With another fantastic Arkansas beer festival season in our rear-view mirror, I’ve been reflecting on just how great of a year it was for our beer scene. The Fayetteville Ale Trail really took off this year in the northwest corner of the state as their beer culture continues to flourish, and in Central Arkansas it’s become evident that there are a whole lot of great things to come, with a few just around the corner. As we wait on our own upcoming breweries like Rebel Kettle, Flyway, Blue Canoe and Lost 40 to throw their hats in the ring, distributors continue to scour the hop fields to add great out-of-state breweries to our market as well. This year great additions like Caldera, Founders, Summit and Mother’s Brewing have begun fighting for our shelf space and dollars, making for the most exciting year ever for our fledgling scene. Who’s next? What can distributors do to top this year? Well, I have some suggestions.
1. Stone Brewing Company: Headquartered in Escondido, Calif., it’s the 10th largest craft brewery in the United States and the maker of an incredible line-up of beers like Arrogant Bastard, Subliminally Self-Righteous Black IPA and Ruination IPA. It’s been voted by the readers of RateBeer and BeerAdvocate as the #1 “All Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth,” and you’ll get no argument from me. Stone is already available as close to us as to Memphis.
2. Firestone Walker Brewing Company: Another California brewery, this one in Paso Robles, these guys added another Great American Beer Festival medal to their already 41 medals, 2 of which are owned by their incredible Wookey Jack American-Style Black Ale. Their Pivo Pils and Union Jack IPA are just as palate pleasing, plus they’ve got a ton of great limited releases like Stickee Monkee and Velvet Merkin. They’re the 17th largest craft brewery in America and are available just down the interstate in Texas now.
3. Oskar Blues Brewery: With their original brewery in Colorado and a newly opened North Carolina location, it seems like it won’t be long until this wonderful brewery is in all the lower 48. Already the 24th largest craft brewery in America, it was one of the pioneers in putting craft beer in cans. Oskar’s Dale’s Pale Ale is one of my favorite pale ales, period, and the 8 percent abv Old Chub is a Scotch ale that was originally named HYA (for “here’s your ass”) for a good reason … it’s hard to stop drinking it. These guys are already as close as Memphis as well.
4. Dogfish Head Brewery: Based in Milton, Del., Dogfish produces 175,000 barrels of beer annually to put it 13th on the list of the largest craft breweries in the U.S. It already distributes to 31 states, including several on our borders. It’s famous for plenty of experimental or “extreme” beers made with non-standard ingredients, but I’m more interested in Dogfish’s line-up of world-class India Pale Ales (IPAs), which are offered in three varieties: 60 Minute, 90 Minute and 120 Minute IPA.
5. Bell’s Brewery: Based in Kalamazoo, Mich., Bell’s is proving, along with Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, that Michigan is a powerhouse in the craft beer industry. Bell’s solid line-up includes one of my favorite beers, Two Hearted Ale, which the American Homebrewers Association rated as the second-best beer in the United States in 2011. Their fantastic Expedition Stout also won a gold at the GABF as recently as 2011, and there are plenty more good beers coming out of their brewery besides these two.
6. Sixpoint Brewery: One of the hottest up-and-comers on this list, Brooklyn’s Sixpoint has until recently been mainly distributed throughout the Northeast, but the brewery has spread its wings a bit recently and jumped all the way up to 43rd largest craft brewery in America this past year. Sixpoint just began canning their beer in June 2011, releasing four varieties: Sweet Action, Righteous Ale, Bengali Tiger and The Crisp. All are wonderfully rewarding beers.
So there are my six-pack of breweries I hope land here someday, but it would only take seconds to come up with a second tier, including breweries like Victory, Southern Tier, Sweetwater and Ballast Point. There are a lot of great breweries available in Arkansas now, more than ever before, but I can’t help but be a bit greedy and want even more.