A craft beer lover’s travel guide to Louisiana
Melanie Warner Spencer
WE WERE ON THE ROAD
en route to visit a brewery in Lake Charles — listening to Lucinda Williams spin tales born of memories — when I realized how my life was filled with craft-beer memories. From having pride in the old-school Cincinnati beer culture during my wild Northern Kentucky youth through falling in love with Shiner Bock in my 20s just because it was different. Drinking Yuengling 10 years ago in Pennsylvania, because the locals couldn’t wait to introduce me to it. Vacations spent drinking Sierra Nevada in San Francisco and Uinta’s Traders IPA getting me through tough movie jobs in Salt Lake City.
Fairhope, Alabama to that Sweetwater in Georgia — so many memories, distilled, vivid, a craft beer in my hand.
Isn’t it weird how craft-beer memories stick with you? I’ve obviously had it, but I don’t have any great memories sponsored by AB Inbev, the makers of Budweiser. Though, I guess those Clydesdales are cool.
The craft beer scene in Louisiana is a tricky beast. Due to legislation, it has wallowed in the lower echelon of breweries per capita ever since they kept track of such things. Fortunately, making money talks, nonsense eventually walks and the folks in Baton Rouge started listening and got into the craft brewery game — a game which involves over 5,300 breweries across the United States.
Yet, including brewpubs, there are only 29 breweries in the state of Louisiana.
There would be a lot less if it weren’t for House Bill 232, which was passed in the 2015 regular session and allowed breweries to sell up to 250 barrels of beer a month. This flexibility allowed a vital source of revenue for craft brewers and enabled smaller companies to expand slowly if need be. If you’re drinking at a craft brewery that opened in the past two years, you can probably thank this bill for the pale ale in your hands.
Yes, Abita Brewing has been around since 1986 and NOLA Brewing cranked up in 2009, but the industry is still in its growing stages and, with the support of the government, could roar into a bright Louisiana future. A lot of legislation causes Louisianans to throw their hands up in the air, both in confusion and frustration. But with the support of the state government, we can all throw our hands up in the air, bring our hands together and start clapping for an industry that is built with brick and mortar and provides permanent jobs in the Pelican state.
Louisiana craft beer is here. Now, let’s get to some breweries, turn the music up and have a good time.
* Great Raft Brewing poured Shreveport’s first locally brewed beer since Prohibition in October, 2013.
Shreveport and Bossier City are so far north, I considered putting snow chains on the Saturn to get there. Of course that’s ridiculous, but Shreveport does have a hockey team, so maybe I’m not that far off.
The first sights welcoming ramblers into town are whimsical, large-scale murals by artist Chris Opp dotting the cityscape. If you see a mural of a young girl sleeping on a pile of books under the sea (it’s called “Blowing Bubbles”), then you’re right next door to Flying Heart Brewing (700 Barksdale Blvd., Bossier City, 318-584-7039, flyingheartbrewing.com) in Bossier City.
Two couples that were home-brewers and wanted to take a shot at making some coin in a business they loved created Flying Heart. Ben and Leah Hart teamed up with Ben and Elizabeth Pattillo and purchased an old fire station in what is soon to be, after all of the construction clears, the epicenter of Bossier City. I knocked back a few smoky Barrel 52’s and some Black Heart Ales on the patio and realized that if you start going to the brewery now you can be one of those people who say, “Oh yeah. I remember what Flying Heart was like before everyone started coming downtown.”
I was standing in Red River Brewing (1200 Marshall St., Shreveport, 318-317-4110, redriverbeer.com) the moment I discovered Louisiana still has a hockey team. Jared Beville, co-owner, told me that the Shreveport Mudbugs hockey team was a local favorite, so much so, that Red River used the Mudbugs logo on its dynamite Penalty Bock Lager — a lager that compares favorably to the Texas legend, Shiner Bock. Another hit is the Hay Ryed Louisiana Wheat Rye. If you can’t find the Red River beers yet, believe me, they’re coming.
Our ramblers rambled on to Great Raft Brewing (1251 Dalzell St., Shreveport, 318-734-9881, greatraftbrewing.com), a stellar compound in a warehouse district. Great Raft is easily one of the most respected breweries in the state. “Drink Real Beer” is the motto and the crowds have shown up to do just that. We dug into the latest release, an easy drinking saison called Farmhouse Slang. We left with the latest volume of Provisions and Traditions and saluted the Louisiana state flag that hangs over the brewery.
Speaking of flags, head east to Monroe and check out the Flying Tiger Brewery (506 N. 2nd St., Monroe, 318-547-1738, flyingtigerbeer.com). This joint wants you to drink heroic beers such as the Burma Blonde and Man At Arms amber ale. A replica of the shark-faced Curtis P-40 “Flying Tiger,” as the flyboys say, “checks your six,” while you sit at the bar. Just across the Ouachita River, sits the original craft brewery in Monroe, the appropriately named Ouachita Brewing Company (95 McClendon Ave., West Monroe, 318-387-9816, ouachitabrewing.com), a brewery — like so many others — that hosts events at the brewery and promotes charities around town.
* Patrons check out the craft beer selections at Flying Heart Brewing in Bossier City. The reporter recommends the Black Heart Ale.
|You can’t miss Great Raft brewing in Shreveport’s Historic Fairfield District. The taproom is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 4 to 9 p.m. and Saturday 12 to 9 p.m. Flying Heart’s Louisiana Amber, (left), is smooth and flavorful. The brewery is located in a former firehouse in downtown Bossier City. Great Raft’s Southern Drawl (right) is an easy drinking lager.|
STAY Homewood Suites by Hilton in Bossier City is a solid pick for those who like complimentary breakfast, large, apartment-like suites and a sweet pool and putting green.
For only having one brewery, Lake Charles should be ecstatic that the Crying Eagle Brewing Company (1165 E. McNeese St., Lake Charles, 337-990-4871, cryingeagle.com) fell into its lap. Eric Avery, local businessman (and eventually brewery co-founder and president) hooked up with Bill Mungai, a local home brewer who would become Crying Eagle’s brewmaster. The doors opened July 2016 to a taproom built for hanging out. Rolling into the building you find a lounge with comfy chairs to the left and to the right, just outside the taproom, you have a courtyard with the standard, nationally accepted game of craft breweries — cornhole.
Crying Eagle launched its beers into the Lafayette market by building a nest overnight in the city. The nest contained three, beer can-filled eggs. After word got out, the big reveal was a new brand of brew in town. Now that’s a great way to open up a beer into a new market.
Another great way to open a beer is with your hands, which I did repeatedly wandering around Lake Charles. We tasted an excellent American-style lager at the brewery and hit Sloppy’s Downtown later, a restaurant and bar that has that “it” factor and Louisiana brew on tap. Luna Live with its 44 beers on tap and Rikenjaks Brewing Company are also great places to kick back for a few local cold ones.
On our way out of town, and at the insistence of my social media feed, we hit Darrell’s Po-Boys. I knew we were in for some goodness when I counted 54 people gobbling down sandwiches. The “Special” seemed more sub sandwich than poor boy, but the bread was fantastic and as the house mayo rained down upon my shirt and shorts I knew I had made the right choice. Don’t eat poor boys and drive, folks.
Doesn’t it seem like Lafayette would have more breweries? This town is too cool not to have craft beer coursing through its veins. Thankfully the Wurst Biergarten exists right downtown, sporting a large selection of beer (with a large courtyard to match) from Louisiana and beyond. Cajun Brewing (206 Rayburn St., Lafayette, 337-806-9196, cajunbrewing.com) however, is currently the only brewery in town. This brewery is far from a one-trick pony but the Cajun Wit is definitely its big horse in the craft beer race. Wits are a perfect beer for the Louisiana summer time, the kind of beer you can drink all day long and ponder if you’re really going to talk about dogs in the next paragraph.
You see here’s the thing about Murphy and Mr. Claude. They don’t brew any of their own beers — because they’re dogs at Parish Brewing Company (229 Jared Dr., Broussard, 337-330-8601, parishbeer.com) and that would be odd. Pro-tip for when you visit the brewery: Mr. Claude is all about meeting the humans and Murphy is all about following Mr. Claude. So, they’re sort of a package deal.
Blame my general sense of direction (or lack thereof) for not realizing that Broussard is a suburb of Lafayette. I always pictured these guys making the near legendary Ghost In The Machine IPA or Doctor Hoptagon Black IPA out in the bayou somewhere. So color me surprised when I left Lafayette, blinked and my Waze app told me I was at the brewery.
North of Lafayette, sits Bayou Teche Brewing (1106 Bushville Highway, Arnaudville, 337-754-5122, bayoutechbrewing.com) — one of the oldest breweries in the state. Of course, old is a relative term when you’re talking craft beer in Louisiana, be that as it may, the Bayou Teche crew formed way back in 2009. Way back in my earliest days of visiting New Orleans, I stumbled upon the LA 31 tap and inhaled my first LA 31 Biere Pale. It was wonderful. Bayou Teche also makes the Ragin’ Cajuns Ale, which is the first officially licensed beer involving a university. I assume everyone in Lafayette drinks this beer, as they try to figure out how to get everyone else to call their school the University of Louisiana without mentioning the Lafayette part.
If you’re driving through the countryside and find yourself in Thibodaux you should hit up Mudbug Brewery (1878 LA-3185, Thibodaux, 985-859-4899, mudbugbrewery.com) makers of the satisfying, singular Café Au Lait Stout. Head the other way off I-90 and you can have some pints at Spigot’s Brew Pub (622 Barrow St., Houma, 985-333-3103).
Crying Eagle’s second floor taps. Canebrake six packs at Parish Brewing. The long, wooden bar at Parish Brewing.
STAY L’auberge Casino Resort is the place to be if you’re in town for the craft beer, McNeese State football or just to live that groovy casino lifestyle.
I’ve been holding off talking about Baton Rouge because I know when I say, “Baton Rouge,” you think, “traffic.” It’s a strange vortex of steel where no matter what time you hit town, you’re too late and traffic is a mess. So let’s get off the highway, shall we?
Tin Roof Brewing Company (1624 Wyoming St., Baton Rouge, 225-377-7022, tinroofbeer.com) is the big beer in town. It opened in 2010 and has been a major player in southern Louisiana ever since. Tin Roof’s starting line up is built for easy drinking with the Bayou Bengal Lager and a couple of light ales (Tin Roof Blonde, Turnrow Coriander, Perfect Tin) at the forefront. The newest brewery in production on the Baton Rouge scene is the Southern Craft Brewing Company (14141 Airline Highway, Baton Rouge, 225-663-8119, socraftbeer.com) — a company that makes the superb Red Stick Rye. While you’re in town, and since traffic is a mess, you should stop by the Chimes restaurant, which features over 70 taps of beer on draft.
If you want to get "out there,” cruise over to Marksville and visit the expanded digs at Broken Wheel Brewery (109 Tunica Drive E, Marksville, 318-253-6543, brokenwheelbrew.com).
After freeing yourself from the entanglement of Baton Rouge traffic, don’t start driving too fast or you will blow by multiple opportunities to remind yourself about the good things in life on the North shore of Lake Pontchartrain, such as the scenic woods and bayous, quaint town centers and, of course, the wealth of breweries.
* Brew master Bill Mungai checks out one of his and brewer Joel Prudhomme’s latest creations. The American Style Lager excels and Peanut Butter Porter is a nice change of pace.
GREATER NEW ORLEANS
Covington Brewhouse (226 E. Lockwood St., Covington, 985-893-2884, covingtonbrewhouse.com) is actually pretty old school, having sprung from the seeds of the old Heiner Brau brewery. Its Anonymous IPA is the real deal and even though I don’t dig on fruity beers, a lot of my friends like the Strawberry Ale.
Just a walk or bike down the Tammany Trace trail gets you to the Chafunkta Brewing Company (21449 Marion Lane, Mandeville, 985-869-0716, chafunktabrew.com) I implore you to go buy the Kingfish Ale immediately. It’s listed as a cream ale but doesn’t really strike me as such. Either way, I love it and go on major kicks with this brew. While in Mandeville, check out the Old Rail Brewing Company, a brewpub downtown. Gnarly Barley (1709 Corbin Rd., Hammond, 985-318-0723, gnarlybeer.com) in Hammond, makes an IPA more interesting than most with their Radical Rye IPA. Yes, it’s hoppy like most but also has a peppery spin. For something a little different, head 20 miles up the road to Chappapeela Farms Brewery (57542 Hillcrest School Rd., Amite City, 225-281-9474, chapbrewery.com), this outfit makes a quality saison. Chappapeela does not have a taproom and you should call ahead as its not always open to the public for farm tours.
If you’re talking craft beer on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain you have to talk about the current godfather of it all — the Abita Brewing Company.
Kristallweizen Ale tops the writer’s must drink list at Wayward Owl. The brewery is housed in a the circa-1940s Gem Theater in Central City.
It might be common for new New Orleanians to point to NOLA Brewing as the first craft beer brewery in the area even though Abita Brewing (166 Barbee Road, Covington, 800-737-2311, abita.com) has been doing craft beer since way before it became cool, or even a trend. Abita Brewing opened its doors in Abita Springs, a quaint whisper of a town, way back in 1986 in what is now the company’s brewpub. Abita has been, is still, and will be the largest brewer in Louisiana by far. Abita is the only craft brewer carrying the “regional” designation. Regionals are defined as brewers who make between 15,000 and 2 million barrels a year. In 2015, Abita produced more than 160,000 barrels of beer. All of the other breweries in the state are listed by the Brewer’s Association as microbreweries (under 15,000 barrels of beer a year).
For a long time a craft beer aficionado only had two brewpubs, Crescent Brewhouse (527 Decatur, New Orleans, 504-522-0571, crescentcitybrewhouse.com) and Gordon Biersch (200 Poydras St., New Orleans, 504-552-2739, gordonbiersch.com) to whet their appetite. After so many years of wondering why New Orleans was a craft beer desert, the Crescent City is starting to get its groove on. The seed that was planted by Kirk Coco and NOLA Brewing (3001 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, 504-896-9996, nolabrewing.com) gave flower to the Courtyard Brewery, Second Line Brewing (433 N. Bernadotte St., New Orleans, 504-248-8979, secondlinebrewing.com), Urban South Brewery (1645 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, 504-267-4852, urbansouthbrewery.com) and Michael Naquin’s 40 Arpent Brewing Company (6809 N. Peters St., Arabi, 504-444-3972, 40arpentbrewery.com) out in Arabi (creator of the superb Red Bean Ale). Justin and Kristen Boswell’s Wayward Owl Brewing Company followed next and now another wave of breweries will crop up with the opening of Brieux Carre (2115 Decatur St., New Orleans, 504-304-4242, brieuxcarre.com) in April and forthcoming openings of Parleaux Beer Lab (634 Lesseps St., New Orleans, 504-702-8433, parleauxbeerlab.com), Royal Brewery (7366 Townsend Place, Building B, New Orleans, 504-415-8444, royalbrewerynola.com) and Port Orleans Brewing Company (4124 Tchoupitoulas St. New Orleans, no listed number, portorleansbrewingco.com).
The mother ship, NOLA Brewing, is the heavyweight with plenty of beers to choose from on store shelves and even more in the taproom. Its Mecha IPA is a standard in my household, and by household I mean my stomach. Whenever I want to switch things up I hit the Courtyard Brewery (1020 Erato St., New Orleans, no listed number, courtyardbrewing.com) owned by Scott Wood. Courtyard doesn’t put product on shelves so that Wood can bring in other craft beer from around the country to sell alongside his own creations such as the Baby IPA. If you have one beer in town to pick from to get a newbie to join the craft beer revolution, you have to offer them the Kristallweizen Ale from Wayward Owl (3940 Thalia St., New Orleans, 504-827-1646, waywardowlbrewing.com). It is the supreme “all day” beer in the city. With that, I must admit, I’m getting thirsty, folks.
One day, say 10 years down the road, we might look back on 2017 and laugh about how we didn’t have many options for craft beer in Louisiana. Maybe we’ll be standing around at a crawfish boil grabbing cans out of the cooler or sitting in a bar looking at all of the Louisiana taps we have to choose from, either way, on that day remember all of the hard work that it took by the craft brewers, and state legislators, to get one of nature’s oldest creations into your hands. And with my hand, I raise a glass to you. Cheers, Louisiana.
* The New Orleans chapter of the Pink Boots Society, a group of female brewing professionals, debuted their “You Don’t Own Mead” Braggot/honey ale at Wayward Owl Brewing.
STAY The Ace Hotel, located in New Orleans’ Central Business District, has hipness to spare, a rooftop bar, dining, entertainment and a select group of Louisiana craft beers on tap.