The tailgater’s guide to local craft beer

Brian Sorensen

Pads are popping on Razorback Road, which means football season isn’t far away. In a couple of weeks teams will take the field for the first time, and fans will gather in the surrounding parking lots and open fields to celebrate. In other words, it’s almost time to tailgate! (“Hit that line! Hit that line! Keep on going! Move the ball right down the field…”)

Unfortunately, most of the beer you see at tailgate parties is the fizzy yellow stuff. Miller, Coors, and Budweiser rule the day. But there’s plenty of room for craft beer, too. You just need to be choosy in your choosing. Picking the right beer for the occasion – based on the time of day and the food being served – is extremely important.

And what better way to root on the Hogs than with a beer crafted in the Ozark Mountains?

With that in mind, here’s a list of recommended tailgating beers from the breweries of Northwest Arkansas.

Early kickoffs

Games that kick off before noon are tough on beer drinkers, but the breakfast fare typically found at those early tailgates actually lends itself to wonderfully unique beer pairings. Eggs, breakfast meats, cinnamon rolls – they are all complimented nicely by rich, malty stouts.

If you like a cup of joe with your breakfast, you might consider a coffee stout. Apple Blossom Hazy Morning Coffee Stout is aged with an Arabica blend coffee from Arasaga’s, and is served on nitrogen for a smooth finish. It’s not available in bottles or cans, but a growler can be picked up at the brewery the night before the game. Your friends will be impressed when you reach into the cooler and pull out a hearty half-gallon jug of beer!

Growlers from Apple Blossom Brewing Company.


Another style to consider is oatmeal stout. Fossil Cove Oatty Stout is a wonderful example, with a touch of silky sweetness and notes of chocolate and roast from the grain. You’ll need to grab a growler from the brewery before you arrive on campus. A sweet roll and a pint of Oatty would make for a great breakfast.

Afternoon kickoffs

For afternoon games the key word is “session.” Session beers are easy drinkers that are relatively low in alcohol. What you’re looking for here is a beer that tastes good but won’t wreck your palate – and won’t leave you snoozing under a tree when game time arrives. Grilled chicken, bratwursts, and a smorgasbord of chips, dips, and other appetizers represent the pairing challenge. There are three local beers that really stand out.

Core Leg Hound Lager is a traditional Oktoberfest beer. It’s characterized by a toasty flavor, moderate bitterness, and a dry finish. This traditional German style is an obvious choice if bratwursts or sausages are being served. Leg Hound is available in cans, making transport to and from the tailgating spot much, much easier (especially in the quantities an afternoon kickoff demands).

Another local beer sold in cans is Ozark American Pale Ale. It’s the quintessential session beer, coming in at just 4.4% ABV. This pale ale is clean and smooth with just a touch of grapefruit from the hops. Pales are versatile, and Ozark’s version is no different. You can pair this one with burgers, ribs – just about anything coming off a hot grill.

Saddlebock Dirty Blonde is one more for your mid-day tailgating experience. A Kolsch-style beer, Dirty Blonde is light and crisp with a mild bready character. It’s available in 22oz. bottles and growlers, and goes with just about any food you might encounter on game day. It won’t overpower what you’re eating, but is much, much tastier than other “light” beers.

Night kickoffs

Session beers will get you to this point, but a night game begs for a beer with punch before you make the walk to the stadium. Remember, beer is not sold at the concession stands in Razorback Stadium. You have to make this one count!

West Mountain IPA is a beer that will cut through the fat and spice consumed throughout the day. It pairs nicely with charred meats, but is an awesome stand-alone beer. The resinous hops and moderate levels of alcohol will stick with you a while – at least until halftime, and possibly beyond. Grabbing a growler will allow you to have a pint or two prior to the game, and another pint or two to celebrate the Hogs’ victory (or wallow in a tough loss) when you get back to the tailgate spot.

J.T. Wampler, owner and brewmaster of Tanglewood Branch Beer Company, pours a glass of East Kent Goldings IPA.

Staff photo

Side excursion

I was tempted to suggest Tanglewood Branch Southside Porter as a good beer for the tailgate (which it is), but I think a pit stop at the pub might be the better play. J.T. Wampler does a great job of mixing up his tap list – offering a nice array of commercial beers and a few house brews that rotate on a regular basis. If you are coming from the south or southeast of campus, drop by Tanglewood Branch and grab a pint of awesome craft beer before or after the game.

Few things are as enjoyable as hanging out with your friends on a crisp autumn day in the Ozarks, waiting for our beloved Razorbacks to take the field. A sea of red – people laughing and playing games while they nosh on the comfort foods we all know and love. Don’t drop the ball on such a grand day by bringing a boring light lager like everyone else. Put a little effort into it and choose your beer wisely. Fortunately, there are tons of local options that will add a little extra flair to the day. Root on the Hogs, and by all means – drink local!

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit

Brian Sorensen
Brian is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds (FLOPS). You can follow him on Twitter at @EBSorensen.