The Year in Beer: Brewing scene gathers serious momentum

Jeff Baldwin (left) and Andy Coates of Ozark Beer Company, pour samples during the first ever Arkansas Stout Brewing Championship held in March on the downtown Fayetteville’s square. The event was part of the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day on the Hill festivities.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

I wasn’t going to write a year-end beer story. Then I started to think about all the beer-related stuff that happened in Northwest Arkansas this year. The brewing scene gathered some serious momentum in 2014.

Here’s a month-by-month breakdown of what went down:


Tanglewood Branch Beer Company announced it successfully met its crowdfunding goal of $21,000 and would live to brew another day. The campaign was created to help the brewery pay off existing debt and purchase bigger brewing equipment.


New out-of-state beer brands started arriving on retail shelves and taps. Summit (St. Paul, MN) and Founders (Grand Rapids, MI) were the two biggest names to enter Northwest Arkansas early in the year.


St. Patrick’s Day on the Hill turned a section of the downtown square into a beer garden. A brewing competition was also held, with Saddlebock winning the professional award for its basic stout, and homebrewer Jeff Harrison taking home the amateur prize for his whisky barrel-aged oatmeal stout.

A couple of weeks later the first ever Ales & Tails crawfish festival was held at the Fayetteville Town Center.


The Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds reached its legal drinking age. Twenty-one years ago Dr. John Griffiths founded this local group of homebrewers (and non-brewing beer lovers). FLOPS currently meets on the third Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at Apple Blossom Brewing Company in Fayetteville.


Fayetteville Foam Fest made its return to downtown Fayetteville, this year in a much bigger space. Local brewers and distributors were pouring some great beer and there was plenty of elbow room in the Walton Arts Center parking lot.

Tapping the Ozarks – a student-produced documentary about Fayetteville’s brewing culture – made its debut. A release party was held at Fossil Cove, where the film was well received by locals.

The youth movement continued with news that another brewery would soon open on North Street. Columbus House, a nano-style operation led by two recent University of Arkansas grads, still had some work to do but was making good progress.


The Fayetteville Visitor Center hosted a meet-up for area beer writers. They took a trip down the Fayetteville Ale Trail and blogged about their experiences when they returned to their homes in Dallas, Tulsa, and Little Rock (a few NWA writers were there as well). It proved to be great publicity for the area’s booming brewing industry.


The first day of the month was a special day for Arkansas beer drinkers. Thanks to a new rule introduced by the Alcohol Beverage Control Division, the state’s beer retailers were officially allowed to sell growlers-to-go. The Road Runner convenience store at the corner of College Avenue and Lafayette was among the first to install a filling station.

And as further indication that beer is good for area tourism, Hogshead Tours started loading brewery-bound passengers on July 26. A $70 ticket comes complete with pickup/drop-off service (for Fayetteville addresses), transportation to three area breweries, a flight of beer at each brewery, and a behind-the-scenes brewery tour (when available).


New businesses with a focus on beer began popping up in Fayetteville. Wood Stone Craft Pizza opened on the south side of town, offering a curated selection of regional craft beer. And renovations to the former Nightbird Books building on Dickson Street began. Puritan Brew Company, a beer and coffee bar, opened in the space later in the year.


It was a busy month!

Core opened its new taproom in the Pinnacle Hills area of Rogers. Headman Jesse Core said to watch for more taprooms in other Northwest Arkansas communities soon.

West Mountain Brewing hired Texas native Ryan Pickop to replace former brewer Will Gallaspy. Pickop previously worked for a whisky distillery in Waco and plays a mean guitar.

J.T. Wampler, owner and brewmaster of the now-closed Tanglewood Branch Beer Company, pours a glass of his East Kent Goldings IPA in May 2012.

Staff photo

Ozark Beer Company installed three new 30-barrel fermenters and a new bright tank in September to double its brewing capacity. The brewery’s American Pale Ale – available in iconic cans designed by local design firm BLKBOXLabs – became one of the most talked about beers produced in Northwest Arkansas.

The Fayetteville Ale Trail celebrated its one-year anniversary with a series of events at local breweries.

And on a more somber note, Tanglewood Branch closed its doors for good due to lease-related issues. The brewery helped jumpstart the modern era in local brewing when it opened in September 2011 and began producing its own beer in May 2012.


The Great American Beer Festival took place in Denver, Colorado; and several area brewers trekked west with their beer in tow. Apple Blossom, Core, and Saddlebock represented Northwest Arkansas while pouring samples for thousands of thirsty beer lovers.

In a surprising turn of events, Apple Blossom brewer Nathan Traw announced his departure from the brewpub shortly after returning from GABF. He quickly transitioned into the role of brewing director at Core – the state’s largest brewery.


Benton County doubled the number of breweries operating within its borders with the opening of Bike Rack Brewing Company in downtown Bentonville (the other being Ozark in Rogers). Walmart’s hometown was a hotbed of beer activity in 2014, with the emergence of Bike Rack, Pedaler’s Pub, Pressroom, Tusk & Trotter, and other beer-centric businesses.


Brews & Brats took place at the Fayetteville Town Center, proving there is year-round interest in beer festivals in Northwest Arkansas.

2014 was a special year for the Northwest Arkansas beer community. Brewing proved to be a legitimate industry for those producing beer, as it did for those catering to the peripheral needs of area beer drinkers.

Some have compared Northwest Arkansas’ beer scene to bigger and longer-established cities like Austin, TX and Asheville, NC. If the momentum that was created this year carries into 2015, people will eventually compare future up-and-coming beer towns to Fayetteville.

Cheers, and Happy New Year!

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