New Orleans International Beer Festival wrap-up

Yesterday was the 2nd Annual New Orleans International Beer Festival at Champion Square. As a member of the press, I was able to attend for free with a media pass, and also had VIP tent access. Being able to come in an hour early is one of the biggest perks of the VIP pass. Because by the time 3:30 rolled around, it was so crowded that getting around was difficult, and figuring out who was in line for what you wanted as opposed to just hanging out was near impossible. I think they sold too many tickets for the event. However, it was pretty cool to behold, and made me think, "who ARE all of these people?" Were they craft beer fans, or fans of being able to drink as much as they could?

So, I arrived at 1pm and got my media pass, and made the rounds. Got to see Josh and Jamie from Chafunkta, Buck, Ben, and Wild Bill from NOLA Brewing, Bryan from Covington, Karlos from Bayou Teche, Andrew from Parish as well as other beer enthusiasts I consider friends.

There were several beers I tried that were new to me and that I enjoyed: my first beer was Parish's new bottle conditioned IPA, L'autre Femme. Quite well done- there's a delicacy to the beer that is somewhat rare in an IPA. I also had a try of his new year round beer, the Envie. It has Parish's trademark crispness and clean finish, much like Canebreak, but obviously quite a different flavor profile, as Envie is a pale ale and Canebreak is a wheat beer.

At Chafunkta, I enjoyed sampling their Old 504 Porter and Voo Ka Ray IPA. At Lazy Magnolia's table, I was able to talk to head brewer Gar Hatcher about their new beer, Lazy Saison (it was available as a bottle pour and on cask with chardonnay-soaked oak chips.) He says that the recipe includes some actual spices to complement the spicy yeast qualities already present. He says that Lazy Magnolia is on track to release 5 new beers. Including Timber Beast, the double IPA released last year, there's the Lazy Saison, a Belgian Strong (or Blonde?) ale, and the Southern Belle, which is the Southern Pecan aged in pinot noir barrels. I can't remember the 5th, sorry! It's exciting to see what Lazy Magnolia can do now that their wings aren't clipped by the strict ABV limits finally raised just last year.

The cask "garden" did not have signs, but did have 6 cask ales from Abita, NOLA Brewing, St. Arnold, Bayou Teche, and Lazy Magnolia. NOLA's cask was unadulterated Mechahopzilla, which was a nice format for the super hoppy imperial IPA. Same for Endeavor, a double/imperial IPA from St. Arnold. Baoyou Teche's Saison d'Ecravasses was casked with kumquats, and as mentioned above, the Lazy Saison was casked with chardonnay oak chips.

The VIP tent was OK, I didn't spend a whole lot of time there. (everyone I knew was out in the general area). It's a nice place, especially when things are crowded, to escape to, get some shade, some food, a place to sit. The food was provided by Zea's and the food table was pretty crowded for much of the day!

They had some special beers that were almost all super high ABV. so I didn't drink much of them, because it was too long a day to start things off with a 12.5% imperial stout. I spoke to a couple from just outside the city who were obviously not craft beer geeks, but loved beer. They talked about their efforts to turn around the opinions of their friends, which they've employed with great success. The lady in the couple talked about how she's gone to WYES's beer festival for at least 12 years, and prides herself on never missing it. I told them about L'autre Femme, but dashed their hopes by telling them it was almost certainly gone by then. They were also excited to try Tin Roof's Juke Joint IPA, another recommendation of mine.

Before leaving the VIP tent, I caught up on my note taking and checking in my beers online, then strolled out to see that the attendance had increased enormously. I found Zac and Cari from Gnarly Barley, as well as Vanessa Gomes, fresh from a career transition from managing the Barley Oak up in Mandeville to heading the northshore accounts for the distributor LA Craft Beer. Big move upward, and it couldn't happen to someone more knowledgeable,  hard-working, or deserving. I also discovered that the rollout date for New Belgium here will be April 1. (Hopefully this is not a joke.)

I actually tried a few beers I hadn't even heard of before, let alone tried. There was the Wit Goud ("White Gold") by Brouwerij Hof Ten Dormaal, a belgian brewed with chicory (nice tie in to New Orleans coffee culture!). Also The Perfect Crime American Blonde and The Perfect Crime European Blonde, I was able to taste these initially side by side which was great fun. They were brewed by Scheldebrouwerij in Meer, Belgium. (Update: apparently The Perfect Crime series is a collaboration between 2 gypsy brewers: Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø from Evil Twin and Brian Strumke of Stillwater. The beer was actually brewed by these brewers in Scheldebrouwerij. Shout out to Polly Watts for clarifying that for me!) I also tried Stillwater's new (to me) session ale called Premium Post-Prohibition Style Ale. In the VIP tend I sampled Anchorage Brewing's Bitter Monk and a dopplebock called Maximator and brewed by
Augustiner-Bräu Wagner (note: I wish the export beer garden in the general area had interesting beers like this included rather than Stella Artois and El Presidente.)

I was feeling increasingly claustrophobic, so I decided that it was time to leave the party while I was still having fun. As I was leaving, I was amazed by the lines at the bathrooms and the two food tables. All in all, I had some really great beers, got to talk to brewers, distributors, beer lovers, and friends. And since I didn't need to pee or eat, it was a successful day, and a lovely way to spend the afternoon. Many thanks to Alex Colee and Jay Wilson of Red Mountain Entertainment, who graciously allowed me to attend the festival for free on a media pass as well as explore the VIP area.