A pint at Dead Armadillo Craft Brewing in Tulsa, Okla.

The armadillo is an animal closely associated with the American Southwest, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a brewery in Oklahoma seized upon the animal for its name.  So when Mason Beecroft and Tony Peck started a commercial brewery production, Dead Armadillo Craft Brewing was born.  In 2016, the brewery opened its own taproom in an industrial area of town.

Main entrance to the brewery.

Like most craft breweries, Dead Armadillo celebrates the unique tastes it brings to beer drinkers.  Customers see this irreverent humor on the door before walking into the taproom.

Front door cautioning people about taste ahead.

The taproom used to be home to Fourth Street Auto Repair, which was ideal for a brewery because it provides plenty of space to install the brewing equipment.  However, it meant the taproom was smaller.  The bar is immediately to the left upon entering with a small seating area to the right.

A view of the bar, randall, and beer list.
View of the brewery’s seating area.

The bar seats about a dozen people while the seating area, which features high top tables, seats about nine people.  Even the glass behind the bar pays homage to the building’s former occupant with “Fourth Street Auto” stenciled above the brewery’s logo.

The brewery offers flights, so my wife Katie and I took advantage and ordered two different flights.  She ordered the Berliner Weisse flight, which featured a selection of Berliner Weisse beers mixed with a variety of simple syrup flavors.  On my flight, I ordered the Amber (an American amber), Inland Porter (an American porter brewed in collaboration with Hanson Brothers Beer), IPA with Pineapple, and Renaissance Black Gold (an American stout).  The Amber is a bit hoppy in the traditional American style, and is one of the brewery’s flagship beers.  The Berliner Weisse and Inland Porter were my two favorite beers.

A flight of beers.

Perhaps the coolest aspect of the taproom was the tire tread on the bar counter.  It runs across the entire bar except where a metallic version of the brewery’s logo sits in the middle of the counter.

A view of the dead armadillo on the bar.

I visited the taproom during a midweek holiday, so despite it being a Thursday and the brewery offering special one-off beers through their Randall.  However, the crowd appeared to consist of some regulars and a few newcomers trying the brewery’s beer with a flight.

A pint at Anthem Brewing in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Transitioning from an 8th grade U.S. history teacher to become a brewmaster isn’t usually in the cards for most people, but it’s the path Patrick Lively took.  Lively came on board at Anthem Brewing Company in 2014 after founder and brewmaster Matt Anthony left the company (read more about the brewery’s early history).  Patrick spent five years working at COOP Ale Works before coming to Anthem, which had just relocated to its current location on S.W. 4th Street following a 2013 tornado that destroyed the brewery’s previous co-operative location on North Meridian Avenue that it shared with OKCity Brewing, Redbud Brewing, and Black Mesa Brewing.

Like many breweries, Anthem is in an industrial area with few restaurants or other entertainment options nearby.  According to Lively, the building was previously a transmission shop.  Visitors driving up to the brewery wouldn’t be able to tell what is inside the building without the exterior signage.

Entrance to the brewery.

Once inside the brewery it’s quite a different feeling.  There’s even signage making sure you don’t get lost after entering the lobby and turn around and leave.

Sign pointing customers to the taproom.

The signage directing people to the taproom is humorous because the only other option is to turn around and leave.

Once inside the taproom, visitors see the brew kettles and fermentation tanks you’d expect to see at an American craft brewery.  At work since 5 a.m. standing over a brew kettle is where my wife Katie and I found Patrick when we arrived around ten o’clock.

Brewmaster Patrick Lively at work in the brewery.

As Patrick finished up his work, we were greeted by taproom manager Ben Childers.  After updating the brewery’s beer list on Untappd, he asked what we wanted to drink and then decided he’s give us a sample of everything they had on draft.  The brewery is a verified venue on Untappd, which means people who use the free social media app are able to check the brewery’s tap list without leaving the comfort of their home.

Taproom manager Ben Childers working on preparing a flight of beers.

As Ben worked on preparing the flights, I took the opportunity to walk around the taproom and take a few more pictures.  So I found the brewery’s merchandise in a corner with a display of all its T-shirts.

The corner of the brewery with its selection of T-shirts and other merchandise.

The taproom is part of the brewery itself, so I didn’t feel like walking through the entire working area to get pictures.  However, I made sure to capture a picture of the barrels Anthem was using for some specialty beers.

A view of the seating area and some of the brewery’s barrels.

It is through the loading dock that all of the company’s supplies arrive and all the beer departs.

Occasionally, a food truck parks outside.  However, the lack of other potential customers in the area has made it difficult for Anthem to consistently attract a food truck.  Lively noted that the biggest boom to the brewery has been the change in beer laws allowing breweries in Oklahoma to brew higher ABV beer, and most importantly, to sell beers with higher ABV on site at the brewery.

For example, Anthem had on draft Bourbon Barrel Golden One, which is a variant of one of the brewery’s core beers Golden One.  Bourbon Barrel Golden One has a 7.0% ABV, which means the brewery would not have been able to serve it in the taproom under the previous state laws.

So onto the beer…

A flight of beers.

With more freedom to brew different beers, the draft offering at Anthem have expanded since the beer laws have changed.  The flight pictured above is a great example.  Ben set us up with four lighter beers, their OK Pils (a German pilsner) and three goses (their standard gose, a blood orange gose, and a dry-hopped gose).  Although sour ales are growing in popularity they can be hit-or-miss for some drinkers, but the brewery’s four core beers provide a great introduction to craft beer.

I sampled Arjuna (a Belgian wit), Golden One (a Belgian blonde), IPA, and Uroboros (a stout).  All are excellent representations of their styles.  However, my favorite beer was the Blood Orange Gose.  It was tart yet with a hint of sweetness.  It was so delicious that my wife and I got a growler fill because we wanted more of it.

Katie and I were at Anthem during the morning in the middle of the week, so we didn’t get to see or get a feel for the customers at Anthem.  However, the taproom has plenty of space with a variety of seating options from the bar top to bar-height tables to a countertop facing the brewing equipment.  With less restrictions, the brewery also features beers that you can only find at the taproom like the Blood Orange Gose.

Joys of snagging a cheap airfare

Travelers are always seeking the best deal on flights or hotels or car rentals or admission to amusement parks or whatever way you can save money traveling.  There are tons of articles written about the best days to book flights to score the cheapest fares.  I won’t link to them because if you’ve found my piece, then you’ve read all those articles, too.

I’m not able to tell you the “BEST” way to score a deal because I don’t believe there is any “one” way to do it.  I am able to brag, and probably not as humbly as I would hope, about the airfare deal I just scored.  Like many travelers, I follow a ton of travel accounts on Twitter and Facebook hoping to find a great deal that I can use for my next adventures.  However, I live in a college town with a population of nearly 100,000 people with a local airport that lacks commercial services.  Even the largest “major” airport, which is about an hour away, offers no international flights and most of its flights are connecting to hubs of the Big 3 American airlines (AA, DL, and UA) or to a leisure destination served by Southwest.  So it’s not easy finding a deal for me unless I’m willing to drive to the nearest international airport (ATL), which is a 3-hour drive.

So how did I recently land a deal living in a college town?  I recently signed up for email alerts from Scott’s Cheap Flights (FYI: I’m not getting paid if you click on the link or sign-up for their service) because my wife started following their Twitter account within the past week.  I followed their Twitter account, and decided to sign up for their email notifications because “Why not?”  Last Wednesday as my wife and I were finishing dinner, I got an email notice saying there was a deal from a number of American cities to Budapest (BUD) for $500-$600 for travel during the peak of summer, and Atlanta was included on the list.

To provide a bit of background, my wife and I have been discussing and planning a trip to Europe for summer 2018 to visit friends we met in Southeast Asia on our honeymoon trip.  However, we had not nailed down any flights nor dates to visit England and Ireland, where our friends live.  So we weren’t considering a trip to Central Europe.  Instead of shrugging it off, we checked a monthly outlook starting in late June 2018 on ITA Software to see if indeed we could score a cheap flight from Atlanta.

The best way to check for flights is with the monthly outlook that allows you to choose the cheapest travel days.

We found round-trip flights for $630 on various dates in late June and early July, and after debating the finer points of two connections versus one connection with an extremely long layover we booked the flights.

Our trip will take us from Atlanta to Toronto (YYZ) to Budapest.  We will have 13 days to explore Budapest and other places in Central Europe, although we haven’t decided where we will visit or how long we’ll stay in any place yet.  We literally just booked our flights four days ago (as I’m writing this post).  However, we will have nearly nine months to figure what we want to do and see in Central Europe.

As excited as I am about this deal, the takeaway is that finding deals doesn’t require some trick.  Finding a deal is about being flexible with your destination, realizing that where you fly into doesn’t have to be your entire trip, and patience.  It is frustrating seeing tons of deals from bigger airports to Asia, Latin America, and Europe, but it’s possible to snag a great airfare from just about anywhere.  And quite frankly, sometimes it’s just luck.  I am lucky that I signed up for email alerts from Scott’s Cheap Flights, and am especially lucky that my wife is willing to say “Let’s book it!” after we found a great deal.

A pint at Twisted Spike Brewing in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Since 2016, Oklahoma has taken strides to modernize its beer and liquor laws.  One of the biggest changes was the state allowing breweries to sell beer on premise that was above 3.2 alcohol-by-weight.  The change in the law motivated Bruce Sanchez to finally open his own brewery after 25-plus years as a homebrewer.  So on December 10, 2016, Twisted Spike Brewing Company opened its doors.

Like many home brewers who realized their dream of opening a brewery, Bruce has a technical background that prepared him for his current undertaking. He worked for 25 years as a software engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He also won a handful of awards as a home brewer, too (see the list here). However, it was the changes in Oklahoma law that led him to open a brewery.  As with any business, it was a lengthy process to find an appropriate site. Eventually Bruce settled on a location in Midtown Oklahoma City because of its proximity to a growing restaurant scene in the area and the more established Bricktown entertainment district, which is about a mile away.

Exterior of the brewery.

Customers see the bar the instantly when they come inside, but the layout also created a space in the front to display the brewery’s swag for sale.  The building is also very long, which has allowed the brewery to rent out its space to host corporate holiday functions.

Wall of merchandise.

The bar was built from a shipping container, which figures prominently into the brewery’s architecture.

A view of the bar.
A view of the bar area from the counter top.

Shortly after arriving and sitting down at the bar, we got to meet with owner Bruce Sanchez and got a detailed tour of the brewery.  We started the tour in the brewing area, which has a window into the bar area.  However, if you get to tour the facility, you enter the production area by walking through a shipping container.

A view from the bar to the brewery’s sitting area.

After walking through the shipping container, which Bruce employs to give the brewery a bit of an industrial feel because of its location in Automobile Alley, you see the fermentation tanks and other brewing equipment.

A view of the fermentation tanks in the production area.

From the production area, you can see the bar because of the cutout window.

A view from the brewing area to the bar and sitting area.

So like many breweries, customers enjoying a pint can see the beer being brewed on site.

In the back of the brewery, again with another window providing access to the process, is what Bruce calls “Funky Town.”  A vibrant, eclectic design covers the wall looking down on a half dozen barrels that contain batches of barrel-aged beers.  It is also the area that Sanchez hopes to use to brew sour beers, which have become a growing trend in the craft beer scene.

Bruce plans to use a space in the back of the brewery for barrel-aged and sour beers.

After getting a tour from the owner and learning more about the brewery’s history and Bruce’s personal history as a homebrewer transitioning to full-time commercial brewer, we came back to the bar to have some beers.

Laminated sheets detailing each of the brewery’s core beers.

Twisted Spike has a pair of laminated sheets describing each of their eight core beers, so whether you’re a craft beer expert or novice you’ll learn a lot about your choices before ordering.  With my wife Katie along, we split up the offerings to cover our bases.  I ordered the Golden Spike (a saison), Crew Kölsch, Dirty Blonde, and Twisted Stache (a milk stout).  My wife Katie had the whiskey-barrel-aged Black Snake (a Russian imperial stout), 10th St. Pale Ale, Holy Beer (a Belgian quad), and TSB IPA.  All we very solid options.  My favorites were the Golden Spike and Crew Kölsch, which are both light and approachable and very true to the traditional style.

Additionally, Twisted Spike’s beer is bottled and distributed throughout the state.  So if you like something you had at the brewery the odds are very good that you can find the beer at home.  Of course, you can also fill a growler and take home a 32- or 64-oz. bottle home with yourself.

Like many breweries, the atmosphere at Twisted Spike is fairly relaxed with a unique cross section of people.  It is walking distance from a handful of Midtown Oklahoma City hotels and some residential areas, too.  It’s also a great starting point for people exploring downtown wanting to sample some local craft beers before eating at one of the restaurants in Bricktown.

A pint at Biloxi Brewing in Biloxi, Miss.

Like many other microbrewery owners, Mark Cowley started as a homebrewer before seeking investors and opening his own brewery.  However, unlike a lot of American homebrewers, Mark got his start in England while serving in the U.S. Air Force during the 1990s when craft breweries were exploding onto the scene across the pond.  Eventually after a transfer to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and following his retirement as a weather forecaster for the Air Force, Mark finally opened Biloxi Brewing Company.

The story behind the brewery’s location is also quite compelling, but let’s start with what people see when they arrive at the brewery.

Exterior of the building.

Usually a door doesn’t merit a closeup view, but the artwork with the brewery’s logo and text on this door deserve a bit more attention.  So I took a close up to show it off.

Front door to the brewery.

The taproom opened in January, but only on July 1 did it begin selling beer on premise because of a change in Mississippi law (read more here).  Like many breweries, it took time for Mark and his investors to settle on a location for the taproom.  The discovery was almost incidental, as his wife’s cousin asked her about an old building that her uncle owned.  After visiting and exploring the space, Mark knew the team had found it’s taproom and brewing space.  The building used to house Professional Drug Company, serving as the company’s warehouse.

With the building previously housing a warehouse there was a lot of space, which is quite evident with the setup in the brewing and storage space.  In fact, there is so much room in the production area that the brewery hosted q local chamber of commerce meeting in mid-July.

Keg storage in the production area.

However, most visitors aren’t exploring the production area.  Visitors can still get a tour of the facility, but now that the law has changed the brewery only offers tours on Saturdays.  The taproom portion of the brewery is quite extensive as well.  You can get a feel for the space with the following pictures.

Margaret setting up some snacks.

As the first people to arrive after its opening, my wife and I were greeted by Mark and his wife Margaret, who was setting up the popcorn machine and setting up the retail side of the brewery.

A set of high-top tables with unique keg-inspired seats.
A view of the bar top with a glimpse into the production area while Mark pours a beer.

With the bar in mind, my wife Katie and I sampled all of the beers available on draft (see full list here).  While getting a tour of the brewing and storage area, I had a pint of Salt Dog, which is the brewery’s base gose.  Sours beers don’t work for everybody’s taste buds, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I also prefer lighter beers like a gose during the summer heat.  I also tried Biloxi Blonde, which despite its name is not a Belgian blonde, but instead is a kölsch.  For people new to craft beer, it is an excellent introductory beer.  Black Gold is an export stout, and while not something I would typically drink during the summer it was quite good.  I finished with Pelican Pier, which is a blood orange gose.  I had sampled’s Katie’s pint and liked it so much that I opted to order it and take it with me as we headed to a Biloxi Shuckers game at MGM Park.

In most cases people wouldn’t be allowed to take a beer with them when leaving a brewery, but Biloxi Brewing Co. sits in one of Biloxi two entertainment districts, which allows patrons to leave a bar or restaurant with a to-go cup. So Katie and I both left with a pint of Pelican Pier.  We also returned the next day to get a growler filled with Pelican Pier, which was by far our favorite offering.  The brewery is located within downtown Biloxi’s historic district about a half a mile from the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi, which means it’s convenient for people visiting the casinos to get a great local beer.

With the law changes, there are changes in store for the taproom, too.  Mark says he hopes to install a nitro tap for Black Gold, and to create a barrel area in the front corner of the brewery in the vault that was originally stored narcotics.  It seems that the forecast is calling for a bright future for Biloxi Brewing along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Exploring Central Arkansas’s Locally Labeled craft beer scene

As microbreweries continue to grow across the country, craft beer has blossomed in parts of the United States that people don’t usually associate with beer.  Central Arkansas is one of those places.  To help promote its growing craft beer scene, the Little Rock and North Little Rock CVBs partnered to create the Locally Labeled Passport.  So next time you’re in the Greater Little Rock area, you need to pick it up to help you explore the region’s craft breweries, brewpubs, wineries, and distillery.

Although the program focuses on breweries, there are two wineries and a distillery are also part of the program.  The inclusion of wineries and a distillery really sets the program apart from others that focus solely on breweries/brewpubs.  The passport has all the necessary information about each place and an excellent map that will help you identify spots that are close to each other to maximize your visits in the region.

Collecting stamps isn’t just a fun way to explore the area, but also to earn prizes.  At any point, people can submit a passport at three levels to collect rewards.  Seven stamps earns you a sandstone coaster, ten stamps earns you a Locally Labeled T-shirt, and completing the booklet with 14 stamps earns you the coaster and T-shirt.

A view of the Locally Labeled Passport with some stamps.

During my visit to metro Little Rock, my wife and I picked up passports and have set about visiting all 14 places in the program.  Over about two days, we collected eight stamps and got to experience a lot of the region while enjoying some great drinks and equally outstanding food.

Blue Canoe Brewing Co. (425 E. 3rd St., Little Rock 72201)
We stopped here for lunch when we came into town.  The burger I ate was a fantastic compliment to some very good beer.  The location makes it easy to access when exploring downtown Little Rock.  For example, it’s a half-mile walk from the brewery to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.

Diamond Bear Brewing Co. (600 N. Broadway, North Little Rock 72114)
One of the stops in North Little Rock, we stopped here for lunch on our return trip through the area.  It’s close to the interstate, which made it easy for us to enjoy a sandwich and flight before getting back on the road.  The decor of the Arkansas Ale House will remind you of a log cabin.

Flyway Brewing Co. (314 Maple St., North Little Rock 72114)
After attending an Arkansas Travelers game at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, we visited one of three spots across the river that are part of the program.  We didn’t get to sample the food, but the choices were unique with wild boar bratwurst.

Lost Forty Brewing (501 Byrd St., Little Rock 72202)
We received two very strong recommendations to have brunch here, so we delayed our departure on Sunday morning.  The beer was great, but it’s the pimento cheese and bacon omelet that made it the best brunch choice we could have made.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d come just for the beer, but the food puts this place over the top.

Rebel Kettle Brewing Co. (822 E. 6th St., Little Rock 72202)
In a crowded craft beer marketplace, it is difficult for breweries to stand out among the crowd.  Rebel Kettle infuses a bit of rock ‘n’ roll to create a unique place for itself.  The combination creates a fun, unique atmosphere with a wide selection of beers.

Stone’s Throw Brewing (402 E. 9th St., 72202)
On the edge of downtown Little Rock nestled next to MacArthur Park.  On the edge of downtown, the patio at Stone’s Throw opens up to a residential neighborhood and one of the city’s largest parks.  A partnership with an Asian-fusion restaurant means they have one of the most unique food menus in the area.

There’s still more for my wife and I to eat, drink, and experience with the Locally Labeled Passport.  I’m looking forward to completing the passport, and hope this wets your appetite to explore Greater Little Rock’s locally made libations.

A pint at Diamond Bear Brewing in North Little Rock, Ark.

For people driving through Central Arkansas searching out craft beer and food, there are about a half dozen breweries/brewpubs that are open for lunch during the week.  Perhaps the easiest to reach is Diamond Bear Brewing Company.  Diamond Bear is located in North Little Rock about two miles from the intersection of I-40 and I-30, so it’s easily accessible for people driving through.  The brewery is also located just under half a mile from Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Arkansas Travelers.  So it’s easy accessible to local residents, too.  My visit this summer was instigated by the desire to stop for lunch and some beer.

So pulling into the parking lot, I was greeted by this view.

Main entrance to the brewery.

Approaching the front door, visitors see…

Front door of the brewery.

The brewery’s name is one of the best examples of neolocalism I’ve ever seen connected to microbreweries.  One of Arkansas’s original nicknames was the “Bear State” because of the state’s large population of black bears (read more here).  The state is also the only territory in the United States to produce diamonds.  Diamonds were discovered in 1906 (read more here), which helped lead to the state’s current moniker at the “Natural State.”

After entering the brewery, we walked directly into the gift store.  However, it’s not the traditional gift store because in addition to stickers, T-shirts, and the usual brewery paraphernalia visitors can also purchase six packs and cases of beer to take home.

Gift store.

To the left of the gift store are a few tables and ultimately the entrance to the Arkansas Ale House, which is the brewery’s restaurant and dining space.

Entrance to the Arkansas Ale House.

After sitting down at the bar top, my wife and I decided to each order a flight.

Bar with draft taps.

After perusing the beer menu, we split up the draft choices and built two separate flights.

Flight of beers.

Diamond Bear offers six year-round beers plus a rotating list of seasonal offering (see full list here).  I ordered Southern Blonde, Strawberry Blonde, Honey Weiss, and Dogtown Brown.  The Strawberry Blonde and Honey Weiss are both seasonal choices, and quite unique.  Honey Weiss uses locally-sourced honey while the Strawberry Blonde is a one-off of the Southern Blonde.  Katie opted for Two Term Double IPA, Pale Ale, Pig Trail Porter, and Irish Red.  So regardless of what styles of beer you enjoy, you can find something here.

In addition to beer, the brewery has an extensive food menu as well.  I opted for the Fresno Club while Katie ordered the El Cubano.  Both sandwiches were on spot and quite delicious.  The charcuterie and cheese plate looked quite tempting, but we stopped just around one o’clock and felt like we’d be best off ordering an actual meal instead of just having appetizers.

In addition to the bar top, Diamond Bear has a large dining area as part of what they label the Arkansas Ale House.

Dining area of the brewery.

In addition to the interior space, you can see in the previous photo that there is a patio area, too.  However, it can be quite warm during the summertime, so we opted to eat and drink inside at the bar.  With the bar top, the dining area, and the patio it’s clear that the brewery was plenty of space.

There’s lots of reasons to visit a brewery, and it’s nearly impossible for me to pick one for Diamond Bear.  Whether you are excited about the localized name, the unique seasonal beers, the food menu, or even the convenient location off the interstate you will enjoy your time at this laid-back brewery.

A pint at Flyway Brewing in North Little Rock, Ark.

When visiting Central Arkansas, it can be easy to overlook North Little Rock unless you’re attending a baseball game at Dickey-Stephens Park or a concert at Verizon Arena.  North Little Rock has a population of 62,000 compared to Little Rock’s 194,000.  However, downtown North Little Rock is a very vibrant area with connections to Little Rock via the Metro Streetcar.  The life of the party is clearly on North Main Street, but one block away visitors will find Flyway Brewing Company at the intersection of Maple and West Fourth streets.

Exterior view of the brewery.

The brewery clearly plays up it name in its decor, as evidenced by the geese featured on the building’s awning over its patio.  The front door prominently displays the brewery’s primary logo, but also its secondary logo featuring a compass.

Front door of the brewery.

After walking in, visitors see a wide open space.

View of the bar and dining room.

Don’t let the crowd scare you away from sampling the beers at Flyway.  My wife and I arrived maybe 30 minutes before the brewery was set to close.  The brewery features an extensive food menu (see it here) and up to a dozen of their beers on draft (see list here).

Although Katie and I were both hungry, we opted not to order any food because she didn’t want to be that customer who ordered food just a few minutes before the kitchen closed.  So I can’t comment on any of the food, but because we sat at the bar we saw a few items go out to customers.  The pretzels looked especially delicious, but if I eat here on my next visit I’ll probably try one of the wild game brats.  They offer wild boar, rabbit, elk, and a few other wild game options.

At Flyway, customers get to build their own flights, which feature four beers.

Flight of beers.

Whenever I visit a brewery with Katie we work to split up the draft choices and cover the majority of the beers.  Katie ordered Nine Killer Imperial IPA, Pintail IPA, Early Bird IPA, and Mighty Wing, which is a collaboration with Stone’s Throw Brewing.  Mighty Wing is a blend of Flyway’s Bluewing Berry Wheat and Stone’s Throw’s Jar the Floor peach saison.

I ordered Migrate Pale Ale, Free Range Brown Ale, Magdalene Tripel, and Red Velvet Ale as part of my flight.  I also fortunate and received a sample of Kestrel Kolsch.  The Free Range Brown Ale and Magdalene Tripel were by far my favorites, but every beer hit the spot representing the intended style.  If you’re interested in reading my comments on Untappd, you can find me here and add me as a friend.

The dining area is an extremely large space, which means there is a LOT of wall space to be filled.  As a geographer, there was something that clearly called to me when I entered the brewery and sat down at the bar.  To the left of the bar is a large wall covered with a map of North America, so I naturally had to photograph it.

Artwork depicting a bird’s migration route.

As much as I loved the image, I did not realize its significance of the artwork to the brewery until afterward.  As detailed on its website, the brewery’s name references the Mississippi Flyway, which is the largest bird migratory route in the Western Hemisphere.  So while I saw the image and thought about the map component, I really should’ve viewed it as an ornithologist.

Regardless of how you view the space at Flyway Brewing, there is no mistaking that it is a great brewery in an up-and-coming entertainment area of North Little Rock.  The food will satisfy a wide spectrum of taste buds.  The beers are sure to satisfy everybody, and are excellent representations of their styles.  The wait staff is friendly, helpful, and attentive to customers.  Hopefully that means visitors to central Arkansas will make the trek across the river and visit Flyway Brewing.

My night with the Biloxi Shuckers – July 14, 2017

The newest stadium in the Southern League opened nearly two years ago to much fanfare, as the stadium endured numerous construction delays and the team played its first 25 home games on the road at a number of different ballparks (read more here).  So I was thrilled when I finally got to attend a Biloxi Shuckers home game this summer. However, I did not plan the date to attend the game.  My wife Katie scoured the Shuckers promotional scheduled picked the date because the team was giving away a bobblehead commemorating outfielder Brett Phillips chasing away an opossum (see video here).

So after visiting Biloxi Brewing Company, which is just a few blocks from the stadium, we walked over to the ballpark to make sure we were in line to secure our bobbleheads.  So while we waited, I got a few pictures of the main entrance.

Main entrance.

There were significantly more people at the north entrance to the ballpark, but the more interesting view on that side of the stadium was the outfield gates that were adorned with images of former players.

Gate on north side of stadium covered with images of former players who have played in MLB.

Once we entered the stadium and claimed our bobbleheads (more on that later), we walked around the concourse checking out food options.  However, I was most concerned about getting a photo of the game’s starting lineups.

Starting lineups for the Birmingham Barons vs. Biloxi Shuckers on July 14.

After having some beers before walking to the stadium, neither Katie nor I were particularly hungry.  So we checked out the team store and I took advantage of the opportunity to capture a few pictures of the visiting Birmingham Barons and the home Shuckers warming up before the game.

While watching warm ups we opted to get a beer at the Buena Vista Beer Garden, which is along the right field line close to the home team’s bullpen.  There are 24 beers available on draft there, which is the most available at any one location in the stadium.  Half of the 24 taps are dedicated to local and regional craft breweries with Abita, Lazy Magnolia, and Biloxi Brewing each having four taps at the stand.

The Buena Vista Beer Garden is the go-to spot for craft beer at the stadium.

There are other spots in the stadium where you can get beer, and specifically craft beer.  For example, the True Blue Brew Crew stand and The Sand bar both feature a selection of macrobrews and craft beers.  These two spots are along the first base line close to the team store.  So with drinks in hand, we ventured to our seats and I waited to take my usual photo of the game’s first pitch.

Biloxi Shuckers starting pitcher Jon Perrin delivering the first pitch to Birmingham Barons shortstop Eddy Alvarez.

After capturing the first pitch, I decided to capture a few more photos of game action before returning to my seat.

Once I returned to my seats, which were awesome with many thanks to the great staff at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, I felt like I needed a photo to capture how amazing the view was from our seats.

Game action with Barons pitcher Michael Kopech and Shuckers batter Michael Choice.

After watching a few innings of play, Katie and I decided to consider our food options and decided to examine the concession stands along the concourse.  While we opted to visit each stand to find out what they offered, the Shuckers also have a flip board with a map of “Food Finds” that helps fans find specific items.

A map of “Food Finds” helps fans locate each concession stand and portable stand throughout the stadium.

So what did we see as we explored the concourse and checked out our food options…

When it comes to food, the Shuckers do a superb job.  As you can see from the previous photos, they ballpark has all the baseball staples like hot dogs, chicken tenders, and even pizza.  Fans can also find more local flavors like po’ boys and local BBQ.  My wife and I asked people before we went to the game what we should eat and we asked some of the employees for suggestions, and we got a LOT of recommendations.  So it was difficult to decide what to eat because we didn’t keep hearing the same chorus of eat at a particular stand or order a particular item.

Considering that we came for the weekend to enjoy the beach, Katie and I felt like the natural choice was to order seafood.  Choosing seafood led us to the Aw Shucks Gulf Grill, but then the choices got more difficult.  The menu includes garlic butter oysters, jambalaya, red beans and rice stuffed Cajun sausage, beer brats, and grilled boudin.  We struggled to choose just ONE item, but thankfully we didn’t have to pick just one.  We ordered the Grand Slam Gulf Grill!

Everything in the Grand Slam Gulf Grill was fantastic.  We probably ordered AND ate way too much food, but it was by far the best food option at the park to split between two people.  By far the best part of our dining experience was that we ate something that is genuinely unique to Biloxi.

After eating and becoming stuffed on all that great seafood, I felt like it was appropriate to walk around a bit and get a few more pictures of the stadium to show off the luxury suites, kids’ area, and the grandstand.

After walking off some of the food, I remembered that I had not taken a picture of the item that Katie and I claimed when we walked in the gates: the Brett Phillips and opossum bobblehead.

A bobblehead commemorating a game during the 2016 when outfielder Brett Phillips chased away a possum.

The bobblehead itself is great, and I’m excited to have it in my collection.  However, it’s also cool because the bobblehead includes an audio recording of Brett Phillips laughing.  Phillips’s laugh is so notorious that it has been the focus of multiple articles (read one here).

Shortly after photographing the bobblehead, we got to watch a staple of Shuckers’ games: the Crawfish Boil Race.  It features a race between Spud (a potato), Kernel Cobb (an ear of corn), and Crawford (a crawfish).

Spud, Kernel Cobb, and Crawford prepare for the Desporte & Son’s Seafood Market & Deli Crawfish Boil Race.

But something different was afoot this night…

A possum appeared out of nowhere to win the Desporte & Son’s Seafood Market & Deli Crawfish Boil Race.

As we watched the end of the Crawfish Boil Race, I hoped to get a picture with the team’s seagull mascot, Schooner.  Sadly we remained elusive until we were leaving the stadium.

Katie and I with Shuckers’ mascot Schooner.

It’s the first time I’ve taken a picture with a mascot outside the stadium after the game had ended, but getting that photo with the team mascot is always an important part of enjoying the full gameday experience.

There’s no doubt the Biloxi Shuckers provide a great gameday experience at MGM Park.  From the start of our visit with free parking at the parking deck next to the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino to a unique giveaway item to excellent local beer and food options to fun in-game entertainment like the Crawfish Boil Race to getting our photo taken with the team mascot at the end of the game, we enjoyed the quintessential Minor League Baseball experience along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Final Score: Birmingham 3, Biloxi 1
Box Score

My night with the Oklahoma City Dodgers – July 4, 2017

There are a lot of pluses and minuses to regularly visiting Minor League Baseball stadiums.  The biggest minus for me is that I only starting blogging about my ballpark visits consistently five years ago.  So I haven’t blogged about all the stadiums I’ve visited over the years.  However, that is also a plus because it gives me incentive to re-visit and blog about those parks.

Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark is one that I originally visited in 2009 while in graduate school at Oklahoma State University, but I hadn’t started blogging about my stadium visits at that time.  So when planning my summer road trip to visit my wife’s family in Oklahoma, I wanted to be sure to visit the stadium.

Over the eight years since my first visit to the stadium, a lot has changed.  The name changed from AT&T Bricktown Ballpark to RedHawks Field at Bricktown (2011) to Newcastle Field at Bricktown (April 4, 2012) to the current moniker the next day.

The team itself also changed affiliations since my initial visit.  The team was a Texas Rangers affiliate (until 2010) and then became a Houston Astros club (2011-14) and ultimately became affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers (2015).

The change in affiliation and ultimately ownership resulted in the team becoming the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2015, as L.A. Dodgers minority owner Peter Guber bought the club (read more details here).

Despite multiple changes through the years, one thing has not changed.  The beautiful view fans get when walking up to the stadium’s main gate.

Stadium’s main gate (a.k.a. Johnny Bench Plaza).

There are two murals that flank the main gate.  The art installation is called “Bricktown Experience” and depicts facets of the area’s community.  In the word’s of Susan Morrison, the artist who created these mosaic murals in 2000: “The juxtaposition of old Bricktown and that of modern skyscrapers suggest a physical and spiritual connection between the two.  By placing 1890 motifs alongside present day images, a visual metaphor is created that evokes the timeless connection between past and present.”

The exterior of many stadiums can be rather ho-hum, but Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark celebrates the Hall of Fame careers of a trio of baseball players with ties to Oklahoma.

The statues are a great way to celebrate the state’s baseball heritage, but they are not the only pieces of art outside the stadium of note.  Along the third base line there is a row of six busts celebrating players like “Bullet” Rogan and Lloyd Waner.

A collections of busts outside the stadium celebrate native Oklahomans elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

While the team store isn’t usually something to celebrate, unless it has an unusual name that is a terrific pun, I thought the wraparound stickers were noteworthy because of the clear connection between the Oklahoma City affiliate and its parent club in Los Angeles.

The exterior of the team store plays up the club’s relatively new partnership.

After walking around the stadium for a few minutes and capturing photos of the numerous statues, Katie and I finally entered the ballpark.  We walked around the concourse taking in the sights and contemplating our choices at the concession stands.  Before we delved into food, I was particularly struck by the amount of images depicting Oklahoma City’s and the state’s baseball history.

The concourse also features a couple of signage pieces celebrating the team’s more recent history.

The Esurance Call Up Worthy marker celebrating former players who have made their Major League debut.

One of the coolest things about attending Minor League games is getting to see future stars, and the #CallUpWorthy marker celebrates those players.  Another cool part about MiLB games (at least for me as a geographer) is getting to see geographical representations of a MLB’s Minor League affiliates.  Not very stadium has something, but I really enjoyed the display at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

A banner along the first base line shows the distance from Oklahoma City to each of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ other affiliates.

As we were not hungry just yet, I snapped pictures of the starting lineups and the Pacific Coast League standings entering play that night.  Like some other clubs, Oklahoma City displays the starting lineups and league standings on TV screens instead of writing them out on dry-erase boards.  I’m still unsure how I feel about teams using TV screens to display the lineups.  It is certainly easier for the staff to use the electronic format, but as a fan I felt like I was blocking the walkway waiting to get a photo of both lineups and the league standings.  Granted, I probably wasn’t in anybody’s way.

After capturing the lineups and league standings, we waited around a few minutes because it was almost time for the game to begin and I wanted to capture my usual photo of the first pitch from behind home plate.

Oklahoma City Dodgers starting pitcher Madison Younginer delivers the first pitch to Iowa Cubs center fielder Jacob Hannemann.

After snapping a picture of the game’s first pitch, we found our seats along the first base line and enjoyed some of the game.

After watching a couple of innings, we decided it was time to get something to eat.  So we checked out the concourse to weigh our dinner options.

Most of the concession stands have the standard ballpark fare like hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken tenders, and more.  There are some unique options at Burgertopia and Franx, although these are both chains found at baseball stadiums.  So it was difficult for me to choose something that I felt was truly unique to this particular stadium.  After much debate, I opted for…

Porker Hot Dog, available at Franx, is a foot-long dog covered in pulled pork BBQ, BBQ sauce, and coleslaw.

The Porker Hot Dog was good.  It wasn’t anything super unique, as I’ve seen this style of hot dog throughout the South (yes, we can kind of call Oklahoma part of the South).  Don’t get me wrong, I’d encourage others to order it and I’d have it again myself.  However, in my stadium journeys I try to find something that is truly unique and reflects the local culture and cuisine.

I finished my hot dog while catching up with grad school friends who met us at the game.  However, these friends were late buying tickets and had to purchase general admission seats because the Fourth of July game is almost always a sell out for the Dodgers.  So instead of trying to find spots for four of us, we chatted and walked around the stadium a bit as I took some photos.

As we walked around the stadium, I was able to capture a few more photos of the game action.

The Dodgers were greeted with raucous cheers after winning the game.  However, I attended a game on the Fourth of July.  So people were there to see fireworks.

The start of the fireworks extravaganza following the game.

I didn’t get many great photos of the fireworks, but it was an awesome display.  It was a national holiday, and it was clear the Dodgers went above and beyond to celebrate America.  However, I saw something this night that I haven’t seen before at other games featuring a fireworks display.  I saw players sitting on the field with their wives and girlfriends and children enjoying the show.

Players, their wives, and children watching the fireworks on the field after the game.

It was awesome seeing the players and their families watching the fireworks display.  It’s a great reminder that no matter how old we are that it’s always special to watch a fireworks display.  It also reminds me of why I enjoy attending Minor League games.  There’s always something new to discover and a memory to be created at every single baseball stadium.

Final Score: Iowa 2, Oklahoma City 5
Box Score