Thursday, June 27, 2013

North Shore Shenanigans

For the last week or so, ever since returning from NYC/Savor (with the exception of my wild WYES weekend) I've been working on a story for a lovely local magazine called Inside Northside, which focuses on Northshore business, art, and lifestyle. This means several trips up to Mandeville, Covington, Slidell, and Hammond over the last week or so.

My first trip up last week started with an interview with the big guy at the big brewery: David Blossman, president of Abita Beer. I was able to chat with him for about 45 minutes or so about what Abita is up to, their new beers, their increased focus on creativity, and upcoming partnerships. Mr. Blossman was very cordial and welcoming, and I appreciate being able to take some of his time in between his travels. I also met for the first time (face-to-face, we'd been emailing back and forth forever) the social media/marketing coordinator, Lauren Read, and touch base with Marie Pumilia, Abita's sales support and marketing coordinator, who has attended several Louisiana Craft Beer Collective events with her husband Keith, also an Abita - he's their local brewery rep - you've likely seen him around at various Abita (and other) events.

From Abita Springs, I drove over to The Columbia Street Tap Room in Covington to meet the guys from Covington Brewhouse - head brewer Brian Broussard, as well as Nick Panzeca and Robert Mingo. They bought me lunch (chicken fried steak sandwich, OMG) and a couple beers (Covington Pilsner - a great beer to start the day with - and a New Belgium 1554) and let me record our conversation about how things were shaping up at Covington, and their plans for the future. The General Manager of the Tap Room, Jonathan James, stopped by our table and hung around to chat with the guys and to let me interview him a little bit.

The Tap Room has some really nice beers on tap, and fairly regular beer events. Last night (Wed., 6/26) they held a beer and cheese tasting with NOLA Brewing beer and cheese from local grocery/beer store Acquistapace's in Covington.

The beer and cheese pairings were: NOLA Brown Ale paired with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar,
NOLA Blonde Ale paired with Belle Chevre Goat,
NOLA Hopitoulas paired with Rogue Oregon Blue, and
NOLA Hurricane Saison paired with Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam Triple Cream.
And tonight, they have a pin of Covington Brewhouse's new porter casked with vanilla and Steen's Cane Syrup. Check out the event page- starts at 7pm.

After a delightful lunch and conversation, I headed back over to Abita Springs to meet with Ron Guzman of Main Grain and Bombastic Beers. Main Grain is a homebrew store - the only one on the Northshore, I believe - and Ron's plans for Bombastic is to have a self-distributed (through growler fills) brewery that will have many rotating taps. No on-premises consumption, though. He's moving the entire operation to Mandeville (where the zoning has been approved) for November 1, and is hoping that Bombastic will be open the following year.

As I was finishing up with Ron, Mystic Krewe of Brew president Charles Weatherly stopped by and we headed over to the Mellow Mushroom in Covington to talk and have a few beers (of course..) MKOB is the local homebrew club on the Northshore. 

Billy, the owner of the Covington (and Metairie) Mellow Mushroom stopped by to ensure we were well fed and to talk about beer a little bit. The Mellow Mushroom has been very supportive of the MKOB - they host many of their monthly meetings there as well as the annual Larry Hartzog Twisted Homebrew Contest and Party Next year's is on May 10, 2014, mark your calendars now! It should be an awesome event - Charles is hoping to expand the homebrew entries to a regional scale as well as have it sanctioned as an official Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) event. 

The following day, I drove out to Champagne Beverage Company to meet with a few folks there, including the VP of Sales and the owner/president. 

I was escorted to my internal meetings by Craft Beer Ambassador extraordinaire, Vanessa Gomes. She also took me on a craft beer route through Covington, Slidell, and Hammond. First up - Red, White, and Brew in downtown Hammond. This place is awesome. It's a bottle store with a great selection of wine and beer, a bar at which to enjoy said wine and beer, and four taps to dispense draft beer. The owner, Todd, is awesome - so good natured, and obviously loving what he's doing. Vanessa and I enjoyed a Stillwater Premium Post-Prohibition Style Ale at the bar while I chatted with Todd.

After concluding business in Hammond and Covington, Vanessa and I headed all the way over to Slidell, so we could check out (and eat lunch at) Palmetto's on the Bayou. Palmetto's has a very nice selection of 8 craft beers on draft, amazing food, and a beautiful location right on the bayou, as its name suggests.

Stillwater Stateside Saison

Something awesome with bacon, greens, and brioche

Eggplant parmesan (mozzerella made in-house)

Short ribs, lobster mac & cheese, and bone marrow. OMG.

I might move into the little deck bar they have in the back and live there forever.

My undying gratitude to the General Manager, Vinnie LaDonne, who took excellent care of us and kept bringing out plate after plate after plate of amazing food for us to try. He also graciously sat down with me to discuss the beer program at the restaurant and how it's being received. Hopefully there will be beer pairings and a beer dinner in the near future!

Headed back to Old Mandeville so that I could catch up with Nick and Matt. I had talked to them about the Barley Oak and Old Rail Brewing Company brewpub a while back, but here's the big news: THE OLD RAIL IS OPENING ON JULY 17! I also had some of the beers at WYES and loved them, especially the ESB. Cannot wait.

Then it was off to the Old Mandeville Business Association social, at K Gee's, which wasn't really very beer-related, but I met a bunch of nice people, including the mayor! So, you know, I'm kicking it with the big dogs now.

After that it was the MKOB monthly meeting back at the Mellow Mushroom. It's a great group of folks. I love homebrew clubs. Shane from The Chimes Covington came to say hi, and we chatted a bit while Charles brought by various homebrews for us to try. It was cool to see the professional brewers in attendance (except for Brian from Covington, he was in the middle of moving.)

Matt Horney from Old Rail, Josh Erickson from Chafunkta, and Zac Caramonta from Gnarly Barley
Whew! That was a long, albeit awesome day.

Yesterday I headed up to check out the last of the craft beer people-places-things before settling in to write the article. I went to Acquistipace's to check out their beer selection, which was pretty epic (I did notice some hoppy beers by Boulder Brewing that had a Best Buy date of mid- to late- March, though.)

After that, it was off to lunch with Josh and Jamie Erickson of Chafunkta at the Chimes, which was just a lovely time all around. Good food, good beer, good company, good conversation. Then out to Hammond to see the (still empty) warehouse space that Zac and Cari Caramonta of Gnarly Barley have purchased. They took me through to show me where the various equipment would be going, and it was cool to see that moving forward. They are getting a 30-bbl system from Zhongde in China and that should be build, shipped, and received by October of this year, setting the stage to be potentially brewing at some point in 2014 (depending on the length of the licensing process, of course.)

Zac, Cari, and I headed over to Red White & Brew to talk about their experiences and plans over a few pints of local beer (they had Parish Canbrake and Envie as well as Chafunkta Old 504 and Voo Ka Ray). Oh! Chafunkta is having a release party in Hammond at the Red White & Brew on Saturday. Free food and general awesomeness guaranteed.

After that, I headed back home. I really enjoyed all of my adventures on the Northshore - everyone was so gracious and generous, and I loved talking to everyone about what's making craft beer tick on the Northshore. Thanks so much to everyone  - I can't wait to tell your story.

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