FoamFest '98


Arkansas' craft brewers and beer distributors got together on April 25 to throw the biggest beerfest that Little Rock has seen and in the process earned the Arkansas Arthritis Foundation over $15,000. The downtown River Market area offered the perfect venue for this first-time event. The product of the city's recent revitalization efforts this area features a covered patio area with space that filled with more than 1,300 people and offered great views of the Arkansas River that meanders by just past the new outdoor amphitheater. The area also is home to the outdoor Saturday farmers' market, an indoor array of boutiques and eateries, the downtown public library, and a museum. Police protection is nearby with a community station only 50 feet from the event site. With cigars being sold there was the potential for obnoxious second-hand smoke destroying people's tasting pleasure but the constant wind eliminated that concern. The city-run facility had multiple restrooms nearby but I doubt municipal planners study how to calculate the required capacity when everyone in a facility is constantly consuming beer. This might make for one of the more entertaining topics in this field of study though.

Things started slowly at noon but by mid-afternoon the sunny, warm weather brought out the crowds who were eager to give up $15 in order to sample from the variety of over 100 beers. Ozark, River Rock, Weidman's, and Vino's, the state's four craft breweries, showed their strong support for the event by bringing a good selection of draughts. Local distributors also donated nearly 100 micro and import beers, all of which helped fill the eight hour tasting session. Many used this opportunity to introduce the state to new offerings such as Tennent's Lager from Scotland, Staropramen from Prague, the Michelob Black & Tan from Anheuser Busch, and the Nut Brown from Red Hook. Unfortunately for the citizens of Arkansas, their state government denies them the opportunity to taste craft beers from neighboring states if those breweries don't "register", read "pay big bucks", for the privilege of having their beer enter the state. Fortunately Boulevard Brewing, popular in Kansas City, brought six of their very quaffable ales. Stand-out beers included the Weidman's Nut brown, creamy and chocolately; the Abita Purple Haze, a clean raspberry wheat; and the very popular Rogue Hazelnut Brown with its unique nutty flavor. The "clearest bottle" award goes to the Grolch Summer Blond. Made with special "lemon peel" it's said to be in no danger going "skunky" from light-struck hops, hmmm! Non-brewing support came from the music community where three of Little Rock's most popular bands did their part for this charitable cause. Playing thought the day were Ebo and the Tom Cats, Kevin Kerby, and Lee Cossley. Promotion came from local radio stations who got the word out through their Public Service Announcements. Sadly, the print and television failed to cover the event, possibly due to it's politically incorrect focus on the enjoyment of beer.

Next year look for an even bigger event with the addition of food, a fun run, an art show, more music, and possibly a BBQ contest. Given that the organizers met their fund raising goals, rowdy behavior was minimal, and many breweries made money from their merchandise sales, things should be off to a good start for the 2nd Annual FoamFest. Arkansas has come a long way in the last few years. Perhaps next year we'll even see some cask-conditioned brews.

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - April, 1998

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