I really enjoy a cold glass of Pilsner Urquell. The beer, which takes its name from the Czechoslovakian town of Pilsen where this style of beer was created, is both refreshing and thirst-quenching. I have had the great pleasure to enjoy Pilsner Urquell very near its source, in a pub operated by the brewery in Budapest, Hungary.
The memory of that clean, bright, fresh flavor lingers with me and I wish I could experience it again. But the realities of modern commerce, and the ways of Big Business, have dulled the bracing tastes. Pilsner Urquell is now brewed by Miller Brewing Company, a large concern renowned for distribution, not boutique products.
Miller also owns an Italian beer, Peroni; Grolsch from the Netherlands; Foster’s from Australia; as well as Miller, Coors Light, and Milwaukee’s Best from America, among a large stable of global brands.
Budweiser is not much different in terms of offerings that are pale shadow reflections of the regions where the beer is made. Besides the world-wide brand, Budweiser, which has been in almost constant international litigation with a regional brewery from Czechoslovakia, Budveiser Budvar, Anheuser-Busch is owned by Inbev, a huge brewing conglomerate corporation (and the makers of Beck’s and Stella Artois' worldwide brands).
The Inbev portfolio also includes Lowenbrau, St. Pauli Girl, Labatt, Spaten, Hoegaarden and Leffe.
For those of you who were wondering how our local beer pubs can offer so many selections on tap, well, now you know. Two big international companies offering multitudes of suds from within their own family. One delivery. One beer truck. Easy.
The history of brewing beer in New Orleans is known to locals, but outside of our city, no one has an idea what a great beer town we were, and – good news – are becoming again. At certain points in time over the past few hundred years, dating back to the mid 1850s, we had more than 30 breweries operating here. The arrival of the Germans in that era was the beginning of our colorful beer history.
We all know the names Falstaff, Dixie and Jax, but what about Louisiana Brewing Company, Weckerling Brewing, Columbia, Eagle, Regal and Old Union? They were all here and putting out brews for the day laborers and dock workers, who began their days – and ended them – with hearty glasses of locally brewed beer.
Seemingly, we are entering into another Golden Age of New Orleans beer-making and beer-quaffing.
This most recent movement pretty much began in the mid-1980s with the founding of the Abita Brewing Company. Causing quite a stir back then, this new commercial brewery giving us back a local brew of quality. Falstaff, Dixie and Jax had abandoned their local breweries and the quest for New Orleans taste buds, expanding to other Southern areas with even more nondescript, generic products than they had offered in their previous lives.
Abita was indeed that “breath of fresh air” that was both a leap of faith and a sure bet. Today Abita and its many styles are approaching annual production of 115,000 barrels of beer and almost 8,000 barrels of root beer. No longer a small, regional creator of craft beers, Abita’s distribution has expanded to at least half the United States.
Abita no longer brews its beers at the Abita Springs operation (it outgrew that some time ago), but has turned the rustic facility into a brew-pub. Pretty good place to grab lunch or dinner. The brewery which does offer tours is now located, appropriately enough, not too far away, on Abita Highway at Barbee Road.
Also across the Lake, in Covington, Heiner Brau Brewery was founded in 2005 by brewmaster Henrik “Heiner” Orlik, a graduate of the famed Doemens Academy in Bavaria. Orlik practices his brewing craft in strict adherence to the German Purity Law of 1516, known as the Reinheitsgebot.
Heiner also operates a brewing museum at his Covington Brewhouse, located on East Lockwood Street. Heiner does quite a bit of contract brewing, with all the Zea’s restaurants’ proprietary beers being created here.
Moving west across the Atchafalaya swamp, over on the Bushville Highway in Arnaudville, is Bayou Teche Brewing Co. Three sons of Acadiana, the Knott brothers, founded the operation in a discarded rail car on St. Patrick’s Day, 2009. Located along the designated state road 31 that follows the twists and turns of Bayou Teche, just a bit north of Breaux Bridge, LA 31 beer is properly named Bière Pȃle, and was designed from the ground up to accompany the rich and spicy foods of South Louisiana.
Karlos, Byron and Dorsey Knott have literally built a sturdy regional brand with their hands. They had some idea of the flavor they were trying to achieve, and after a lot of trials, took pride in what developed. Then they set out to sell it, and that part turned out to be relatively easy since all they had to do was offer a glass to an account. One taste, and sold!
The beer’s creaminess and flavors match so well with food that it’s almost begging to sit alongside some gumbo, or jambalaya, or a table full of freshly-boiled crawfish and corn. You can find the beers throughout our area in beer taps and in bottles at markets and specialty shops.
The City of New Orleans is not left out of this malts/hops/pure water resurgence. NOLA Brewing on Tchoupitoulas has been making some really fun beers since 2008, but they have only sold their products in kegs and in "refrigerator packs" (which are about three cases' worth of beer in tanks with spigots that fit into your … refrigerator). They have just introduced cans and I think you are going to see a lot more from this brewery from now on.
Kirk Coco is the prez, but the project’s success is on the shoulders of Melanie Knepp, head brewer, and Peter Cadoo, brewmaster. These folks are not only putting out some great beer, but they are having fun, and it’s evident with names like Hopitoulas, 7th Street Ale, Irish Channel Stout, Flambeau Red Ale, and Smoky Mary. You will likely see NOLA Blonde (still a play on words, like Jolie Blonde) on barroom taps and in cans around town.
We don’t want to gloss over the hard work accomplished by the true brewpubs of New Orleans. Brewpubs, for the purposes of this discussion, actually brew their own beers on the premises. If you like your beer fresh, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Since 1991, Crescent City Brewhouse, under the able direction of brewmaster Wolfram Koehler since its opening, has been making beer in the French Quarter on Decatur Street. The Vienna-style Red Stallion is a personal favorite, but there is also an excellent Pilsner, along with Weiss Beer and the darker Black Forest.
Some very good food is also available here, and the oysters are THE accompaniment to the brews. It is called Crescent City so live jazz is an important element in the experience, not to mention an outdoor wrap-around gallery for dining that has views of the River.
New Orleans is not a town that seeks out national “chain” dining outlets, but Gordon Biersch Brewing, on Fulton at Poydras, actually has their own Brewmaster, Tom Conklin, on the premises. And he has been internationally awarded for his excellent brews.
You may want to ask Tom to show you around his brewery. It’s on a scale where you can appreciate the processes, and then he’ll take you on a tour of his beers. Now that’s a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Looks to me that a progressive beer experience is on tap for you. String together an itinerary on the Northshore, or in New Orleans, and appreciate the craft each brew master brings to each brand. Or head to one of the many pubs in town and try the beers without leaving your stool. Except to take care of important personal matters.