It was not too long ago, maybe during your parents’ or grandparents’ day, that there were a lot of beers on the market, but they were all along the same lines.

New Orleans, in particular, had a large number of breweries, at one time more than 30. We are unfortunately not even a pale shadow of our former beer brewing self.

Many of us remember some of the names (by the way, this has made for many name-the-breweries trivia contests, with a six-pack of something exotic riding on the outcome,) and many of the names are lost in the mists of mergers and failures.

The proud marques of Jax, Dixie, Falstaff and Regal are in the memory bank. Sometimes we can even come up with George Merz, Southern, Crescent City, Pelican, Lafayette, Louisiana, New Orleans, Weckerling, Pioneer, American, Standard, City, Columbia and Old Union.

Most of these beers were in the lighter, lager style which had broad appeal for many years, and likely still does.

While our area is no longer a brewing powerhouse center, we are moving into a period with micro-breweries churning craft beers that appeal to certain “niche” tastes, and these smaller breweries are producing a number of different beers to reach the market with different types of beer rather than producing one broad-taste style of beer.

It’s fair to say that Abita Brewing Company in Abita Springs is responsible for being not only the “Keeper of the Flame,” but also an innovator. This wonderful success story, with its signature Amber brew, now pretty much is available coast-to-coast. The attention-getting Purple Haze, made with the addition of raspberries, and TurboDog, brewed with chocolate malt and caramel, have been important additions to the company’s lineup of quality beers.

In 2008, a couple of local guys, Kirk Coco and Peter Caddoo teamed up to found New Orleans Lager and Ale Company, known all over town as NOLA Brewing. NOLA Blonde proved very popular, and there was also NOLA Brown, followed by Hopitoulas, a play on the name of the street on which the Brewery is located. NOLA Brewing’s 7th St Wheat is a seasonal beer that is now available year-round, and refers to the name of the wharf across from the brewery.

With the easy availability of refrigeration for transporting beer, and the cost of canning coming down thanks to new equipment, craft beers can now go regional and bring specialty brews to larger, near-by markets.

Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, founded in 2003, is located in Kiln, Miss., just north of Bay St. Louis, the body of water not necessarily the community. It became quite a tough feat to obtain permits and licensing since Mississippi’s laws had really never been updated since Prohibition was the law of the land. 

Lazy Magnolia built quite a reputation for quality and innovation with its Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale making use of one of Mississippi’s most noted agricultural products, roasted pecans, in the mash. They also make a well-structured, but not overly sweet beer using coriander and orange peel, Indian Summer Wheat Ale.

LA 31, named for a roadway that follows the curves of Bayou Teche in Cajun country, has made quite a splash into the New Orleans market. Bayou Teche Brewing is located in Arnaudville, and is not only available in bottles but also is quite a popular choice on draft.

The Bière Pâle Ale is the flagship of the line, and is a perfect accompaniment to the cuisine of the region, notably sauce piquant, jambalaya, gumbo, shrimp Creole, bisque, etoufee, and fried seafood. Boucanée is an homage to the native wild cherry trees and their fruit which ripened every June throughout South Louisiana (bet that caught you by surprise), and uses a cherry-wood smoked wheat as a base grain.

One of the latest breweries to join the fray, in 2010, is Tin Roof Brewing Co. based in Baton Rouge. Two childhood friends from Natchez, Miss., discovered at different times that they had a passion for beer. Charles Caldwell learned about his after venturing off to Colorado to find his fame and fortune. William McGehee was determined to earn a law degree from LSU. 

These guys have gone about this project in a big way. Tin Roof Blonde Ale, Perfect Tin Amber Ale and Voodoo Bengal anchor the line and they are seeing their distribution in cans increase by the week.

Importantly, all of these breweries also specialize in seasonal brews. These are available for short periods of time, and they may never see the light of day again depending on ingredients and public demand. So, if you see something that looks interesting, you should pick it up and give it a try.

Bottom line is that our region is very much down the chart in terms of product made and breweries active. We are getting our pants knocked off by Oregon, Colorado, California, New York, Minnesota, Texas and about 40 other states.

It is a great idea to support our local breweries in what they are trying to accomplish. Maybe every product is not a home run, but with so much diversity, and so many products made, local is an important way to go. The beer is fresher, more thought has gone into the recipe, and these folks are living in our communities.

Just for fun, pick up a mixed 12-count, or more, of various local brews. Taste through them with friends. Discuss them. Learn about what the brew master was hoping to accomplish and the thought that went into the beer.

Then you tell me if you did not find a favorite. My bet is you will, and it will become your new go-to brew. Prosit!   

 

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You can reach blogger Tim McNally by email at timideas@bellsouth.net.