Arkansas

Hops in Heaven: 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.

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