It’s summer in New Orleans and that inevitably means hot weather, ridiculous humidity levels, and an eye towards the Tropics so we know when bad weather forms out there, suddenly moving with force in our direction.

 We all know there is not much we can do about any of those issues. But, hey, never hurts to stay informed.

This year has not been such a hot time as a wet time. The “Feels Like” temps have been at their usual levels, suited more for sun screen mixed with perspiration rolling into our eyes than Quarter jaunts for the sake of stretching the muscles. 

Summertime in this semi-tropical paradise is the time of year everyone everywhere associates with New Orleans. “You folks sure do have a lot of humidity. We are hot in (fill in the name of anyplace) but we don’t have the humidity.” Two issues there: 1) The difference between high heat levels and humidity is academic, at best. Hot is hot no matter how you achieve the end measurement; and 2) The place away from here noted in this discussion is usually besotted with humidity also. Other cities, overall, are just not associated with the meteorological condition.

No one in St. Louis, Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York or Philadelphia thinks their humidity is significant. Those places are also not as well air-conditioned as we are. The self-delusions of the human mind at work.

Anyway, we know a great way to cool down is with a truly cold, refreshing liquid, and the oldest alcoholic beverage known to mankind is beer. We humans discovered more than 6,000 years ago that fermenting grains, adding water, and flavoring the whole shebang with other biological additives, like hops, would create something very pleasant. Mankind proved itself that long ago to not be a complete waste of space.

Unfortunately, our ancestors could not enjoy their creation with the modern advantage of refrigeration. They never knew how much the cold added to the pleasure of the product. Their ingenuity did not extend to aluminum cans or ice. If only…..

New Orleans has always been sort of a beer town. At one time, a long time ago, before prohibition, this city had over 13 breweries. They are probably not as well-known in beer circles because unlike other beer-destination cities, New Orleans never had a Brewers’ Row. No single place defined the center of the local beer industry.

There had been small breweries built for local and family consumption since 1726, with the influx of the German population, but the first commercial brewery of note opened in 1852 and was headed by Swiss brothers, Louis and Samuel Fasnacht. It was located on what is today the site of the Cotton Mill Apartments on Poeyferre in the Warehouse District. It is pure coincidence that the family name, Fasnacht, is also the name of the most famous and raucous festival on the German calendar. Around here that celebration is known as Mardi Gras.

Today, with the advent of craft breweries, we are moving once again to recognition as a beer brewing area, but still don’t have a center point for the industry. Currently, breweries are in the Lower Garden District, the French Quarter, all over the surrounding areas including St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, western Mississippi, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and over to Cajun Country. Mid-City will soon have a commercial brewery also.

We all greeted the recent news that Mr. Tom Benson, owner of the Saints and the Pelicans, purchased the rights to make Dixie Beer. Although it is not likely to return to its former home on Tulane Avenue, just putting the manufacture of this iconic beer back into Orleans Parish is a terrific piece of news.

 

Next week, Suds, Part 2

In which we will pursue the modern complications of beer styles, odd manufacturing techniques and strange places where beer is being consumed. 

 

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Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine. Be sure to watch "Appetite for Life," hosted by Tim every Thursday evening at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m., on WLAE-TV, Channel 32 in New Orleans. Previously broadcast episodes are available for viewing at http://www.wlae.com/appetite-for-life/