While craft breweries bring to our palates specialty brews of excellent quality and creative directions, neighborhood brew pubs also deliver those attributes but with the added benefit of immediacy, guaranteeing, in most cases, the absolute freshest product available.
I mean if the beer is made right in your neighborhood in the establishment in which it is consumed, what else could be the result?
Lucky for you –– and all of us –– there are a number of brewpubs in our area that are doing excellent work with the taps and the tanks.
Crescent City Brewhouse
One of the first in our area –– and still one of the best –– is Crescent City Brewhouse. The founder, Wolf Koehler, is a German brew master, and he brings a love of his craft, as well as his demanding standards, to every batch.
The building that houses CCB is one of the oldest in New Orleans, dating back to the mid-1700s when it was listed in city records as a two-story 14-room home. It burned to the ground in the last great fire to sweep our community, which occurred in 1794 and destroyed 212 buildings, mostly along the riverfront. The previous fire of 1788 eradicated 856 structures.
Crescent City Brewhouse took over the building in 1991 and after extensive renovation opened to great fanfare. The beers are all brewed on the premises with a 17-barrel-capacity brewery. All of the beers are made to German Purity Law standards, established in 1516. In accordance with that law, no preservatives or additives are involved. The beer is made using only water, natural yeast, hops and malt.
The house beers are a light, full-bodied pilsner; Red Stallion, a malty copper-colored Vienna-style brew; Black Forest, a Munich-style malty dark beer; and Weiss Beer, an unfiltered wheat beer, reminiscent of German brews around the time of Oktoberfest.
There are also special brews, different every month, featuring ingredients or styles that Wolf likes to feature. A popular beer order here is the Sampler, which includes smaller glasses of each of the current offerings.
We would be remiss if we did not mention the fine restaurant that Crescent City Brewhouse is. Traditional New Orleans cuisine is served, along with local favorites in an updated mode. Add in the German cuisine, with a generous selection of bar bites, and you will find something (or many somethings) that pairs well with your beers.
Finally, there’s jazz. Wolf, being a transplanted New Orleanian from Europe, is a great lover of jazz, and most afternoons, as well as on weekends, there’s a group of talented musicians strumming, blowing and pounding the ivories, adding to the wonderful atmosphere.
Crescent City Brewhouse
Then there’s Zea’s. First opened in 1997 in Harahan by three energetic young local professionals, who collectively are known as The Taste Buds, Zea’s became a New Orleans favorite from the first day of business.
When the guys saw that the concept was a winner, they opened in the Clearview Shopping Center with a much larger restaurant and a brewpub built into the space. The founders believed that enjoying fine beer and watching it being made are special treats. This is the kind of factory tour most adults love –– now that the fascination of watching soft drinks being made has lost its allure.
The concept, for other Zea locations to serve the beers being made at Clearview, made economic sense. The problem was that it is not legal to brew beer in one location and take the product to another. Brewpubs are licensed as an on-premise operation, and the beer made can only be served on that particular premise.
So now, Zea is partnering with Heiner Brau brewery in Covington (see last week’s Happy Hour article about local breweries), and Heiner Brau is making beer with all parties agreeing to the recipes. It’s been a while since Zea has been recognized for its beers, but they are all still excellent, and, in a sense, Zea can still be considered a brewpub, although in the truest sense the restaurants are receiving their beers from a microbrewery. Because, however, the beers are made to Zea’s specifications, and the original concept was to be a brewpub, we are including them here.
Anyway, the beers made for Zea by Heiner Brau are all exclusive to Zea, and, for the most part, the beers are what Zea served when they operated their own on-premise brewery. The Clearview Golden Lager is a Kölsch-style golden lager, clean and refreshing, with more flavor than traditional domestic brews.
Category 5 American Pale Ale is as advertised, with a bright, hoppy flavor. The Zea Amber Lager is brewed in the red color-range, Vienna style, with a distinct malty bouquet and taste. Pontchartrain Porter will remind you of an authentic English stout, complete with coffee and chocolate notes.
Six locations in the New Orleans Area
Baton Rouge, La.
Again, we are not viewing on-site brewing tanks, but The Bulldog simply has to be included in this listing. These folks are deeply committed to beers on tap, and they take that commitment very seriously.
More than 50 taps against the wall provide a worldwide tasting experience for the adventuresome beer-lover in you. The proudest products of the brewers’ arts are represented by 10 countries and 12 of these United States, all lined up ready to dispense the liquid gold on your command. If you can’t find something intriguing among the taps, The Bulldog carries more than 100 labels of bottled beer.
For beer lovers, this is nirvana, paradise, Shangri-La and Utopia all rolled into one place, with a head on it.
The Bulldog takes its beer very seriously, investing in high-end dishwashing equipment to ensure your glass is not tainted with the aromas of previous brew servings –– no halfway-cleaned glasses from a three-sink rinse. You are offered your choice of a room temperature glass or one that is frozen. True beer-lovers will go for the former every time, but the choice is yours.
The beer lines are cleaned often and on schedule. Because the place sells so much beer, the product turns over rapidly, assuring fresh beer with every pull. The kegs are always in cold-storage and always at the correct temperature. The entire dispensing system is driven by CO2 and nitrogen, assuring that air, the enemy of beer freshness, does not enter the equation until the product hits the glass.
In keeping with the mission to be a great American brewpub, the place sells food, which it calls “grub,” so that should give you some idea of the menu selection. But the offerings are perfect with a cold beer. What else would you expect or desire?
In both locations, TVs are everywhere, and there is little or no chance Oprah will be on the screens. Locations are dog-friendly, and outdoor seating adds to the beer garden feel of the places.
The Bulldog is providing a valuable public service by allowing us to taste beers from around the globe and from all over this country. The big problem is deciding which one to have –– and then which one you’ll have next.
3236 Magazine St.
5135 Canal Blvd.
Locations also in Baton Rouge, La., and Jackson, Miss.
Yes, it is a chain, with 27 locations across the U.S. and just opened in Taiwan. And yes, it is from the West Coast, the San Francisco area, to be exact. And yes, it does have a bit of a chain restaurant feel, which is not the way New Orleans usually goes.
But Gordon Biersch brews really good beer right on the premises. And Tom Conklin, brew master, has the plaques on the wall to prove it. His Bohemian-style Czech pilsner won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival last year. Nice accolade, that.
To the great credit of the founders, Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch, the name of their venture is taken from their last names and is not some made-up moniker out of a marketing department exercise.
Gordon Biersch Brewery is an adherent of the German Purity Laws. You will see, and enjoy, the true styles of bock, pilsner, hefeweizen, and Marzen, and you won’t see any fruity beers among the seasonal mix. German brewing law forbids anything in beer except water, yeast, malt and hops. Seasonal beers are denoted WinterBock, Maibock, Festbier and SommerBrau.
Gordon Biersch’s summer beer, SommerBrau, is now being distributed in bottles to various grocery stores and liquor outlets around town, the first time Gordon Biersch has distributed a packaged product in Louisiana.
The brewery and pub, located on Poydras and Fulton streets near Harrah’s Casino, offers dining and drinking, both indoors and out. The brewery operation is in full view of the restaurant and bar, making for an impressive backdrop to a clubby atmosphere.
Gordon Biersch Brewery
200 Poydras St. at Fulton