A pint at Lost Forty Brewing in Little Rock, Ark.

Perhaps the best-known brewery in Little Rock is Lost Forty Brewing.  When talking with local people about what brewery to visit in town, the two strongest recommendations I received were to visit Lost Forty.  In addition, a recent MSN.com article ranked it the top brewery in the state people are talking about based upon a survey of information on Foursquare.  I should add that the recommendations I received about visiting Lost Forty focused on its Sunday Brunch, so my wife Katie and I adjusted our schedule to be sure that we stopped there before heading out of town.

The brewery opens at 10 a.m. for Sunday brunch, which seems quite early for brunch (and just as I posted this piece, the brewery extended its Sunday hours and now opens at 9 a.m.).  So after confirming that they were serving beer that early (I’m used to living in states where you can’t serve alcohol until after 12 p.m.), we struggled to find a parking lot because apparently the crowd gets there early on Sundays.  After walking through the packed parking lot, I was able to capture a great picture of the brewery.

Main entrance of the brewery.

Mind you, the parking lot was packed by 10:30 that morning.  So, obviously, Lost Forty is a popular place for Sunday brunch.  I was surprised to seek a full parking lot only 30 minutes after opening, but it confirmed the recommendations that I had received that Lost Forty was a great brunch spot. Walking inside you are quickly reminded that it is brunch with the following sign.

Sign welcoming people to Sunday brunch.

The brewery’s dining area is quite expansive and features communal seating, which can make it difficult finding a spot at busy times. It can also be intimidating because there is no hostess helping to sort out the flow of people. So seeing the following can be surprising.

View of the seating area.

There is also a bar with seating at the brewery.

View of the bar with additional seating.

And then there is where Katie and I ended up finding a pair of seats, which is along a bar facing into the brewing facility itself.  It is on the left side of the dining area.

View into the production line.

With the lay of the land established, it’s time to turn my attention to the beer (and food).  As much as I enjoy examining and analyzing a brewery’s space (I am a geographer, so I do look at how a space it setup), I was there that day for brunch.

I started with a cup of coffee while mulling over the beer menu.  As I debated on what beers to order as part of my flight, Katie heeded the advice of a woman nearby who recommended a brewmosa.  A brewmosa is what it might sound like: a beer with orange juice.  So really not that much different from a shandy or radler, except for the choice of orange juice instead of lemon or grapefruit.

Ultimately I opted for a few style staples that I knew I would enjoy and added one that was outside my usual realm of beer choices.  At Lost Forty, a flight consists of four beers.

A flight of beer.

In putting together my flight, I ordered the Love Honey Bock, Pale Ale, Snake Party Double IPA, and Day Drinker Belgian Blonde.  I wouldn’t usually order a double IPA when drinking a flight by myself, but the waitress assured me that Snake Party was very drinkable and not overly hoppy for the sake of being a double IPA.  Ironically, I liked Snake Party Double IPA the best.  I enjoyed all the beers, but rated Snake Party the highest when I checked in the flight using Untappd.

What really hit the spot was my brunch choice.

My brunch omelet, coffee, and flight of beer.

For my meal, I ordered a pimento cheese and bacon omelet, which comes with a side of breakfast potatoes and toast.  People familiar with Southern cuisine know that pimento cheese is a staple, and as someone who grew up in the South (although my family roots are in Pittsburgh, Pa.) I have grown to enjoy and appreciate pimento cheese.  However, I had never had it in an omelet until this particular day.  Without a doubt the pimento cheese combined with the bacon in the omelet was perhaps the best meal I could have chosen for Sunday brunch.  The breakfast potatoes were also delicious, but I keep thinking about the omelet and how magnificent it was.

I always trust recommendations from locals regarding food and drinks, and I am glad I listened to the advice about going to Lost Forty for Sunday brunch before leaving town.  Although I have not been to Lost Forty for a meal during the week, I expect the rest of the menu is as delicious as their Sunday brunch.  Whether you’re going out for Sunday brunch, a meal during the week, or just some local beers you will not be disappointed with Lost Forty Brewing.

A pint at Rebel Kettle Brewing in Little Rock, Ark.

If you combine a rock ‘n’ roll attitude and craft beer you get Rebel Kettle Brewing Company.  Or at least that’s what I feel like you get with the Rebel Kettle logo.  The brewery is a slightly different story, but it is still a place that is amped-up.  You get the amped-up feeling just walking up to the brewery as its logo is prominently displayed when entering the building.

A customer entering the brewery’s main entrance.

I neglected to take a picture of the railing right as you enter the brewery, but it prominently features the company logo of a skeleton wearing a leather jacket with a flowing head of hair and hoisting a pint of beer.  There will be more on the logo later.

Onto the taproom…

The taproom includes much more than just the bar top.

In the distance of the previous photo you can see the bar and some tables.  The area where I sat with my wife had about a half-dozen tables, and had we been willing we could have sat outside on the beer garden.  However, the July day we visited was quite warm so we opted to sit indoors and enjoy the air conditioning.  Beyond the bar area you can see the brewery’s fermentation tanks and other equipment.  I’m used to seeing the equipment when I go to a brewery, but I never get tired of the view because it reminds me that the beer on draft does not have to get shipped to its sale location like macrobrews.

By far the most unique thing I saw at the brewery was a quote from the 14th Dalai Lama.  That’s not something I think most people would expect to find in a brewery, except maybe if you were in a country where Buddhism is the dominant religion.

A quote that applies to life, but also brewing beer.

The quote from the Dalai Lama is quite interesting.  I didn’t get the chance to talk with anybody at the brewery about its significance, but it seems pretty clear to me.  I read it and think about the history of beer brewing in the United States.  Generally it’s been a pretty standard, orderly process that follows a step-by-step guide established decades ago.  However, since the 1990s beer brewing has started to change with the growth and evolution of craft breweries.  So when I read the quote, I think about how craft beer brewers have been breaking the rules of American beer making that were once deeply entrenched.

So onto the beer…

My beers (Rob Gnarly on the left and Dirtbag on the right) along with a small tray of popcorn.

Every brewery is very different in what they offer when it comes to pouring beer.  The majority I have visited offer flights, but Rebel Kettle does not.  Instead of pouring a four- or six-ounce taster, Rebel Kettle pours a half-pint (eight ounces) if you do not want an entire pint of beer.  Normally this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but after visiting two breweries earlier in the day I really didn’t want to drink that much beer.  However, one of the benefits of traveling with my wife, who also enjoys craft beer, is that we could each get two different beers and then sample what the other one ordered.

We debated what to order because there were eleven beers on tap the day we visited, and if we were only ordering four beers total it would be difficult to try and cover the broad spectrum of the brewery’s offerings.  Our waitress suggested that we order from the seasonal and/or rotator lists because that would allow us to experience the most unique beers available.  Heeding the waitress’s advice, I ordered Rob Gnarly and Dirtbag while my wife Katie ordered Swimmin’ Hole and Black Reign.  I really enjoyed Rob Gnarly, which is a tart farmhouse ale.  I’ve had sour farmhouse ales before, and this one blended tartness with crispness quite well.  Dirtbag is actually one of the brewery’s four year-round beers, but I rarely see double brown ales and felt like the uniqueness of the beer merited ordering it.  Swimmin’ Hole is a saison while Black Reign is a bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stout, which is described as a foundational beer that commemorates the brewery’s inception.

Speaking of beer, it’s important to see the bar area.

The bar top can seat about a dozen people.

Katie and I did not order any food at Rebel Kettle, although we received some popcorn with our beers, so I cannot comment on the food at the brewery.  However, there is an extensive food menu.  In a growing craft brewery scene in Little Rock, the food menu at Rebel Kettle distinguishes it from the rest of the breweries in town.  At Rebel Kettle, the majority of food items are Cajun influenced such as the muffaletta burger, the boudin sausage links, and a shrimp po’boy.  Not all of the menu has Cajun influences, so from the appetizers, burgers, po’boys, sandwiches, and salad selections you should be able to find something to satisfy your appetite.

If you take a large dining area, a beer garden, a Cajun-influenced food menu, and a consistently changing beer menu and throw in a some rock ‘n’ roll attitude you get Rebel Kettle.  If you want to turn things up to 11 on the Little Rock craft beer scene this is the place you need to visit.

A pint at Stone’s Throw Brewing in Little Rock, Ark.

Like many craft breweries across the country, Stone’s Throw Brewing started because a group of homebrewers decided to live out their dream of starting a brewery.  These four guys (Theron, Brad, Shawn, and Ian) met through Central Arkansas Fermenters and started a Kickstarter campaign in April 2013 with the goal of opening a taproom.  The brewery and taproom dreams became reality in July of that year.

The brewery sits on the southern edge of downtown abutting MacArthur Park and the surrounding historic district. If you’re a history buff you may want to check out the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur, which has been converted into MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History (admission is free).  The museum is a four-minute walk from the brewery.  There is plenty of parking near the brewery, but visitors should be mindful to avoid parking on some streets where there are signs restricting street parking to residents.  Customers see a large patio before coming up to the front door.

View of the taproom from the intersection of Rock and 9th streets.

Although it was quite hot and humid, my wife and I opted not to sit outside.  However, as the banner above the door highlights plans for the brewery’s birthday celebration at the end of July.

Main entrance to the brewery.

It may not be clear from the outside of the building, but it covers a lot of space.  Off the main room with the bar there is another space that runs perpendicular to the main room.  First impressions based upon the large patio may lead people to think the taproom lacks the space to accommodate, but that is not the case.  When we arrived at around three o’clock the brewery was pretty full, but it did not feel overcrowded.

When you belly up to the bar you see a VERY extensive beer list, but there is no reason to be intimidated.

Beer menu behind the bar.

Flights at Stone’s Throw consist of eight choices.  The flight contains the brewery’s three all-year beers, three seasonal brews, a cider, and one limited release.  Deciding which of the limited release beers to order was difficult because there was such range from a Dortmunder export to a hoppy wheat to a barrel-aged sour to two variants of an imperial oatmeal stout.  Ultimately the decision Katie and I made came down to the 2016 versus the 2017 anniversary ale.  We opted for the 2016 vintage because it was smoother.

On Saturday’s at four o’clock, the brewery taps a Randall (seen to the left in the above photo).  Credit for creating the Randall goes to Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione.  The purpose of a Randall is to infuse draft beer with extra hops or spices or in general other flavors.  It’s a great way to experience your favorite beer with some unique flavors.

So what does a flight of eight beers look like?

A flight of beers.

Believe it or not, but those eight beers are sitting on a food tray.  I didn’t expect a tray for our beers, but it makes perfect sense.  There are also labels for each of the beers, which means the bartenders don’t have to write out the names and customers just need to pick up the beverage to see precisely what they are about to drink.

We did not order any food at Stone’s Throw, but food is available through its partnership with The Southern Gourmasian, who has been the been providing food for the brewery’s beer dinner.  During the week, the SoGo Bistro offers cheese fries, sandwiches, and hamburgers.  They also provide a Sunday Brunch menu from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The brunch menu includes waffles, biscuits, omelets, and more.

Besides beer and food, the brewery also offers a selection of clothing and stickers available for sale.  The T-shirts are displayed by the bar along with a selection of hats.  Hanging below the shirts is a poster thanking all of the contributors to the brewery’s 2013 Kickstarter campaign.

T-shirts hang above the bar top along with a poster thanking all of the brewery’s Kickstarter donors.

Stone’s Throw Brewing is slightly off the beaten path on the southern edge of downtown Little Rock.  However, it is only half a mile from the city’s three other downtown breweries.  So it is actually quite accessible to residents and visitors alike.  The brewery has an extensive beer offering, which means that whether you’re a novice craft beer drinker or an experienced craft beer tourist you will find something that suits your tastes.  For good measure there is also a unique food menu that provides Southern and Asian influenced flavors.  With a large patio and a large interior space, the brewery offers something for everybody.

A pint at Blue Canoe Brewing in Little Rock, Ark.

Despite not being known for its craft beer scene, Little Rock, Ark., has four craft breweries in downtown.  The first one my wife (Katie) and I visited on our summer road trip from Alabama to Oklahoma was Blue Canoe Brewing Company.  We opted to start our beer adventure in town at Blue Canoe because based upon our Internet browsing we liked the food menu there the best.  That’s not to say the other food menus are bad; just that we were more tempted by the items on Blue Canoe’s menu than what the other breweries offered.

Due to its downtown location Blue Canoe does not have a dedicated parking lot, but there are plenty of street parking spots in front of the brewery and on surrounding streets.  So what do you see after parking and walking up to the brewery…

Main entrance on East 3rd Street.

Those familiar with Blue Canoe know that my picture is only the original entrance to the brewery.  The brewery expanded about a year ago and occupied space almost next door, so technically there are two dining areas.  I walked over and checked out the other dining space, but this piece focuses on the original space.  Additionally, the same beers and same food are available to customers regardless of which side they enter.

As you can see from the previous photo, there is a small patio area that allows people to drink or dine outside during nicer weather.  If you’re indoors you have a decent space, but not a particularly large area to sit (hence why the brewery expanded recently).

In the original space, you have a bar top with about seven spots plus a half dozen tables that can accommodate about four people per table.

Overview of the bar top.

Despite making deciding which brewery to visit first based upon its menu, I failed to take a photograph of the Class 1 burger that I ordered.  However, I can attest that the burger was excellent and absolutely hit the spot for me.  My wife Katie ordered the shrimp quesadilla, which she said was delicious.  Sometimes when you’re really hungry you dive into food and don’t think about taking a picture of your meal, which is what happened to both of us that day.

Food photography failure aside, I did not fail to take a picture of the flight of beers that we split.  Usually when we visit breweries my wife and I get two different flights because our beer tastes differ and that allows us to both sample almost everything on the menu without committing to ordering a full pint.  However, Blue Canoe was out of a couple beers the day we visited.  So instead of ordering two different flight, we chose to split a flight.  So we ordered the predetermined flight that featured the following beers…

A flight of beers with their descriptions.

I am always a bit surprised when a brewery puts together a flight and doesn’t allow customers to make their own.  I see pros/cons of both.  For those who are just testing the waters of craft beer or aren’t familiar with a particular brewery the predetermined flight eliminates the hemming and hawing of choosing beers.  It also reduces the need for the bartender or server to provide small samples so the customer can determine what beer he/she wants in the flight.  Ultimately that leads to quicker and more efficient service for the customer.

On the down side, if you’re a seasoned craft beer drinker it is frustrating to have no choice in your flight of beers.  It’s especially frustrating when you’re splitting a flight between two people who generally have disparate beer tastes like my wife and I do.  Granted, we do have some overlap in our beer tastes, so it wasn’t a big letdown having to order a predetermined flight.

Onto the beer!  One thing Blue Canoe got absolutely right about the predetermined flight is the nicely printed and laminated information sheets that provide the name, ABV (alcohol by volume), IBU (International Bitterness Units), and a succinct yet detailed description about the beer itself.  From our flight I liked The Whittler Milk Stout the best, giving it a 3.75/5.0 rating on Untappd (find me there).  The other beers in the flight were good, but the milk stout hit was the best.  Having split a flight, my wife and I decided to each order a half pint of something else.  She opted for Gunwhales Lime Gose.  I opted for the Pre-Prohibition Pilsner, and felt compelled to take a picture because the half-print glass has something on it the taster glasses do not.

Half pint glass with one of the brewery’s mottoes: Drink, Repent, Repeat.

Some of my academic research has touched upon the local elements craft breweries incorporate into their names and artwork, so seeing the state outline along with the logo was something I felt was unique and deserved to be included in this post.

Back to the brewery and the bar setup.  Earlier you saw an overview of the bar top leading out to the patio, but it’s important to see a closeup.

Beer list and tap handles.

And what’s visiting a brewery without getting to check out some of the swag they have available.  Yes, those of us who enjoy craft beer visit breweries to get quality beer straight from the source, but it’s also fun to have a reminder of our visits like a sticker or maybe a cool t-shirt.

Some of the brewery’s gear available for sale.

Although I wanted to show off Blue Canoe’s items for sale, I also took the previous photograph because I love the sign for Grape Ape Fruit IPA.  Growing up I remember watching repeats of “The Great Grape Ape Show,” so the pun-tastic name and image appealed to my inner kid.

Speaking of one’s inner child, Blue Canoe has that covered, too.

Game room with foosball table and 1980s era Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game.

The foosball table and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game are behind the bar area, so people playing the games are relatively separated from the rest of the crowd at the brewery.  There are no doors separating this area, but it sits far enough back that you could sit on the patio and barely if ever notice people playing games.  It was also quite clear that the video game is popular with adults as well as kids because a guy next to us at the bar commented to the bartender that he and his ex-girlfriend’s high scores were still on the Top-25 list on the TMNT game.

Blue Canoe is a great brewery in a thriving downtown area, and whether you live in Little Rock or are visiting for a weekend it deserves a visit.  The food is great.  The beer is very good.  The atmosphere is relaxed and fun with outstanding service.  Maybe most importantly for out-of-town visitors, it is walking distance from many of the downtown hotels and sights like the Museum of Discovery, the Old State House Museum, and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum.  In case you don’t feel like walking to the brewery, you can also take the METRO Streetcar to the River Market Avenue & 3rd Street stop.

My night with the Arkansas Travelers – July 1, 2017

The second stop on the road trip from Alabama to Oklahoma was Little Rock, Ark.  I wanted to stop because I have never thoroughly written about my experience at an Arkansas Travelers game at Dickey-Stephens Park, and this trip seemed like a good opportunity to write about the park and explore a city my wife and I had not visited together.

We also got assistance from the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, and spent the night at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Little Rock.  To see a view from the room, check out my post on Twitter (here).  The hotel recently underwent a massive renovation, sits right on the Arkansas River for some awesome views, and is 10-minute walk from a bunch of great restaurants on West Markham Street in downtown Little Rock.  Additionally, Katie and I explored Little Rock’s budding craft beer scene using the Locally Labeled Passport (more on that in a later post).

There is a lot of free street parking near the park, so when walking around to the ticket office and main gate fans get an awesome sight.

Main entrance of Dickey-Stephens Park.

Unlike many baseball stadiums that opt for a corporate sponsor, Dickey-Stephens Park is named after a quartet of local men.  In fact, the ballpark is named after two set of brothers: Bill and Skeeter Dickey and Witt and Jack Stephens.

Plaques outside the ballpark commemorating the four men whose names adorn the stadium.

Once in the stadium, we explored the concourse a bit and debated what to eat.  So while walking around, I got pictures of the game’s starting lineups and the Texas League‘s current standings on that day.

While we were walking around the concourse, the team announced that the game would not start as scheduled because of a chance of rain in the area.  So instead of continuing to walk around and debate our food options, my wife and I decided to visit the Travelers Baseball Museum.  According to a press release from 2008 when the museum opened many of the items were on the walls at the team’s former home (Ray Winder Field) and the staff decided fans would enjoy seeing the collection of the team’s history.

After our self-guided tour of the Arkansas Travelers Baseball Museum, we decided to walk around the concourse one more time to get a small bite to eat.  So let’s check out some pictures of the concession stands and review some of their food offerings.  First up is…

Close to home plate a concession stand features deep-fried peanut butter and jelly pies while the adjoining stand serves deep-fried Oreos.

Next to Batter Up Corn Dogs is the Slush Puppies stand that serves deep-fried Oreos.  We’ll have more on those later.  Further along the first base concourse is Doubleday’s Depot, which features the standard ballpark items like hot dogs, hamburgers, and more.  So nothing too exciting, but it’s difficult to pass up taking a photo of a concession stand that makes use of such a great baseball pun.

Down the first base line is Doubleday’s Depot, which serves the standard ballpark fare.

The place that really called our names was all the way down the right field line tucked is the beer garden, which features a stand called the Draft Beer Station.  Local craft beers like Flyway Brewing and Diamond Bear Brewing, which are both located in North Little Rock, are prominently features here.  However, if you prefer Bud or Michelob Ultra, you can also find those, too.

Down the right field line is a beer garden that serves a variety of local craft beer selections.

If you’re unwilling or unable to walk down to the Beer Garden, you can also find a great beer selection just up the third base line at Brewski Junction.  Like the Beer Garden, Brewski Junction serves a variety of local craft beers plus in-state brewery Ozark Beer Co., which is located in Rogers in the northwestern section of the state.  They also had Moosehead Radler, which was something neither of us expected to see.

Brewski Junction on the third base line serves local craft beers and some macrobrews.

Now if you want something besides liquid bread to eat, which I expect most of us do, there are some other concession stand options on the third base line.

Most notably the Travs has a stand called the Travelers Bacon Station, which offers your standard stadium food items but with America’s favorite item – BACON – added.

Travelers Bacon Station specializes in the eponymous food item.

Close to Travelers Bacon Station is Fielder’s Choice, which allows fans to choose what items they want on their hot dogs and nachos.  If you’re look for a truly unique hot dog, this is the spot.  The menu features four unique hot dog choices: Seattle Dog (cream cheese and grilled onions), Chicago Dog (yellow mustard, chopped onions, relish, dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, pickled sport peppers, and celery salt), Detroit Dog (chili, yellow mustard, and chopped onions), and Texas Dog (chili, cheese sauce, and jalapenos).  If you don’t like any of those options you can build your own specialty hot dog.

If you don’t want a hot dog, you can also order build-your-own nachos or build-your-own salad at Fielder’s Choice.

Fielder’s Choice concession stand features specialty hot dogs and build-your-own nachos.

Finally after scoping out all the food options, we opted to split an order of deep-fried Oreos because we’d eaten a later lunch than expected.

An order of deep-fried Oreos.

If you’ve never had deep-fried Oreos they are an excellent light treat.  The filling doesn’t melt during the frying process nor does the cookie just fall apart.  The powdered sugar topping is also a nice touch to the classic dessert item.

Eventually about 7:30 p.m., an announcement was made that the tarp would be removed shortly and that the game would begin around 8.  Finally at 8:15 p.m. the first pitch was thrown, so I was able to capture my typical opening ballgame photo.

Arkansas Travelers starting pitcher Dylan Unsworth delivers the first pitch to San Antonio Missions shortstop Luis Urias.

Maybe it was the two-hour delay with hardly a drop of rain, but I was antsy and decided to do a bit more walking around to capture a few different perspectives of the stadium.  So we wandered to the outfield and found the kids’ play area, which led me to capture a picture of the bounce house.  Admittedly, a bounce house isn’t special, unless it’s shaped like a giant opossum.

The most unique piece of the kids’ play area at Dickey-Stephens Park is the bounce house shaped like a giant opossum.

Cooler than seeing a bounce house shaped like the team’s opossum mascot Otey was the sunset view I captured moments afterward.

A colorful sunset over the stadium.

After a relatively quick walk around the stadium, we found our seats along the third base line and watched some early game action.

Sadly we never saw either of the team’s mascots, Charger or Otey.  I’m not sure whether if the two-hour weather delay that resulted in hardly any rain falling scared them away, but it was disappointed not to see them.  Katie was especially intrigued and excited about the opportunity to have our picture taken with Otey because, well, how many teams are daring enough to use an opossum as one of their mascots.

Ultimately we chose to do something I extremely dislike when attending baseball games, which was to leave early. After waiting out the two-hour delay, we were anxious to explore the nearby breweries.  I feel a bit guilt about our early departure, but after spending nearly three hours total exploring the stadium I felt like we had seen and done everything we needed to do to get the full Dickey-Stephens Park experience.

Final Score: San Antonio 0, Arkansas 6
Box Score

A pint at Lucky Town Brewing in Jackson, Miss.

At the end of June, my wife and I made a road trip from our home in Alabama to visit her parents in Tulsa, Okla.  Driving straight through would take about nine hours excluding stops, so we decided to extend the trip with a few stops along the way.  My wife suggested we stop for a Mississippi Braves game so we could pick up a Dansby Swanson bobblehead (see it here).  Additionally, it meant we got to explore our first Mississippi brewery together: Lucky Town Brewing Company.

On the day we arrived, we were limited in what we could do at the brewery because Mississippi law prevented people from directly buying a beer at a brewery.  Instead people had to purchase a tour of the brewery, and could receive up to six complimentary six-ounce pours of beer.  So instead of bellying up to the bar and ordering a flight or getting a pint, we each purchased a tour.

Although we each purchased a tour, the day we arrived at the brewery wasn’t any June day.  It was June 30, which meant the staff at the brewery were preparing for a “grand opening” event at midnight July 1 to celebrate the change in state law that would allow breweries in the state to sell beer directly to customers.  It wasn’t easy to find the brewery because it occupies a nondescript building across from the railroad tracks.

Exterior of Lucky Town Brewing at the intersection of North Mill and Livingston streets.

While nothing on the building denotes that it is home to a brewery there is some amazing street art on the side.

A closeup of the street art on the side of the building housing Lucky Town Brewing.

There is a small parking lot immediately behind the brewery that can hold approximately a dozen vehicles.  Like any brewery, you see kettles, mash tanks, fermentation tanks, canning line, and more.  Most notably the sense of humor present on the outside of the building continues inside.

By the entrance is a large stage for performances, which hosted a variety of bands to celebrate Mississippi’s new law that went into effect on July 1.  Additionally, the brewery installed a new bar with 30 taps to take advantage of the state’s newly revised beer laws.  According to brewmaster Lucas Simmons the goal is to have a variety of small batch beers and ciders available on draft at the brewery in addition to their year-round staples like Ballistic Blonde, Flare Incident, Gose Gamblin’, and Hop Fiasco IPA.

Speaking of beers, I tried each of the six the brewery had on draft for people who purchased tours that day.  If you visit the brewery now your options will be different because they are no longer restricted to offering samples and you can simply choose to order whatever beers you want.  However, I sampled Hop Fiasco IPA (a West Coast IPA), Upper End of Social (a East Coast IPA), Gose Gamblin’ (a sour German beer), Ballistic Blonde (a Belgian blonde), Pub Ale (an English mild ale), and Flare Incident (an oatmeal stout).  I’m not a beer drinker who enjoys hoppy IPAs, but Hop Fiasco is a very solid representation of the style.  My favorite beer was Gose Gamblin’ partially because I enjoy crisp, sour beers during the summer, and it was especially humid that day.  It is a bit heavier on the salt compared to some other goses I have drank, but it is a great choice.  Per Randy that day, the Pub Ale is their biggest seller (referencing sales throughout the state and elsewhere), which surprised me because English milds are not popular style in the U.S.  For people wanting to explore craft beer, but are used to drinking the big-brand macrobrews, the best choice is the Ballistic Blonde.  It is light, refreshing and not overly bitter.

But back to the space at the brewery.

By far the coolest (and perhaps most important) feature at the brewery is a chalk-wall thank you note to all the people who donated to the company’s Kickstarter campaign (see the page here).

A wall thanking all the people who donated to the brewery’s Kickstarter campaign.

Speaking of community, there is no doubt that the craft beer drinking community in Jackson supports Lucky Town.  My wife and I did not get to visit at midnight when the brewery kicked off its celebration of the law change, but I was fortunate enough to get a photo from the brewery showing how many people came out for the event.

Crowd gathered for the midnight grand opening of the brewery on July 1 to celebrate direct sales in Mississippi. (Photo courtesy of Lucky Town Brewing Company).

As someone who lives in Alabama, I know that the South is not known as a craft beer hot spot.  However, things are changing across the region.  Despite being the last state to legalize home brewing, Mississippi was not the last state to allow breweries to sell direct to consumers (that distinction belongs to Georgia, whose law goes into effect on September 1, 2017).  So next time you visit Jackson be sure to visit Lucky Town Brewing where you’ll find some very approachable craft beer.  Or if you’re a craft beer aficionado, you can check out their verified menu on Untappd to see what they are pouring and perhaps expand your horizons with a well-made Mississippi craft beer.

Five great places for beers & bites in Cincinnati’s OTR

There are a lot of restaurant and bar options around Cincinnati stretching from The Banks area near the Ohio River north through downtown and across the proverbial “Rhine” Canal.  I could write a long-form piece about the Queen City and it’s beer and culinary scene, but I’d rather keep my readers’ attention and highlight five of my favorite places for beers and bites in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine District.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT OVER-THE-RHINE
The district earned its name because of the large German population that walked over the Miami and Erie Canal (now Central Parkway) to work in downtown in the mid-1800s.  The canal was jokingly called “the Rhine” in reference to the important river in Germany.  Today, the German population has left, but the name has stuck.  You can read more the district’s history from the Over the Rhine Foundation.

Downtown is about 8/10th of a mile from downtown to the heart of OTR.  So it is walkable depending upon your definition of walkable.  If you don’t want to walk, the cheapest option to get from downtown to the district is taking the city’s streetcar (officially called the Cincinnati Bell Connector).  A two-hour pass costs $1 and a day pass costs $2 with discounts for kids.  The quickest way to get to OTR from downtown is taking the streetcar at either the 4th & Main or the 6th & Main stations.

Bakersfield (1213 Vine St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; Streetcar Stop: 12th & Vine)
In a district formerly heavily populated by German immigrants that is currently undergoing revitalization, you would not expect to find a great Mexican restaurant.  However, that is precisely what you will find at Bakersfield, which has grown from its first location in OTR to include six other locations throughout the country.

Bakersfield boasts over 100 tequilas and a wide selection of Mexican street food.  My favorites are the tacos that range from al pastor (chili marinated pork) to fish to hongos (grilled portabello – for vegetarians).  There are also salads, tostadas, and tortas.

A selection of tacos at Bakersfield OTR (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau).

The restaurant covers the staples of the Mexican beer world (Corona, Modelo Especial, and Pacifico), but also has the elusive Victoria available.  If you want local craft beer, you can find selections from MadTree, Rhinegeist, and others.  However, the real treat here is the large selection of tequilas and whiskeys.  I’d have to dedicate an entire post to do them justice, but you can be assured to find something you know and love on the list.

Lachey’s (56 E. 12th St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; Streetcar Stop: 12th & Vine or Central Pkwy & Vine)
If you lived through the late-1990s and early-2000s you know that boybands dominated the pop charts.  Although 98 Degrees was not as popular at the Backstreet Boys or NSYNC, but Nick Lachey and his brother Drew used the money from their boyband career to open Lachey’s on the southern edge of OTR.

The eponymous bar is one of the few spots in OTR that specifically caters to the sports-watching crowd.  So there are plenty of flat-screen TVs.  For example, earlier this summer I watched Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals with a large and vocal contingent of Nashville Predators fans.  So while the emphasis is on local teams, you can find nearly anything on TV here.  The bar’s website even includes a sports schedule of major events.

Happy hour runs from 4 to 8 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays.  The food menu features an assortment of appetizers, flatbreads, salads, sandwiches, and hamburgers.  The drink menu features rotating local craft beers, but you can find Queen City staples like Christian Moerlein and Rhinegeist on draft here.  The bottle and can list is more extensive, and includes your macrobrew staples.  The craft cocktail list includes some unique items like The Nick boilermaker, which is made with Rhinegeist’s Cidergeist Semi-Dry Cider and Fireball.

16-Bit Bar+Arcade (1331 Walnut St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; Streetcar Stop: 12th & Vine)
Is there anybody who doesn’t like drinking beer and playing video games?  I’m sure someone out there dislikes both of those options, so if that applies to you then you should not visit 16-Bit Bar+Arcade.

In order to enter 16-Bit, you must be 21 so people with kids aren’t able to let them play games while having some drinks.  However, if you’re 21 or older and still a kid at heart who wants to play video games then this is the place for you.  Playing the games is “free” as long as you are purchasing drinks during your stay.  There are over 50 games on the floor including classics like NBA Jam, NFL Blitz 2000, Off Road, Rampage, and plenty of others.  There is also a limited selection of pinball machine, which are the only games that cost money to play.

A row of video games at 16-Bit Bar+Arcade.

There are two dozen craft beers on draft and about 30 craft beers in bottles or cans.  If you prefer the finer things in life, there is a very extensive bourbon and whiskey list available.  Or you can try one of the craft cocktails like Macho Man, which is made with honey bourbon, Coke, and a Slim Jim. Oh yeah!  One thing you will not find at 16-Bit is food, but there are plenty of restaurants nearby.

The Eagle (1342 Vine St., Cincinnati, OH 45202;  Streetcar Stop: 12th & Vine)
One of the restaurants not far from 16-Bit is The Eagle, which emphasizes Southern comfort foods in tandem with craft beers and cocktails.  Specifically, all of the chicken is sourced from nearby farms, which helps makes the fried chicken one of the best-known items on the menu.  In addition to the chicken, you can find a selection of sandwiches, soups, and salads.

There are over a dozen draft selections ranging from Miller High Life to Guinness to local brews from 50 West, Rhinegeist, and others.  Additionally, there are about 60 beers and ciders available in a bottle or can.  The list covers traditional macrobrews like Coors Light, but also features local craft choices like Rivertown’s Divergent and Mt. Carmel’s Nut Brown Ale.

Rhinegeist Brewery (1910 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202: Streetcar Stop: Brewery District)
Over-the-Rhine once boasted nearly 40 breweries, but that changed in the 1920s when the 18th Amendment enacted prohibition across the United States.  However, the landscape of breweries did not totally vanish.  So in the mid-2000s when Bob Bonder stumbled upon the old Christian Moerlein Brewing Company’s bottling plant in OTR.

In 2013, Bonder and his team finally opened Rhinegeist Brewery, whose name translates to mean “Ghost of the Rhine.”  Being located in the old Christian Moerlein bottling building provides Rhinegeist with a huge space.  Much of it houses the brewing equipment, but there is also more than enough space to provide benches and flat-screen TVs.  Perhaps the best part of visiting the brewery is the rooftop, which gives you a view of downtown Cincinnati.

The view of downtown Cincinnati from the rooftop at Rhinegeist Brewery.

The beer selection is large enough that regardless of your tastes you can find a brew that suits your palate.  There are three year-round beers that include an India pale ale (Truth), blonde ale (Cougar), and an imperial India pale ale (Knowledge).  There are numerous seasonal and limited-release beers available that change throughout the year plus some ciders for people who dislike the hoppy nature of beers.

THE RECAP
Regardless of the adventure you seek in OTR, you are sure to find a place that leaves you with a night to remember.  If you want great Mexican street food with tequila or whiskey, then Bakersfield hits the mark.  If you want traditional bar food while watching the big sporting event on a huge flat-screen TV, you need to hit Lachey’s.  If vintage video games are your jam, then 16-Bit Bar+Arcade is where you can practice your sharp shooting skills.  If you’re in the mood for some Southern comfort food, The Eagle is where you’ll find home cooking like your mom’s.  If you want to play cornhole or maybe watch the sunset over downtown Cincinnati while enjoying an award-winning beer, then Rhinegeist Brewery is your watering hole.

Five great places for beer & bites in Cincinnati’s The Banks

There are a lot of restaurant and bar options around downtown Cincinnati stretching from The Banks development on the Ohio River north through downtown and across the proverbial “Rhine” Canal into the Over-the-Rhine District.  However, instead of diving into a long-form piece exploring every intricate detail of the Queen City’s beer and culinary scene, I am going to focus on The Banks development along the Ohio River.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BANKS
For a handful of years, downtown Cincinnati and its surrounding environs have been undergoing a revitalization.  It started in the early-2000s when the local football (the Bengals opened Paul Brown Stadium in 2000) and baseball (the Reds opened Great American Ball Park in 2004) teams opened new stadiums.  However, it has been within the past five years that the area between the two stadiums has been especially attractive for people to visit even without the draw of a sporting event.  Over my seven years exploring Cincinnati here are my five favorite places to get a beer or a bite of food at The Banks area.

Moerlein Lager House (115 Joe Nuxhall Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202)
Christian Moerlein Brewing Company dates back to the 1800s, but shutdown during prohibition.  In 1981, the brand was revived, and eventually bought by local resident Gregory Hardman.  More details about the company’s history can be found on its website.  Following years of growth and a return to brewing in its historic home of Over-the-Rhine District, Christian Moerlein Brewing opened the Lager House across from Great American Ball Park and adjacent to The Banks in 2012.

Obviously owned by a brewery in town, the bulk of the beer selection is brewed by Christian Moerlein.  However, there are “guest” taps from regional and national craft beer brands with many of those brands available in cans and bottles as well.  As an homage to Cincinnati’s beer history there is also a selection of “heritage” beers available.  These “heritage” beers are brands with a long history in Cincinnati, such as Hudepohl Pure Lager, Hudy Delight, or Little Kings Cream Ale.  All of these brands now belong to Christian Moerlein Brewing, which brews them using the original recipes.

There’s a lot to like about the Lager House, but perhaps one of the coolest perks of dining or just having a beer there is the view.  The building sits right across from the Ohio River, so guests are often afforded a view of Northern Kentucky.  If you’re lucky you may get a really scenic view of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge that connects Cincinnati with Covington, Ky.

View of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge from Christian Moerlein Lager House. (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau)

In addition to the beer, the Moerlein Lager House has an extensive food menu.  I’ve eaten the hamburgers on a few occasions, and the onion rings are gigantic.  So if you opt for them with a burger or perhaps as a starter be prepared for a LOT of food.  You can also put together your own meat and cheese board if you’d like to pair your beer with some traditional options.

Yard House (95 E. Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202)
Craft beer lovers should know the chain Yard House, which has nearly 70 locations throughout the United States.  If you don’t know the chain, what you need to know is that it carries nearly 150 different craft beers and ciders.  If that’s not enough to get you through the door, then I’m not sure what else to tell you.

Naturally, there is an extensive food menu.  I’ve dined at this location multiple times, and typically order a hamburger.  I have also had the street tacos, which are excellent if you want a lighter option.  You can order the tacos as a set or pick and choose what you want.  The vampire taco is a delicious mix of flavors, and one of my favorites.

Regardless of what you choose, you cannot go wrong with any of the food or beer choices at Yard House.

Taste of Belgium (16 W. Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202)
Taste of Belgium is a local chain that began in 2007 serving what you would expect: Belgian waffles.  What started as one shop has grown into five in the Cincinnati area plus one in Columbus.  Around town you can find a location in the heart of Over-the-Rhine (1133 Vine St.), but if you’re attending a sporting event you can check out this location in The Banks area.

With a wide selection of delicious toppings for their Belgian waffles, there is sure to be something you want with yours.  The menu also includes crepes, sandwiches, omelets, and perhaps most notable a wide selection of genuine Belgian beer and Belgian-influenced brews.

Taste of Belgium
The chicken and waffles goes well with a wide selection of beers. (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau)

It’s easy to think about only eating waffles for breakfast, but Taste of Belgium seeks to defy that stereotype.  Even if you’re not willing to try waffles for dinner, you are sure to find a great beer among the nearly 100 brews on the menu.

Jefferson Social (101 E. Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202)
Proof that The Banks is becoming more attractive for visitors lies in the history of Jefferson Social.  Owner Tony Cafeo closed his Jefferson Hall establishment across the river at Newport on the Levee in 2013, and ultimately opened this establishment the same year.  Newport on the Levee offers similar options to The Banks, but its major drawback is the walk across the river to the stadiums.  So if you’re already on the north side of the Ohio River, it’s easier for visitors to check out the restaurants at The Banks.

Jefferson Social provides approachable Mexican street food.  There is a wide variety of street tacos that you can order as a platter or pick-and-choose by going the à la carte route.  You can also build your own nachos or opt for Asian-Mexican fusion choices likes the Southwest chicken egg roll like I did.  There are also about 50 beers available from an extensive list that features some of the staples, but also a great selection of local and regional craft beers with beers from Braxton, Fifty West, MadTree, and Rivertown among others.

Holy Grail Tavern & Grille (161 Joe Nuxhall Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202)
The entire development of The Banks is walking distance to Great American Ball Park, but Holy Grail Tavern & Grille proudly boasts that it is 100 yards from home plate.  So you can’t get any closer to the stadium than visiting this establishment.  Additionally, in 2015 The Sporting News named Holy Grail the best bar to visit near Great American Ball Park.

A waitress at Holy Grail, which is filled with Reds and Bengals memorabilia. (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Holy Grail has a good beer selection, but does not have an extensive craft list featuring just two local selections plus two Christian Moerlein “heritage” beers (Hudy Pure Lager and Hudy Delight).  They do have an extensive list of macrobrews if that is what you prefer (and I’m not here to judge anybody’s beer preferences).

The food menu is likely where you will get the best bang for your buck.  There are pizzas, wraps, salads, sandwiches, hamburgers, and a limited kids menu.  Most items on the menu max out around $9, so it’s an excellent option for bit to eat before attending a Reds game.

THE RECAP
The Banks features more restaurants and bars than I’ve detailed, but these five are my favorites.  Each place has its own vibe and offers something that the others do not.  If you want truly local beers, Moerlein Lager House is the place for you.  If you want a beer list that features over 150 brews, then Yard House is the spot.  If the kid in you wants breakfast for dinner while quaffing down a Belgian ale, then you should dine at Taste of Belgium.  If you want Mexican street fare with a smattering of craft beers, Jefferson Social is calling your name.  If you want to socialize with die-hard Reds fans and watch fans file into the ballpark just yards away, Holy Grail is your jam.  Whatever you like to eat or drink or whether you’re traveling solo, with a group, or with kids in tow there is a place for you at The Banks.