With memories still fresh of a season that saw the Arkansas Razorbacks make their first appearance in a BCS game, excitement is high all around the state for the 2011 college football season. With the first weekend of games in the record books (and the Razorbacks sitting at an expected 1-0), we thought we’d talk about a subject that’s just as important as wins and losses, top 25 standings, and team stats: the sort of beer you’re drinking while you watch the game. And because we’re big fans of our local Arkansas brewers, we’ve got some recommendations for you that will help support local business – because if you’re going to cheer for the local team, you might as well do it while drinking the local beer. Drinking local beer is a good way to get around state prohibition laws that keep liquor stores closed on Sundays, too: you can get a growler (1/2 gallon) of beer fresh from the keg at any of our three local brewers (Vino’s Pizzeria and Brew Pub, Diamond Bear, and Bosco’s) on Sunday, and you can even get packaged bottles of beer on Sundays from Diamond Bear. Besides, why show up to watch the game with your usual 12-pack of crappy American lager? Everybody loves fresh beer, so put a little effort into it and get something that’s tasty and as unique to Arkansas as calling the Hogs.
We’ve talked about Diamond Bear Brewing before, and they’ve got a beer to please any taste. My two favorite varieties are their award-winning English Pale Ale, a full-bodied, hoppy brew with just enough malt richness on the back end to give a nice, round flavor profile, and the Presidential IPA, which has a nice balance between the astringent flavor that overpowers too many IPAs and a more subtle sweetness. Fans of darker beers won’t be disappointed by Diamond Bear’s Paradise Porter, a chocolatey brew with a smooth finish, and the guys who crave something more like Bud or Coors Light will enjoy Diamond Bear’s Southern Blonde, a light, crisp lager with just enough hops flavor to assert itself, but smooth and easy-drinking enough to compliment any game day food and appeal to those who don’t like beers that are overly bitter or floral. It’s a well-rounded stable of beers that Diamond Bear fields, and Russ Melton and crew have really been impressive in their attempt to bring quality craft beer to Little Rock.
Of course, if you want to bring along some food with your local beer, there’s no better place to do it than Vino’s Pizzeria and Brew Pub. Vino’s is very near and dear to Jess and me, from all the music we’ve listened to over the years out back to the afternoons we’ve spent over pints and pizza, talking and enjoying the atmosphere. I’ll admit that Vino’s beer has swung back and forth over the years between good, mediocre, and great, but it beats another can of Busch any day. Dark beer lovers will love Vino’s for their Lazy Boy and Oatmeal Stouts, not to mention a wonderful Scotch Ale that they have on tap from time to time. Wheat beer fans can enjoy the Rainbow Wheat, an unfiltered wheat beer with a full flavor that’s just sweet enough without being cloying. The Firehouse Pale Ale is perfect for anyone who likes a good, solid full-flavored amber beer, and the Six Bridges Cream Ale is a wonderful light beer with a smooth, slightly creamy mouth feel. And although this post is about beer, we have to mention that Vino’s has (in our opinion) the best pizza and calzones in town. They’re usually showing the game, too, so if you need to take your watch party on the road, you could do worse than heading to 7th and Chester.
There’s a bit of argument about whether our last local brewer should be considered local or not. After all, Bosco’s Restaurant and Brewing Company is a miniature chain of restaurants that originated in Tennessee – but when we found out that Bosco’s in the River Market had brewed up a beer just for the Arkansas Travelers baseball team, we decided that was good enough for us. The Hook Slide Ale is brewed to be a ballgame beer, and I loved its bright, crisp flavor from the first swallow. This is the beer to bring your brother-in-law who refuses to touch anything but Miller Lite – the flavor is subtle but far more flavorful than a typical mass produced pilsner. Bosco’s Famous Flaming Stone Beer is a good beer with a slight caramel flavor, and I’ve always found their Oatmeal Stout and Isle of Skye Scottish Ale to be good representatives of the style. Bosco’s has samples available for $1.00 per 3 oz. glass, so it shouldn’t be hard (or expensive) to decide on which brew is perfect for your crew.
While Arkansas isn’t known for being a hotbed of craft brewing and local beer, there are still some great options for getting your game-day brew and keeping the money in the community. Do what we did – put your deposit down for a growler from each of these places so it’s just a quick trip for a refill any time you need good beer. And try this, the next time you’re headed out to watch the big game with friends: show up with a growler or two of beer fresh from the keg and see how much more popular you are than if you’d showed up with the same old cans of your normal brew. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Enjoy – and Woo Pig Sooiee!