Photos by Stephen Ironside, Ironside Photography
Have you ever wanted to explore the Fayetteville Ale Trail, but nobody in your crew was willing to be the designated driver? Are you looking for a fun activity that shows off the best of Northwest Arkansas to your out-of-town guests?
Thanks to Fayetteville residents Dustin and Lora Murphy, you will soon have a new option for getting to your favorite breweries. Their business, Hogshead Tours, will start loading passengers on July 26 for quick excursions into the local beer scene.
The University of Arkansas graduates got the idea for the business after traveling the world and experiencing local cultures through guided tours.
“We love traveling,” said Lora Murphy. “And anytime we travel, the first thing we do is look up tours in the area – generally beer or wine-related. That’s always the highlight of our travel experience.”
“And with all the microbreweries popping up in our area, we found ourselves constantly going to all these little local breweries and enjoying them,” she added. “So we thought, ‘Why not have a tour company so we can create that kind of experience here in Fayetteville?'”
The cornerstone of Hogshead Tours is a vintage 1970 Volkswagen van that the couple purchased from an online seller in Santa Rosa, California.
“We wanted something unique, something to make it fun,” said Dustin Murphy. “It’s beer, it should be fun.”
They flew to California to claim their prize, but at the time neither of them knew how to drive a standard transmission. After a one-hour lesson in a Home Depot parking lot they set sail for Fayetteville.
“We feel like the van aligns really well with Fayetteville,” Lora said. “It adds a more charming component to the tours.”
“Vanny” – the name lovingly bestowed upon the Volkswagen van – is not the only vehicle in the Hogshead fleet. A GMC Yukon XL Denali known as “Lucinda” can also be called into action when needed. The Murphys said there will be room for six passengers regardless of which vehicle is in use.
Tour packages are available on Thursday and Friday nights, with a couple of options on Saturdays. Each tour includes stops at three different breweries and takes approximately four hours to complete. Specific itineraries for each day are set ahead of time to accommodate the breweries’ schedules, and to ensure at least one behind-the-scenes tour is available to participants.
The van will be stocked with water and light snacks, with a cooler for take-home purchases from the breweries.
“You also get a flight of beer at each location,” said Dustin. “And if you live in the city of Fayetteville we’ll pick you up at your house – and take you back to your house when we’re done.”
The per-passenger price will be $70, which seems like a pretty good deal considering the free beer and pick-up/drop-off service for Fayetteville residents.
But don’t think it’s just a taxi service that the Murphys are offering. The driver will be educated about beer, and will be able to talk to passengers about the brewing process and the nuances of each tour stop.
“We want to create an experience in the van,” said Lora. “It’s going to be somebody that’s knowledgeable about the bio of each brewery.”
The response from the brewing community has been overwhelmingly positive. Brewers see the benefit in having an industry partner who can bring craft beer neophytes into the fold.
“Everyone has been excited,” Lora said. “They’ve been very cooperative. Everyone has worked with us behind the scenes to help us understand their schedules and to open up their breweries and allow us to bring visitors by.”
Beer will not be the only focus area for Hogshead Tours. The Murphys said they will also offer wine tours once per month – more often if the demand is there. Food and farm tours will showcase the culinary experience in Northwest Arkansas. And there is an opportunity for folks to create their own itinerary.
“People are going to come up with things that we haven’t thought of yet,” said Dustin. “So we want to leave that open as well. If you come up with an idea, send us a note and let’s see if we can figure out how to charter it for you.”
But it’s obvious that the Murphys are especially excited to feature Northwest Arkansas’ flourishing beer community. Each brewery is unique and has something different to offer, which excites Lora in particular.
“Everybody has a little different energy about them,” she told me. “I feel a sense of community, an intimacy with the people in each [brewery’s] neighborhood. I don’t think we can have enough breweries!”
Tour reservations are now being accepted at Hogshead’s website. So grab a few friends and spend a fun evening with Vanny exploring the brewing landscape of Northwest Arkansas.
Brian is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds (FLOPS). You can follow him on Twitter at @EBSorensen.