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/ jlovett@swtimes.com

The collective tasting palate of Fort Smith has matured enough to appreciate a wider array of beer styles thanks in large part to beer festivals like Fest of Ale, which is back for a sixth year on Friday to benefit Girls Inc. of Fort Smith.

More than 100 beers from around the world, including several from Arkansas and Oklahoma, will be at the festival, and many are just being introduced to the Arkansas market.

VIP ticket holders will be privy to food from AJ’s Oyster House and a variety of high-dollar beers. General admission is $35 in advance, or $45 at the door, and VIP passes are $65 both in advance and at the door. The VIP passes offer both food and a special selection of high-end, limited edition beers like from Caldera Brewing Company’s Mogli, an oak-aged imperial porter with chocolate that goes for $100 a case.

There will also be some new Keller Marzen from Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago, as well as their lineup of “sour sisters.”

Six years ago, there were no beer festivals in Fort Smith. Then came along the Fest of Ale, the brainchild of Paula Glidewell of Glidewell Distributing. She said many local charities were asked, but only Girls Inc. of Fort Smith was willing to get on board.

In 2014, the River Valley Ale Raisers started the Ale on the Border Beer Festival to benefit Antioch for Youth & Family. In 2016, Ales for Trails became a summer event to raise funds for local bicycle and walking trail development. There are now three Fort Smith beer festivals for three seasons: Ale on the Border in the spring at Chaffee Crossing Historic District; Ales for Trails in the summer at Harry E. Kelley Riverfront Park; and Fest of Ale for the fall.

Thanks to proper introductions to new beer styles, these festivals have opened up the collective minds and taste buds of the Fort Smith area to more full-flavored beers, Glidewell said.

Both Eric Pendergrass, vice president and general counsel at Burford Distributing, and Glidewell agree the beer festivals have expanded the local palate and believe the former bakery will be a good venue for the festival. There is room for more than 1,000 people at the former bakery.

“It’s a great venue and I hope the festival will have a wonderful turnout,” Pendergrass said.

Now an event space owned by the Hanna Family with large handmade cedar tables, a corner of the former Shipley/Flowers bakery building also now doubles as a production facility for Fort Smith Popcorn Co.

The Beers

Burford Distributing will have beers from 20 different breweries, including a few beers from Ballast Point Brewing Co. in Southern California that will make their Fort Smith beer festival debut: Sculpin IPA, Longfin Lager and Sea Rose Tart Cherry Wheat Ale. Pendergrass said the beers came into Burford right after Ales for Trails in July.

Among the two dozen or so beers from Glidewell Distributing, at least five of those beers will be introduced to the Arkansas market at Fest of Ale: Austria’s Stiegl Sonen Konig II and III; Belgium’s dry Ruwet Cidre; and New York’s Evil Twin Sumo in a Sidecar and Even More Jesus Coco.

San Diego brewery Green Flash will also be well represented at Fest of Ale with Tangerine Soul IPA, the GFB blonde ale and their Cellar 3 Ideal Belgique.

Nicole Mitchell of Glidewell Distributing said Green Flash’s Tangerine Soul has become one of her favorite beers lately. Other beers carried by Glidewell for the festival that Arkansans will recognize include award-winning beers from Diamond Bear Brewing Co. in Little Rock, Pine River Brewing Co. in Bucyrus, Mo., Battered Boar Brewing Co. in Edmond, Okla., and Prairie Artisan Ales in Tulsa.

Belle Point Distributing expects to have a nice lineup of fall season beers from Elysian Brewing Co. in Seattle. Matt Holland, successor manager at Belle Point, said a large pumpkin ale-only beer festival in Seattle has jeopardized its shipment of other pumpkin ales from Elysian. But he is hoping to also receive its Dark of the Moon, Punkuccino Coffee Pumpkin Ale and the Great Pumpkin Imperial Ale.

Goose Island Beer Co. of Chicago has just put out its Keller Marzen that is getting good reviews. Belle Point will have that available. Holland said it has been awhile since Goose Island put out an Oktoberfest-style beer.

To improve serving, Holland also said he intends to group the beers by style rather than brewery. If someone is not that into IPAs, they won’t have to wait as long to try the pumpkin beer or the Keller Marzen.

Girls Inc. of Fort Smith offers activities that “confront the serious needs of girls while building knowledge, skills and attitude to enable them to be competent, confident individuals,” the nonprofit’s website states.

The value in attending a beer festival comes from not just supporting a good cause like Girls Inc., Holland said, but also being able to try a variety of beers without fully committing to buying a whole six pack.

The River Valley Ale Raisers will offer a couple of home-brewed beers; a hoppy wheat beer in the vein of 3 Floyds Brewing Co.’s Gumballhead, and a traditional Pilsner.

Sodie’s Wine and Spirits is the primary sponsor for this year’s Fest of Ale. More than 100 tickets have been pre-purchased for the festival, according to Amanda Daniels of Girls Inc. of Fort Smith.