Brewery News: Festivals, expansions, and the loss of a local pioneer

It was a bittersweet news cycle in the local beer community this week. There are several reasons to celebrate, but one glaring reason for sadness and reflection. First the good news…

Headed west to GABF

Representatives from Apple Blossom Brewing Company gather at their booth during the 2014 Great American Beer Festival.


The Great American Beer Festival kicked off yesterday in Denver, and a few Northwest Arkansas brewers are there. I’ve never been to the festival, but by all accounts it’s beer nirvana. Breweries from all across the United States bring their best beers to share with festivalgoers. They also compete for medals in 84 categories.

Apple Blossom is there with Armstrong American Pale Ale, Hazy Morning Coffee Stout, Mockingbird Black IPA, Sturdy Hippie Wild IPA, and Trouble with Tripels. Local artists created some really cool logos for these beers, which you can see on the brewery’s Facebook page.

Core took Behemoth Pilsner, ESB, Imperial Red IPA, LegHound Lager, and Raspberry Lager to the festival. Back home in Arkansas, the new pub in Rogers is now open and business appears to be brisk. Expect more growth announcements from these guys soon.

Saddlebock is also at the festival, pouring Bock, Fayettechill, Java Stout, Light of the Ozarks, and Maibock. Carolyn Rehbock, wife and business partner of brewmaster Steve Rehbock, told me they will be busy expanding the tasting room and adding a third deck to the outside seating area when they return from Colorado.

2008 was the last time an Arkansas brewery won a medal – Little Rock’s Vino’s Brew Pub for its Rock Hopera Imperial IPA. Is this the year that Northwest Arkansas brings one home?

Life is hectic at Ozark (in a good way)

Brewmaster Andy Coates adds Equinox hops to a batch of fresh hop ale at Ozark Beer Co.

Courtesy Ozark Beer Co. blog

Andy, Lacie, and Jeff from Ozark Beer Co. have been extremely busy up in Rogers. Three 30-barrel fermenters and a new bright tank were installed, effectively doubling Ozark’s brewing capacity. The company posted a cool time-lapse video of the unloading and installation process.

Ozark has also been busy creating new beers. A fresh hop ale was recently brewed, using an experimental hop known as Equinox. Look for it to arrive in the tasting room mid-October.

A collaboration with Kyya Chocolate of Elm Springs was announced. Test batches of Ozark Cream Stout are being brewed using chocolate from different regions of the world. Once they figure out the optimum recipe a larger batch will be produced for the public to enjoy.

Charred oak barrels were obtained from Heaven Hill Distillery in Kentucky and filled with Cream Stout. After several months of aging the beer should take on some of the characteristics of the wood (and the bourbon it once contained). Barrel-Aged Cream Stout will be available sometime in February.

And finally, new cans should be hitting the market soon. BLKBOXLabs, the local creative shop that brought you the outstanding design for the American Pale Ale can, has been working on concepts for the Golden Strong. Andy told me that the proof from the can supplier should arrive any day now.

Odds & ends

A crew works to unload fermenter tanks at Bike Rack Brewing Co in Bentonville in June.


Fossil Cove is still going strong. Owner and brewmaster Ben Mills recently added additional fermentation capacity, and he is looking to add staff to support growth. Back on the tap list are the Blizzle (a black IPA) and Imperial Stout. A shipment of stainless steel growlers also arrived, providing a shatterproof option for transporting Fossil Cove brews out of the tasting room.

Opening a new brewery is an arduous task, and the newest brewers on the block continue to slog their way through the process. Fayetteville’s Columbus House originally planned to open during the summer months, but the owners have encountered a few setbacks. A new target date for opening has not been determined.

Bike Rack Brewing Company in Bentonville is fully permitted and brewing test batches, but the doors aren’t open yet. New general manager Jennifer Kingston promises that beer fans will be able to taste Bike Rack beers soon.

Bentonville Brewing Company continues to work its way through the permitting process. It will likely be 2015 before you can hoist a pint of its beer.

There are a couple of notable beer events coming up.

First, an Oktoberfest celebration is planned in downtown Rogers on Saturday, Oct. 4. Seasonal beers from over 30 breweries will be available from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the purchase of a $40 ticket ($30 in advance).

A home brew and chili competition will be held at St. Raphael Catholic Church in Springdale on Oct. 18. Dubbed “Brewtober Chilifest,” the event will run from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and costs $25 to attend. Proceeds will benefit the church’s mission activities.

The brewing community’s first casualty

A sign thanks patrons during the final night of business at Tanglewood Branch Beer Co.

Courtesy / Facebook

And now to the not-so-pleasant news…

It was reported earlier this week that Tanglewood Branch Beer Co. is going out of business. The neighborhood brew pub closed its doors for the last time on Tuesday night, signaling the first casualty in the Northwest Arkansas brewing community. The news triggered a flood of responses from local beer fans – some positive in nature, and some highly critical.

Regardless of your opinion on the quality of Tanglewood’s beer, or how you feel about the pub’s ambience, there is no denying the fact that J.T. Wampler was a true beer advocate that did his best to push forward the notion of good beer in Fayetteville. It’s hard to be all things to all people, and Tanglewood never pretended to be anything it wasn’t.

Wampler and his staff were local craft beer pioneers, and should be commended for what they accomplished. Somebody had to be first, and J.T. was brave enough to inch his way onto the branch that hung so high above the unforgiving ground below. Thanks to his efforts the scene is light years ahead of where it was when Tanglewood opened its doors three years ago.

We must give credit where credit is due. So to you, J.T. Wampler and the rest of the Tanglewood crew – craft beer fans say “thank you.”

Cheers, everyone!

Brian Sorensen (@EBSorensen) is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds.