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The Ale Trail

Fayetteville Ale Trail gives thirsty travelers a taste of Arkansas.

Part of the joy of traveling to new places is taking in the local flavor. After a day of sightseeing, riding bike trails, touring historical districts, or just lazing on the lake, nothing finishes off the day like excellent food and drink, hand-crafted by artisans who put their passion into their product.


Above: Apple Blossom Brewing in Fayetteville
Arkansas Parks and Tourism

Below: An Ale Trail sampler Fayetteville CVB

ale trail

Craft beer encourages today's consumer to buy local, handcrafted products, and Arkansas has taken advantage of the trend. In all, 26 breweries operate statewide, according to Colorado-based Brewers Association, compared to less than 10 breweries four years ago. Arkansas beer makers produced almost 25,000 barrels of beer in 2015, for a total economic impact of $324 million.

Communities have seized upon the trend, with numerous beer festivals popping up on social calendars statewide. A sampling includes Fayetteville's FoamFest; Hot Springs' Craft Beer Festival; Northwest Arkansas Beer & Burger Fest in Rogers; Arktoberfest in Arkadelphia; and Little Rock's Little Rocktoberfest and Great Arkansas Beer Festival.

If you can't attend these special events, the Fayetteville Ale Trail is open year-around. The Trail, recognized by Southeast Tourism Society with the 2015 Shining Example Award for Best Niche Marketing, was launched in 2013 by the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau and includes 10 area breweries and its own passport.

The Fayetteville Ale Trail passport lays out the breweries alphabetically; the following descriptions are provided more or less sequentially. It's not a race; spread your visits out over a weekend, you can tackle these in any order.

Fayetteville fare and ales

After picking up your Ale Trail passport at the visitor's bureau (21 S. Block Ave.) in historical downtown Fayetteville, you're just across the square from West Mountain Brewing Company (21 W. Mountain St.). The epitome of a true neighborhood bar, West Mountain is a friendly spot where everyone is treated like a regular. The place grew out of Tiny Tim's Pizza next door (another gem) and provides a front row seat to all things downtown. Our bartender recommended returning in November when thousands cram the square for its annual holiday lighting. We'll take her up on that, along with a pint of their excellent stout.

Head north of downtown on College Avenue to find Columbus House (701 W. North St.) and notice immediately the variety among brewers on the Ale Trail. Where West Mountain nestles into a historical space with a lot of character, Columbus House calls an otherwise nondescript space home; you have to look sharp or you might miss it. But what it lacks in ambiance, it more than makes up for in quality brews and good conversation. It's also open later than any other brewery on the Trail. Don't miss the Belgian dubbel (a rich, malty beer) when it's in the rotation.

Another two blocks north lies Fossil Cove (1946 N. Birch Ave.), Fayetteville's first production microbrewery. This seemed to serve a more college-heavy crowd, perhaps driven home by our bartender being the same age as our son, but the attentive service was second only to the excellent and interesting beers. LaBrea Brown and Paleo Ale headline here, but there's plenty of seasonal interest on the menu – summertime visitors try the Whizzle white IPA and autumnal patrons, the Blizzle black IPA. For those who have never eaten food prepared in a converted shipping container, the Container Kitchen perches onsite and serves great sliders and tacos.

Those looking for a more refined food setting will want to round out the Fayetteville portion of the Trail at Apple Blossom Brewing Company (1550 E. Zion Road), a gorgeous space that works as hard to be a great restaurant as well as a producer of delicious beers. Longtime brewmasters and successful restaurateurs make up the ownership group for this place and it shows. Any of the pastas are terrific, as is the Cubano sandwich with a side of ridiculously good macaroni and cheese. Don't miss the spinach dip while you sample the brews. We recommend the lighter Fayetteweisse, the flagship Armstrong APA, and our personal favorite, Rover Red Ale.

Sip your way through Springdale

Springdale, Ark., features two well-established, yet distinct breweries. The first, Core Brewing Company (2470 Lowell Road), is one of the fastest-growing of the northwest Arkansas-based operations. The brewery taproom feels like a man cave on steroids, but don't let the industrial park address fool you. Since 2010 when founder Jesse Core started with a one-barrel setup, the business has grown by leaps and bounds, and now enjoys statewide distribution, as well as five company-owned pubs in Springdale, Rogers, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, and North Little Rock's Argenta District. The brews feature an eclectic mix of regular and seasonal selections, but you can't mess with perfection, and Core's Arkansas Red is just that.

Springdale's other brewery sits far away from industrial confines; in fact, getting to Saddlebock Brewery (16600 Saddlebock Lane) is half the fun and can be accomplished either by car or by the White River that runs within sight of the brewery.

Situated on 30 acres of a former horse farm, Saddlebock was tabbed a national top five destination by Yahoo travel in 2014 and one of 14 brewery tours to experience by TripAdvisor. The three-level brewery is a wonder of green engineering, utilizing gravity to move materials and featuring a true cooling cellar, thus earning "Eco Hero" status by Arkansas Green Guide magazine. In June 2016, the brewery expanded to include White River Café. Saddlebock's IPA is outstanding as is Dirty Blonde, one of the company's bestsellers.

Bentonville's brews

Bentonville is also home to two Trail breweries. Bike Rack Brewing Co. (410 S.W. A St.) sits alongside the city's extensive bike trails, and it's not unusual to see cyclists hop off their two-wheeled steeds to take some refreshment at the city's first nano-brewery. Bike Rack started when some local friends and co-workers started experimenting with brewing as a hobby and now support the brewery while working other day jobs. The sense of community from the hobby days lives on in the intimate taproom a few steps from Bentonville's historic center. If your timing is good, don't miss the chance to sample the in-season double IPA.

Bentonville Brewing Co. (1000 SE Fifth St.) also rests near the city's core in the up-and-coming Market District. The cozy space is outfitted with long, communal bar-height tables, hinting at the beer halls of Europe, but in rough-hewn materials that are strictly of the Ozarks. The brewery provides a great setting inside and on the patio for local musical and comedy and other acts; they've even hosted patrons and their pups. The brewers pride themselves on providing a range of beers to satisfy both beginners (West Fork Witbier) and experienced hopheads (Homewrecker IPA). For our money, it doesn't get any better than the "choco-velvety" Naked Porter.

Wrapping up in Rogers

Finally, the Trail takes the traveler to Rogers' two excellent breweries. The way Ozark Beer Co. (1700 First St.) approaches its business is summarized in its motto "Hard Work, Honest Beer." Visiting Ozark Beer is like visiting a friend's cabin that you drift back to after a day on nearby Beaver Lake or hiking the area foothills.

Ozark Beer doubled production capacity in 2014 and an additional 50 percent in 2015, and has grown distributorship to include much of Arkansas. Its American Pale Ale and Imperial Pale Ale are customer favorites, while the Cream Stout is unmatched for fans of a darker brew.

Last to the list is Rogers' New Province Brewing Company (1310 W. Hudson Road), which opened its sleek and stylish taproom in March 2016. Despite its newness, New Province's atmosphere and beer are impressive. Its success is helped no doubt by the exceptionally friendly and beer-wise staff.

Like all of the stops on the Trail, New Province offers beer in tasters to growlers (refillable jugs), but is the only one to offer annual membership programs.

The Philosopher IPA is already getting attention of beer bloggers; our favorite is the bright and balanced Civilian Pale Ale.

Whether you travel to this most scenic part of the state solely to ride the Trail or you combine it with the area's many natural and man-made attractions, the Fayetteville Ale Trail provides an unforgettable taste of northwest Arkansas.

Dwain Hebda is a contributor from Little Rock, Ark.

September/October 2016 Issue


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Tips for the Trail

1. Take your time. It's not difficult to fit 10 breweries into a weekend, but try to do 10 stops in one day and you're asking for trouble. Those little glasses of beer don't look imposing, but they add up, so pace yourself.

2. Eat. Not all of the stops (in fact, only a few) serve food or have an arrangement with food trucks or other beer-balancing sustenance. Make sure to plan meals into your tour to keep things on an even keel.

3. Stick to tasters and flights. The point of the tour is to sample different selections and brewing techniques, not revisit your college keg-stand days. You can order a full serving, of course, but to try multiple brews, get a collection of three-ounce tasters called a flight.

4. Talk to your server. The crew at a microbrewery is a different breed, people so passionate about the product they will move several states to work behind the bar just to be close to the brewing process. As such, they are a wellspring of knowledge about what's on tap, how it's made, and other fascinating facts at each stop.

5. Designate a driver. It should go without saying, but we'll say it anyway.

If everyone in the party is game for the Trail, arrange for a cab or limo or better still, check out the tour companies that have sprung up specifically to cater to Ale Trailers.



Wineries off the path

Beer isn't the only craft beverage being fermented in northwest Arkansas. Those who aren't as into beer might consider taking in one of the area's wineries instead. Arkansas' traditional wine region is actually farther south in the Arkansas River Valley around Altus between Russellville and Fort Smith. It was there two European settlers – Jacob Post in 1872 and Johann Wiederkehr in 1880 – established the vineyards around which the state's winemaking industry has grown. However, in recent years additional wineries have cropped up in other parts of the state, including several in the northwest corner.

One of the newest is Sassafras Springs Vineyard, Winery & Events Center, located just up the road from Saddlebock Brewery in rural Springdale, which began wine production in 2015. Visitors can enjoy a glass in the elegant tasting room or relax on one of three decks overlooking the countryside.

Just 20 minutes northwest of Fayetteville, enjoy free wine tastings at Tontitown Winery, where the Ranalli family has been producing wines since 1923 from locally-grown grapes. Sample time-tested wine recipes while you enjoy live music, or just soak in the scenery. August also brings the Tontitown Grape Festival, which has been held for more than 100 years.

Eureka Springs, situated about an hour east of Rogers, offers two wineries. The first, Keels Creek Winery, began wine production in 2006 and has grown to 2,000 cases annually from grapes of its own vineyard and those of other Arkansas growers. Also in Eureka Springs find Railway Winery & Vineyards, a small family-owned farm operation near Beaver Bridge.

–Dwain Hebda

wine row

Sassafras Springs Vineyard Winery & Events Center Sassafras Springs

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