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Taking a New Orleans beer tour

Nathan Baker • Feb 11, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Last week, I had to fortunate opportunity to tag along with my partner to New Orleans, where she was attending an education conference. I’d never been to the city before, but I wanted to do something off the beaten path, in addition to the touristy stuff we had planned.

What I decided to do was a little drinking — I know, not that far from the regular touristy activities associated with New Orleans — but instead of a Bourbon Street binge, I wanted to sample some of the local craft beers.

My other’s busy conference schedule left me with a full day to fill, so after a little Googling, I chose five breweries near public transit stops, spread out in a way that would allow me to explore a couple of the city’s different neighborhoods. My internet research also told me that the development of New Orleans’ craft beer scene had been stunted by the rebuilding period after Hurricane Katrina, which affected revenue from tourism until at least 2016.

That may be the case for a metropolis the size of New Orleans, but I didn’t really notice the ill effects. The drinks I found on my self-guided beer trail were well-made and the taprooms were plentiful, so much so that I happened across one I hadn’t found in my pre-search and went on a short detour.

Starting at my hotel on Canal Street, a bustling downtown thoroughfare lined with high-rises and historic architecture, I hopped a streetcar and rode it to the end of the line, French Market Station. After a short walk on Esplanade Avenue past a former U.S. Mint, the only mint to make both American and Confederate coins during its years of production, I found my first stop.

Brieux Carré

Brieux Carré’s name is a play on the old French name for the French Quarter neighborhood, and the brewery is just steps outside the famous area, amidst a  corridor of hidden music venues. When I walked through the open door, the music was cranked up loud and the beermaker was hard at work in the back among the rows of stainless steel tanks.

The taproom was small with limited seating, but I was the only customer so close to the business’ 11 a.m. opening time. Being a nerd, I chose a pint of Wookie Sounds, a double-dry hopped Saison, listed on the menu board at $7. It was relatively sweet and light, with 37 IBUs, 7 percent ABV, and tasted a little like oranges. It had about the color and clarity of an orange Jolly Rancher candy.

I had to pace myself for the other stops, but some of Brieux Carré’s other options were tempting, like a Berliner Weisse called I Am a Donut, or an anonymous collaboration brew made with a ton of waffles and maple syrup called Waffle Stomp.

Interlude 1

On the way to the next brewery, I took a stroll down Decatur Street, along the riverside edge of the French Quarter. Over a half-mile, I passed interesting watering holes and eclectic shops in historic buildings with balconies overhanging the sidewalk. Farther on, I wandered into the French Market, an open-air collection of food and candy stands and other vendors with performing musicians mixed in.

At the end, I walked into Cafe du Monde, famous for its fried beignets and coffee made with chicory. Both were delicious.

After the snack, I climbed some stairs to the nearby public riverwalk and looked out at the Mississippi River. As the fog rolled across the water on a breeze, several container ships chugged up and down the major waterway. It was a seriously impressive sight.

Crescent City Brewhouse

I found my next stop just across from the river.

The Crescent City Brewhouse opened in 1991 as Louisiana’s first brewpub. Its founder, German brewmaster Wolfram Koehler, brought his years of experience to New Orleans and watched over his fermenting business.

After I took a stool at the bar, the bartender tossed a coaster in front of me advertising the house’s Red Stallion, a Vienna-style red ale, so I gave it a go. It was malty and a little harsh, tasting almost metallic and earthy at first taste. After a few sips, it started to grow on me, and by the bottom of the pint, I was a fan.

Crescent City has a stable of six regular brews, plus a seasonal offering. The menu seems aimed to appeal to the widest range of beer drinkers possible, with a staple pilsner, a wheat beer, a dark and an IPA.

The ambiance was excellent at midday on a Monday, with the smell of the river wafting across the copper tanks behind the bar, but with it smack dab in the tourist area, I could see it getting crowded and rowdy on a weekend night.

Interlude 2

From Crescent City, I walked a few blocks back to Canal Street, where I caught a city bus to the edge of the Irish Channel neighborhood, along the industrial riverfront area. After passing under the Ponchartrain Expressway, I disembarked and took another short walk. On the way to the third stop, I passed a huge warehouse and saw through an open bay door a collection of parade floats. At the head-end of Carnival season, I think they were getting readied for service.

Urban South Brewery

Urban South is housed in a huge repurposed warehouse with production on one end and a taproom on the other. A group of picnic tables sit in front of the bar near pool tables and pinball machines.

At this point, I was feeling a little spicy, so I ordered an El Chocolate Picante. To make it, the brewers take its stout base and add cinnamon, chocolate and a mash of orange and red habanero peppers from the Louisiana Pepper Exchange down the street. The stout started off smooth and chocolaty, then the peppers hit in the back of my throat. It wasn’t as invasive as other pepper-infused beers I’ve had, and was easy to drink.

I left the brewery with my lips tingling and a smile on my face.

Miel Brewery and Taproom

On the way down Tchoupitoulas Street — don’t ask me to pronounce it — as tractor-trailer trucks passed by on the way to a port somewhere, a sidewalk sandwich board caught my eye.

I hadn’t planned to visit Miel, but the small investment in advertising diverted me up Sixth Street.

It seemed more like a neighborhood microbrewery, with the large, roll-up doors thrown wide for ventilation in the concrete bar area. Through a set of swinging double doors, I could see the brewing area in the back. It was the newest brewery I visited on my tour, opening only four months prior.

I ordered AK41, which the menu said was named after the brewers’ favorite Saint, running back Alvin Kamara. Kamara, drafted by the New Orleans NFL team in 2017, played in college for the Tennessee Vols and visited our area when the team played in the Battle at Bristol.

The beer, a cream ale brewed with Airheads Extreme candy, was very fruity, with banana, orange and pineapple flavors.

NOLA Brewing Company

Just around the corner, I got to my fifth and final stop, NOLA Brewing Company.

According to the brewery’s lore, founder Kirk Coco started the company post-Katrina when he realized there was no more beer being made in New Orleans. The last large brewery, the maker of Dixie beer, was flooded during the hurricane, and its owner shut down production and licensed production to a Wisconsin brewery.

The beer I ordered, Forklift Joyride, was the first of NOLA’s specialty IPAs of 2019. According to the brewer’s description, the New England IPA was made with Cashmere and Sabro Hops with Pink Guava and Lactose.

To me, it looked, smelled and tasted exactly like grapefruit juice, which to me, was not a bad thing. It wasn’t as bitter as I expected from an IPA and I was impressed with its smoothness.

Interlude 3

After leaving NOLA Brewing, I caught another bus westward and hopped off at Audubon Park, where in the waning light, I rushed by the Tree of Life, a sprawling live oak that is between 100 and 500 years old. It’s a favorite picture spot for tourists, because of the emblems of the South the gnarled, moss-draped oak trees have become.

On my day-long tour, I saw a lot of the brews and breweries New Orleans has to offer, but I really didn’t even scratch the surface. My list was by no means all-encompassing, and there are many more emerging beer-makers in the historic city. If the hurricane stunted the city’s beer boom, I think, much like New Orleans itself, it has recovered.

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