Hurricane Katrina’s storm winds peeled back the siding on Elizabeth’s Restaurant, a corner café in the Bywater near the river levee, and revealed an artifact of New Orleans history. Beneath the modern siding on the second floor of the old Creole townhouse was a mural painted on the original weatherboards advertising Regal Beer, a long-gone local brewery.
“They put it high up there so guys on ships on the river could see it over the levee,” says Jim Harp, who bought Elizabeth’s in the spring and plans to restore the historic mural.
3090: BE NEAR THY BEER – A guide to where to do the brewToday, trees on the batture would obscure the advertisement to passing river traffic and Regal Beer shipped its last keg many years ago. But the discovery on Elizabeth’s wall is a testament to the city’s rich brewing heritage – one that is finding new life with a variety of small, local producers and taverns that specialize in presenting within their walls as wide a selection of brews as possible.
Among local breweries, the largest by far is Abita Brewing Co., which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year (see sidebar, pg. 109). Meanwhile, the oldest remaining New Orleans brewery, the venerable Dixie Brewing Co., is currently out of action but in the process of rebuilding from hurricane damage.
Others have stepped up more recently to create new local beers. These are very small-scale producers, known in the industry as microbreweries, and several offer their products exclusively in brewpubs. That’s the case with Crescent City Brewhouse, the restaurant that makes up to six different beers on premises at its historic Decatur Street building. Founder and brewmaster Wolfram Koehler hails from Germany – which translates to Beer Heaven for some enthusiasts. The beers change seasonally, though the mainstay Red Stallion – a hoppy, copper-colored beer – is always available.
Another new local brewery serving on premises only is Gordon Biersch, the local branch of a national chain which opened in 2005 on Poydras Street, adjacent to Harrah’s Casino.
The local restaurant chain Zea previously served its own beers only at its Clearview location in Metairie, where the brews were made in-house. But now the beer is available at all its restaurants and even on tap at other bars thanks to a unique arrangement with the area’s newest brewer.
Henryk Orlik, a native of Nuremburg, Germany, and a former brewmaster for Abita, opened his own brewery called Heiner Brau in Covington in 2005. After Zea co-owner Gary Darling sampled one of Heiner Brau’s earliest products, he knew he found someone who could produce his recipes to a high standard outside of his restaurant. Orlik began brewing Zea beers in December and now Zea sells it on tap at all its locations, and by the bottle and keg to others. The arrangement also gives a large influx of business to the new brewery, which also produces its own German style beers for retail sale.
“It’s one of those good things, those opportunities, that have come out of the storm,” says Darling.
Draft Season
In New Orleans, beer remains perpetually popular but hits high season in summer and early fall. There’s the hot weather, of course, that increases the appeal of cold, frosty libations and there is also football season, which packs local bars. At a few local establishments, the selection of beers is enough to pose a challenge even to sports fans accustomed to keeping vast reams of sports stats in their heads.
One such example is the Bulldog Tavern, with locations on Magazine Street and on Canal Boulevard. The Bulldog has some 50 beers on tap and an equal number in bottles, so if you can’t find one you like here, it might be time to ditch beer drinking altogether and take up a less finicky pastime – like picking Nobel prize winners, for instance. Also on Magazine Street, the Balcony Bar has a run of beer taps long enough to boggle the mind as to where all the kegs they represent might be stored in the old, two story building.
At first glance, the long row of fridges at Cooter Brown’s Tavern & Oyster Bar may appear like the frozen foods aisle of your local supermarket. But instead of fish sticks and waffles, these fridges house a fine selection of bottled beer. Together with the draft beer selection, a patron practically needs a sommelier of the suds to help sort through it all.
Other popular local bars keep a far more modest selection of beers on hand, but make one or two the specialty of the house. That’s the case at Finn McCool’s, the Irish pub in Mid-City where the oft-repeated act of pouring a Guinness stout is elevated to an art form. Guinness is from Ireland, and so is Finn McCool’s bartender Keith Patterson.
“My dad taught me how to pour a Guinness when I was 10, it was all the adults in our house ever drank,” Patterson says.
By age 15 he was working in a pub near his home outside Belfast, pouring pints for his teachers late on school nights.
“The art of the Guinness is to have no bubbles in the head and of course you want the dome on top,” Patterson says, indicating the thick meniscus of foam that crowns the pint. “Half an inch of foam is perfect.”
According to Patterson, it takes about three minutes to properly pour a Guinness, which includes a pause about two-thirds of the way through pouring for the beer to settle and another pause at the end before it is served. The result, however, is a clean, flawless taste that is always in