Arkansas is not a state that jumps to mind when you think of outstanding craft beer, but it should be. There’s been an explosion of brewers in the Natural State, and several Arkansas breweries are winning awards and accolades for their beers and ciders.
On a beer road trip through the state, you’ll find a core of Arkansas breweries clustered in the Little Rock metro area and another in the northwestern corner of the state in cities like Fort Smith, Rogers, Springdale, and Fayetteville. Plus, there are a few breweries here and there throughout the state in places you may have heard of (Hot Springs) and places you almost certainly haven’t (Big Flat). Arkansas breweries are a mix of larger production breweries and smaller breweries that only sell on-site, but you’ll find good beer at all of them.
If you’re from Arkansas and haven’t had a chance to check these places out yet, or if you’re driving through the United States on I-40 and need a good rest stop, we’ve got six Central Arkansas breweries that you really should know.
Vino’s was a microbrewery before microbreweries were cool. Little Rock’s first brewpub, located at 7th and Chester in downtown Little Rock, has been brewing their own beer since 1993, well before craft beer became an American powerhouse and certainly long before Arkansas joined the craft brew party. Vino’s is a local favorite; everyone from politicians to musicians crosses paths at this joint, and the all-ages music venue in the back has seen everything from poetry slams to Green Day on stage.
Like the restaurant itself, the beer here isn’t flashy. You won’t find blood orange anything or giant 10 percent ABV brews. But that doesn’t mean the beer isn’t interesting, because it is. Staying true to their punk roots, Vino’s does their own thing, regardless of what the latest fad is. Grab a slice of pizza (the crispy, thin crust is outstanding) and a glass of Six Bridges cream ale, Firehouse pale ale, Pinnacle IPA, or one of their seasonal offerings like the Pulaski Pilsner, then sit and people watch.
Diamond Bear Brewing Company
Next to Vino’s, Diamond Bear is the granddaddy of Arkansas breweries. The production brewery was founded in 2000 and it’s success helped kick-start interest in Arkansas breweries. The name honors Arkansas by way of the state’s nicknames. Known first as “Bear State,” that changed when diamonds were discovered in Arkansas in 1905.
Diamond Bear’s beer has won national and international awards, including at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup, and while most Arkansas craft beer is distributed locally, Diamond Bear has grown to cover several surrounding states. Which is good, because everyone should be familiar with Pig Trail Porter (named after the nickname for Highway 23, which carries Razorback fans to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville) and Presidential IPA (which was introduced to honor the opening of the Clinton Presidential Library).
Grab a beer-centric meal at the Arkansas Ale House located at the brewery in North Little Rock, which is family friendly and dog friendly.
Lost Forty Brewing
Lost Forty opened in Little Rock in December 2014 and sold more than a million cans of beer in their first year of operation. Since then, they’ve continued to expand and innovate, creating a wide range of tasty Arkansas beers. Of course there are IPAs, but there’s also the popular Love Honey Bock brewed with Arkansas honey and a couple of sour beers like the Raspberry Lime Gose.
Their Easy Tiger Mexican lager won the Silver medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival competition and it’s easy to taste why. The beer is smooth with a toasty malt and citrus hint that makes it easy to drink. And if you’re into cider more than beer, Lost Forty has you covered there, too. Their Wild Cider is dry, tart, and funky, all in the best way possible.
The tasting room is all wood and industrial string lights, but it’s roomy and comfortable. The brewery throws a Festival of Darkness every October where they invite other local breweries to bring their dark beers (hence the name) for a big party in the Lost Forty’s giant parking lot. It’s where they roll out their own Nighty Night, an imperial stout aged in three different barrels and mixed together for a chocolate cherry tasting beer.
Flyway Brewing Company
I promise I’ll get to the beer at this North Little Rock brewery, because it’s really good, but first I have to tell you about the other beverage they brew onsite. Flyway makes their own root beer and it’s good enough to warrant a trip all on its own, especially if you’re into root beer floats since they also sell ice cream in the tasting room. Spicy but well balanced, it’s also nonalcoholic, so it’s a perfect beverage for your designated driver or once you’ve had enough beer.
Flyway offers around nine beers (plus the root beer) on tap at any given time and you’ll find some solid standards and some interesting unique brews on the list. The Free Range Brown Ale and Shadow Hands Stout fall into the first category: Both are the best versions of those classic beers. On the unique side there’s Red Velvet Ale, an imperial red ale that tastes true to its name. (Pro tip: If you enjoy baking Guinness cake, try this beer instead of the regular stout.) And if you like a little fruit with your beer, the Bluewing Berry Wheat is an American wheat beer brewed with blueberries. You taste citrus with the blueberries and the result is refreshing instead of overpoweringly fruity.
The tasting room is low-key with plenty of tables and seats, and Flyway offers fun events like game nights.
Stone’s Throw Brewing
This urban brewery in the heart of Little Rock’s historic MacArthur Park is a gem. Founded by four guys who were members of the same home brew club, Stone’s Throw has around 14 beers and ciders on tap at any given time, with rotating seasonal and limited releases and beers available year round. There’s a good variety of beers, many of which use Arkansas ingredients like the Heritage Pecan Brown and Golden Grain Arkansas Rice Ale.
Try the Common Sense, an excellent take on the California common steam beer, and the Shamus Stout has a lovely hint of coffee that makes it an easy-drinking stout. It’s also fun to go though the names of beers like Papa Geyer’s Imperial Pilsner and Caddo Kolsch and figure out how they fit into Arkansas history and geography.
The tap room feels like it’s on the small side, but small in a way that encourages you to get to know the people sitting next to you at a party instead of overcrowded small. The folks behind the counter are attentive, happy to play hosts at that party, too.
Blue Canoe Brewing Co.
Many breweries locate their production facilities in the industrial part of town since that’s where they can get lots of warehouse space. Adding a tasting room generally means you get that same industrial feel in a design that might as well be known officially as “hipster craft brewery.” The Blue Canoe warehouse, one of the brewery’s two locations in Little Rock, is definitely industrial, but somehow they’ve also managed to make the giant warehouse space feel like it’s on the water somewhere far outside the city.
The feel is true to their origin story of a couple of friends that got to know each other floating down rivers and talking about beer. It’s also true to their goal of brewing good beer and providing a place where people can be social. Both locations are dog friendly and family friendly (and that goes for the founders as well; you may end up sitting next to one of the brewer’s parents at the bar). If you’re going to spend an afternoon somewhere, you can’t go wrong hanging out here.