: regular, coffee and barleywine. It’s tasty and dark as a black hole, with a thick foam head, plenty of charred chocolate notes and a boozy finish. Our favorite is the Bourbon County Coffee as we are huge fans of coffee beers, but we’re even more excited to get to try the Bourbon County Barleywine, which we’ve yet to sip. Be gentle, they all clock in over 12% ABV.
*Rebel Kettle Liquor & Peaches: We were lucky enough to get to sample Rebel Kettle Liquor & Peaches last weekend, a 10% bourbon and peach imperial porter, and we can’t wait to try a bit more of it. The high alcohol content is well hidden in the thick flavor, which is a very nice balance between vanilla and oak notes with mild peach and hints of bourbon. Get to this one quick as we predict it won’t last long.
*Summit Herkulean Woods: This one will only be around for a short while and we haven’t gotten to try it yet, but Summit Herkulean Woods sounds like something we’re going to really like. Clocking in at 77 IBUs with Herkules & Northern Brewer hops, California Common Lager yeast and spruce tips & maple syrup added to the kettle. We’re expecting piney, spicey notes from the spruce tips, which were originally used in Scandinavia to flavor beer in the absence of hops. Also, they’re also a good source of Vitamin C and were used by Native Americans to ward off scurvy, meaning we will not only be happier, but healthier after a few of these.
*Core Behemoth Pilsner: Northwest Arkansas has become a hot spot for craft brews, and Core is putting out some of the best. Fans of lighter, crisp beers will find a lot to love about the Behemoth, which provides a lovely head of foam that gives way to a smooth-drinking, dry-finishing brew that has became one of our favorite hot day beers over the past summer. If the hop-heavy brews so popular now don’t appeal to you, give the Behemoth a try — it’s got loads of flavor without being bitter.
*Moody Brews Half Seas Over: Gypsy brewed in Oklahoma by Josiah Moody, this Imperial IPA was selling out almost as soon as it hit shelves. Hoppy without being bitter, sweet without being cloying, it’s one of the most perfect IPAs we’ve tried, and despite carrying the “Imperial” label, it clocks in at a manageable 8.5% ABV. This is an IPA that even non-IPA lovers can enjoy, but don’t think that means that it wimps out in terms of flavor and complexity — it’s just a well-crafted beer, and one that continues to do Arkansas proud.
*Praire Standard: Crisp, tangy, and with a great malty finish, the Prairie Standard has it all. Not as funky as some other saisons, this beer still carries with it some sharpness of wild yeast along with notes of citrus, making it a great brew to spend some time with. It’s a very well-rounded beer, and it’s dangerously quaffable. Prairie calls this their “everyday” beer, and we certainly wouldn’t mind having some every single day.
*Breckenridge Vanilla Porter: While words like “vanilla” usually mean “avoid,” that’s not true with this rich, creamy porter from Colorado. The dark, malty flavor of the beer is well-matched by the subtle vanilla flavor, making this a great beer to pair with barbecue — something that makes sense given the origin of the brewery. This isn’t a challenging beer, but it’s something that provides a nice, sweet change of pace to try — not to mention that this is a dark beer that serves as a wonderful gateway to folks who aren’t familiar with them.
*North Coast Le Merle: La Merle pours a cloudy dark gold with a nice fizzy head. The aroma is a thin floral sourness with just a hint of yeast and malt. The taste is incredible, a nice mix of banana and citrus, reminiscent of a good wheat beer but with a slight cherry tartness that marks it as a good farmhouse ale. The flavor is sweet, sour, and slightly bitter all at once with no strong hop aftertaste at all, there’s no overbearing flavor of alcohol to get in the way. It’s another great saison to try, and another great beer from North Coast.
Well, there’s our tip-of-the-iceberg preview of things we love, things we want to try, and things we hope you’ll try. We look forward to seeing all of you tomorrow night!