The charming Mrs. M and I were headed to Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas — which has a world-class art collection and is running a stunning outdoor installation called "Forest Lights" through April.
Most museums that can conceivably call themselves world-class will do so, but, thanks to the Walton family, Crystal Bridges caused a Vanity Fair-grade scandal with the Northeastern art establishment by buying up some of the best pieces in the country and carting them off to Arkansas. Yes, the Euro-snobs had the same complaint about the best Old World art being carted off to New York and Boston a century or so ago, but this time the argument is that Bentonville sounds like it's in the middle of nowhere.
And you're damn right it is! But thankfully, pretty much every time you get up in the mountains with a decent economic base, great craft breweries sprout like dandelions. Of course, we were there for cultural pursuits, namely wandering through the "Forest Lights" exhibit, which looks like a Pink Floyd laser light show in the woods but sounds like Enya. One installation, Whispering Tree, involved talking at a tree, which, evidently, had opinions. I don't know what it says about my marriage because we've been stuck together without a lot of company for the better part of a year, yet neither of us were desperate enough to have a chat with a tree. Certainly not if it was going to talk back.
I thought that the next installation looked an awful lot like a beer garden and Mrs. M — an art history major — explained that is exactly what it was. It was beautiful — nice lines, bold colors. My general rule is to always ask the bartender for a local brew. She recommended a cream stout by Ozark Beer Company because it was chilly and windy. It's a lot of roasted coffee that balances out the sweetness of the caramel with some chocolate thrown in. The ABV is 5.3 percent; it isn't too heavy for a stout, but it's got presence.
The next day was warmer, but the wind still cut. Honestly, I don't remember either of us actually choosing to go on a hike; it just happened. You step off the sidewalk thinking you're going through a hedge and there you are, hiking. Afterward, we stopped at a restaurant called The Hive where I ordered a Fallen Queen Belgian Witbier made by another northeastern Arkansas outfit called New Providence Brewing Co. As a rule, I'm not a witbier guy, but I'm glad I colored outside the lines. This one had a lot of citrus, orange peel, and a lemon tart along with coriander. Like a saison or a bier de garde, it was just refreshing, the sort of beer that would go well with a really good turkey sandwich. That may not sound very grand, but a good turkey sandwich can be hard to beat.
Because I'm a workaholic, I ordered a second round and landed back on another Ozark Beer, but on the far side of the spectrum from a cream stout. Ozark's American Pale Ale is what gets called a session beer, or less coherently "sessionable" by beer sorts. What they mean is "drinkable." If I'm going to use a funny word for it, I'll stick with the very British and much more visceral "quaffable." That does this American pale ale more justice. It's hoppy, even a little tart, and the right amount of bitter. It too will also rock the turkey sandwich, and so much more.
So, the next time you are gallivanting through Arkansas, you have a to-do list: Take in some nature, see world-class art and really cheese off a Yankee in the bargain, and try the local beer. The only drawback to the three listed here is that none are high enough in alcohol to make having a conversation with a tree seem normal.