New Orleans is like an ex-lover that invades your thoughts; the scents, sounds, and tastes of the times you spent with them teasing you with their remembrances. The Crescent City has been calling my wife and I back annually for the past six years with it’s allure. Each year brings not only the loved places of years past, but new favorites, ready to be visited again next year.
I don’t claim to be an authority on the best places to eat and drink in Nola, I just relate where we’ve been on our trips there and what we’ve found that have made live-long impressions. Seeing the city both pre- and post-Katrina has also given us some insight, but again I claim no authority on the matter. The spirit of the city remains vibrant despite the hurricanes, oil spills, and other calamities that assuage it. Like a woman with many facets, it is both gaudy and strikingly beautiful, intoxicating literally and metaphorically, and friendly with a layer of skepticism just underneath the smiles.
From the first year we came down, 2005, it was evident that there was a budding craft beer culture, and that has only grown; both from my perceptions and from the new breweries and wider availability of smaller outlying breweries in recent years. From the beginning it was apparent that Abita Amber was and is the ever-present choice in bars, both on tap and in bottles. With a body that is a few steps ahead of the big three, and just enough taste that it goes down easy in the hot and humid climate; you can always count on finding it, even in places that normally only serve Bud, Miller, etc. Abita is known by many for their Turbo Dog Brown Ale, and Purple Haze fruit beer, but my favorite has to be Jockamo IPA that is much better on tap than in bottles.
Another discovery for us from year one was Crescent City Brewhouse, the only brew pub in the French Quarter. My estimation of it’s brews has gone up and down each time I’ve visited, but overall remains high based upon what they’re trying to do and the environment they are working in. Read my Brew Trek Post on it for more information, and look for new photos and comments on it in the near future.
Before our most recent trip I did some more research on Craft Beer in New Orleans, and made note of some new places I wanted to visit. But vacations being what they should be, spontaneous explorations, we only got around to visiting the Avenue Pub. From what I can gather, it has been a taphouse for the past five years after being a neighborhood bar for decades before that. Situated on St. Charles Avenue in the Lower Garden District, it’s an easy streetcar ride from the Canal Street hotels and the Quarter beyond. Offering not only the typical craft beers from around the country, but quite a few locals also, the old wood interior envelops and invites you to while away an afternoon.
The clientele are just as eclectic as the bar itself, there were just as many patrons drinking Bud from cans and bottles as there were beer geeks like ourselves sampling the brews on tap. It was here that we spotted Steve McKenna’s (of Drinking Made Easy fame) “twin.” And did I mention they’re open 24/7? That’s right, they never close.
Although I was enticed by Racer 5 on tap, we were there to taste the local Crafts. First up was Nola Brewing’s Hopitoulas IPA which was smooth and crisp, the name, I believe, being a play on words of the street their located on, Tchoupitoulas Street. Their Flambeau Red Ale was just as good. Although they were founded in 2008, Nola has only been getting citywide exposure the past couple of years and I had been thwarted on previous visits from trying their beers. It was definitely worth the wait, especially since a visit to their brewery was on the list of the places I had identified before we left, but got put off for next year.
The wife being a sucker for any nitro-infused stout, tried a California beer, Old Rasputin Imperial Stout which was a bit too full-flavored for her, but which I thought was good with smoky overtones of roasted malt. A Mississippi offering, Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan Ale was more to her liking, with just a hint of the nut rounding out the palate.
One local beer that Avenue carries, but was out of at the time, LA 31 Bière Pâle from Bayou Teche Brewing, had to wait a few days later to be tasted. A true pale ale, it was just hoppy enough and went down way too easy when I tried it on tap at Molly’s at the Market in the French Quarter later that week. After having a couple in the bar, I couldn’t resist getting one to go when the wife was ready to leave. That’s the nice thing about New Orleans, you don’t have to drink up before you leave a bar, just take it with you and sip it while you stroll.
If you haven’t tried some of the local and regional beers in Nola, order an Abita or two next time you’re there. I know that I’ll be trying to get over to Abita Springs next year, or visiting Nola Brewing Company, or maybe Bayou Teche Brewing, or …