Thursday, January 24, 2013

Even more new guys on the block!

In my recent research of breweries in the state, I came across two I hadn't heard much (or, indeed, anything) about - Cajun Fire in New Orleans and Great Raft in Shreveport. I had the pleasure of talking to the brains behind both these operations this week.



Cajun Fire (warning: music playing upon loading) joins Courtyard Brewing as another Orleans Parish brewery hopeful for a 2013 opening. I spoke to Jon Renthrope, the guy who started it all in October 2011. He's a New Orleans native (as are all the other Cajun Fire folks) who fell in love with beer when off at college and moved back home to try to pursue his dream of opening a brewery. Right now, Jon's brewing a barrel at a time in a rented commercial kitchen space while Cajun Fire makes plans. They are in the process of looking for a space, and are hoping to find something in the New Orleans East area. The plan is to start with a nanobrewery model (a 3 bbl system) and see where it goes. They want to keep the batches small and the styles seasonal. They were able to take their beers to the people during the most recent WYES Private Tasting and the last New Orleans on Tap event and Jon tells me the beers were well received. Cajun Fire is also positioned as an "eco-friendly" nanobrewery, which I'm not sure what that means... but I'm interested in finding out! Jon's bio describes him as a thrill seeking environmentalist, so... intriguing, yes?



When I spoke to Andrew and Lindsay Nations, founders of Great Raft Brewing in Shreveport, I learned that Great Raft will not only be the lone brewery in Shreveport, but also in the immediate 150 mile radius. Zowie. But Andrew and Lindsay are determined to bring craft beer culture to their home, after having relocated for several years in the Washington DC area. They moved back to Shreveport about 4 months ago, business plan in hand, and have been moving swiftly to find a space, equipment, investors, and a head brewer. Jim Patton, a founding partner of Abita Brewing, had signed on to be Great Raft's brewing consultant and brewmaster, and provided incredibly valuable advice as well as joining them in Shreveport to look at potential brewery spaces and meet with potential investors. Sadly, as many of you in the beer community know, Patton passed away this past October, leaving Great Raft in need of a new strategy and new brewmaster. They've had interest from all over the country, though Andrew admits that relocating a beer professional to Shreveport will certainly be a challenge. Bringing a new brewery into an area that has none has necessitated some creative thinking for exposing the local consumer to new craft beer. They've done a lot through food pairings with local restaurants with good results and feedback - if you're in Shreveport next week, check out their food and beer pairing event at Twine on Tuesday, January 29.

Lindsay gave me an interesting statistic on Louisiana and beer: Apparently, Louisiana is 5th highest beer drinking state in the country (per capita) but the 47th of 50 in terms of number of breweries. I have to go find a source for that, but if that's the case, that's bananas!

I enjoyed my conversations with Jon, Andrew, and Lindsay. All three are incredibly energetic and determined to not only succeed in their business ventures, but to make their communities stronger by bringing craft beer into it. Check out their websites, follow them on social media, and all of that. I look forward to trying their beers and hearing more for them as they progress down the long and winding road to opening a commercial brewery in Louisiana.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Beer and Degustation at August

Reveillon Dinner at Restaurant August is a Christmas tradition of ours. In 2009, we were there for Christmas Night dinner, even before we moved here. It was so wonderful that it became a tradition for us right around the holiday- since they are no longer open on December 25, we shoot for Christmas Eve instead. Last year, we noticed that the beer list was pretty extensive but focused mostly on bottles from local breweries like Abita and Bayou Teche. Nothing too exciting, but, you know, August is more a wine-oriented fine food place so it wasn't a surprise to us.

This year, though, we decided to take advantage of August's generous no-corkage-fee policy and bring some special beers we'd been saving. The Reveillon menu was online, so I was able to get an idea of the flavor profiles and chose accordingly. I brought a Lost Abbey Avant Garde bier de garde for the amuse and the first 2 courses, and Boulevard and Pretty Things' "Collaboration No. 3," a Yorkshire Stingo for the next three courses. On a whim, I grabbed a bottle of Bayou Teche's Joie A Tous, their holiday seasonal to finish up the meal with dessert and mignardise.

Imagine my surprise when I took a look at the cocktail menu and saw the greatly expanded and improved beer menu on the opposite page. Saison Dupont, Oude Gueuze Tilquin, La Fin Du Monde, and Moylan's Kiltlifter Scotch Ale. Like, whaaaaaaaaat? Also, of course, a few locals and sort-of locals, including Lazy Magnolia Timber Beast and Southern Star Pine Belt Pale. Small bottle list, but very diverse. (more on this below)

Lost Abbey Avant  Garde, which we paired with...

terrine of Banyuls poached foie gras pain d'épices and candied golden beet

brouillade aux truffes La Provence farmed eggs, Progress Dairy butter and fresh winter truffle
The Avant Garde paired very well with both, especially the foie gras. I think the egg/truffle dish would have done better with some accompanying funk- perhaps the gueuze on the August list.

Collaboration No. 3 Yorkshire Stingo, paired with...

Turtle soup

house made brandade tortelli picholine olive, caramelized garlic and sauce raïto

carved Two Run Farms beef rib-eye fresh horseradish, roasted baby root vegetables, tête "en croûte"
The Stingo was amazing with the turtle soup- I couldn't believe how perfectly it paired. The brandade (salted cod) tortelli fared not as well with the Stingo, Would have done well maybe with a belgian blonde/golden like Russian River Redemption (or Damnation?)  The play on the classic British roast beef dinner paired nicely with the British style Stingo.


bittersweet chocolate tartlet caramelized white chocolate and milk chocolate sorbet
Man, that dessert was great. I think the incredibly rich flavors of the chocolate washed out the Joie A Tous - it definitely didn't taste like I thought it would. I didn't get any coffee notes or anything like that. I think a Pour Me Something Mistah would have been a nice pairing.

So... great food and great beer made for a wonderful night. And the staff couldn't have been nicer about providing lovely stemware, bringing fresh glasses every time we opened a new bottle. The sommelier stopped by briefly to chat about our beers, and it was a very nice fine dining and beer experience. A real treat. And I actually enjoyed the process of figuring out why a beer didn't quite pair with one of the courses, and thinking about what would be better.

After our meal, I started thinking about the very interesting beer list that I saw (but didn't partake in) and wondered about how and why the beer program shifted over the past year. I dropped a line to the Besh empire asking about who was in charge of the program, and got a nice response from their PR person, who provided me a copy of the beer list and set an interview up with August's bar manager, Robert Wailes, who I had a chance to chat with tonight.

Robert has been August's bar manager for about a year. When he came in, he thought the beer list could use a little tweaking, and even though he's primarily a wine guy, his sister in law is the owner of Lazy Magnolia and his brother in law has just started brewing at Bayou Teche's new facility. So he's had a lot of beer influence. Perfidious beer influence! As a result, he's been experimenting and learning about different styles and flavor profiles, seeking out advice from Dan Stein (owner of Stein's Deli) and Polly Watts (owner of the Avenue Pub - she offered to trade beer tasting lessons for wine tasting lessons with Robert.)

He seemed very excited about learning all he can about craft beer and the enormous potential there is in pairing it with food. When he first started changing the beer list, he added just the Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale to test the waters, and it sold very well, very quickly. He then expanded to include the gueuze, which is a slower seller, but one that beer-focused goumands appreciate (very much!) to see on the list. His sampling and tasting and consulting led him to put the Fin du Monde and Kilt Lifter as well, to pair with the predominant flavor profiles on the menu. The beer list (sadly not available online) has some really nice tasting notes, to assist with selecting the right beer for the right course.

For example, he recommends pairing the gueuze with cheese courses or foie gras, and the Fin du Monde with their signature dish, the gnocchi with blue crab and black truffles. I asked him if he considered having recommended pairings listed like they have with wine for the "Degustation" menus, and he seemed intrigued, but I could tell it was a little too early to spotlighting beer to quite that degree. But I think his slow and steady approach is solid, and is quietly bringing beer as accompaniment to fine food to the forefront of that conversation in New Orleans. He told me that there are several locals who come in once a week and always enjoy their meal with August's beer selection, and it's starting to become more and more commonplace there in the elegant dining rooms next the the beautiful courses.

We chatted quite a while about different beers, styles we liked, and made recommendations to each other. I really hope that I'm able to meet up with Mr. Robert Wailes for a beer someday soon. Maybe at the Avenue Pub... maybe at August!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ancora and Abita - a Weekly Update

This week was a bit of a quiet one on the beer front - getting back in the swing of things at the Day Job took it out of me when it came to matters of craft beer. Hopefully all that will balance out soon. I've got a few exciting things in the works, and I'm very much looking forward to talking with brewers, restaurateurs, and other local beer enthusiasts and writing about them!

Last week, me and a few other craft beer lovers met to discuss ideas and strategies around promoting craft beer in New Orleans and Louisiana. We were warmly welcomed by Ancora, which is a Neopolitan pizza/farm-to-table Italian restaurant on Freret Street, whose management loves craft beer and curates their 6 taps carefully to bring a diverse list of excellent craft beer to their customers. The management also kindly permitted us to bring bottles of beer that cannot be purchased in Louisiana to share, which is super cool of them. Note: one idea (and I'll discuss this in a future post about our Christmas Eve meal at August) that I've gotten from my fellow craft beer enthusiasts is to bring special beers (that cannot be purchased in Louisiana, or at the very least, are not on that restaurant's list) to fine dining establishments, pay corkage, and drink those beers with the meal. It's a way of showing fine dining establishments that beer is an important part of excellent food. But, you know, be cool and courteous and tip appropriately. Ancora went above and beyond to show their hospitality and enthusiasm for craft beer. I highly recommend rewarding that commitment with going there and eating AMAZING food and drinking delicious beer! (For the designated driver, I highly recommend their homemade Italian sodas.) I can't thank Jeff, Bryn, and Kelly enough for their wonderful service and food. Man, I love Ancora so much, I can't even tell you.

Yesterday afternoon Tom and I went to the "Abita on the Avenue Pub Crawl" which included cask ales at 6 locations on St. Charles Avenue, so you know that was relevant to my interests. The Avenue Pub was pretty crowded, as was the Mia's-Blind Pelican block, so we decided to go to some of the quieter locations.

Mia's/Blind Pelican
First we went to Lucky's for a "ZSB" or "Zach's Special Bitter," which was an ESB style that had won Abita's 2012 Brewer's Brewoff Competition. ESBs are made for casking, so I was pretty pleased to have access to it.

Lucky's
Next, down the street to Slice, for a cask conditioned Restoration Ale. Also another style (pale ale) that takes well to cask conditioning, it drank quite easily. At the Irish House, they were pouring Wooden Indian IPA that had been aged for 8 weeks in fresh new oak barrels. I... didn't love the overpowering oak flavor, but that may just be my palate.  It was a lovely evening for a pub crawl, and the event seemed to be well attended.

Hooray, beer!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Round up!

Louisiana breweries have been getting some great press in the new year!

Read about a Bostonian beer blogger's experience in New Orleans, especially at NOLA Brewing.

Brenton Day AKA the Ale Runner updates us on what Andrew Godley and Parish Brewing are looking to accomplish in 2013.

Jeremy "Beer Buddha" Labadie does his annual 2013 Mardi Gras roundup.

NOLA.com explores the Old Rail's current bureaucratic limbo.

Very cool to see more and more people talking about craft beer!

A couple other items of note:

  • NOLA Brewing is going to release Irish Channel Stout YEAR ROUND
  • There will be an "Abita on the Avenue" pub crawl on Saturday that will feature several different kinds of very special cask ales. I want to try the Wooden Indian IPA, the Cask Conditioned Restoration Ale, and the ESB. ESB on cask! I hope it lives up to my expectations. It starts at the Avenue Pub at 3:30pm. I hope everyone turns out to support MORE CASK ALE in New Orleans!
  • Stein Deli's "Beer Day" is almost upon us!


That is all.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Courtyard Brewery

I'd heard rumors of a new brewery coming around in New Orleans called the Courtyard Brewery. I'd seen some tweets from the brewer but wasn't sure what it was all about, except that it was going to be in New Orleans. I saw mention that Courtyard was finalizing a location a few weeks ago, and I sent a direct message asking about it. Not only did the question get answered (more info on that below) but I was warmly invited to come by and try their beers.

Scott Wood and his wife Lindsay live in Lakeview where they brew beer and are raising their son. Lindsey is from Louisiana and Scott is from San Diego, and when they got together they moved to New Orleans. When they first moved back they lived in an apartment complex in the French Quarter, which had a communal courtyard, which is where they started brewing more than three years ago. Thus, the name. They moved to Lakeview and have much more space and have a six-tap draft system for their test batches, which I was lucky enough to enjoy over the course of a couple nights.


I fell in love with their "Baby IPA," a session IPA. It's an excellent, balanced IPA at only 4.4%. They also had a Nelson Sauvin IPA which was also really good. A couple other beers on tap were a Tripel-Double, a double IPA hop build on a tripel malt base, an excellent hoppy brown ale, an imperial stout, and a "Dirty IPA," which was a bit of a brewing mistake that turned out quite nicely (it's a house favorite.)

Fun fact: Scott's great-uncle was a pre-Prohibition commercial brewer, so brewing is in his genetic code. He and Lindsay hope to recreate the family friendly beer drinking culture they found in San Diego. They also want to make beers that stand up to the strong flavors of New Orleans cuisine, and hope that once the brewhouse is in operation, they'll have 10-15 beers on tap, and see what the market responds to, and adjust from there.

So onto the plans! Courtyard will be leasing space at the Ironworks on Piety in the Bywater- which is right across the street from Pizza Delicious (which is kicking ass with their beer selection!) and will be using 1300 of 2500 square feet to house a 2 bbl brewhouse coming in from Cincinnati. It will have multiple fermentation tanks to create an overall 4 bbl capacity. So, they are excited having a location and a system lined up. I'm not sure when the system will be in place at the location or when the licensing will permit production, but I advise following them on Twitter: @CourtyardBrew to stay updated.

Whoo hoo, brewery in the Bywater!

Craft Beer & BBQ Pop-Up Tonight!

Tonight! My House, an event planning organization that works on pop-ups and food truck events, is having a BBQ and craft beer dinner tonight at Casa Borrega (1719 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.) There will also be... dancing! It starts at 7pm, and you can still purchase tickets online (for $8! They are $10 at the door) until 3pm- click here for that.

I spoke to Barrie Schwartz, the founder and director of My House, and she told me that although she's lived here for two years, and loves New Orleans and its creative culinary community, she does miss the craft beer culture in her previous home of Michigan, and wanted to bring a bit of that to a New Orleans event. So she got local "BBQ Master" Richard Shilling (I don't think I've ever had his food before, so I'm looking forward to it) to cook and paired it with local New Orleans beers.

Richard will be serving ribs, collard greens, and mashed potatoes, and there will be a cash bar serving beer, with several local craft beer options: 

PBR $2
High Life $2
Tin Roof Blonde $4
NOLA Brown $4
Negra Modela $4
Brooklyn Lager $4
Hopitoulas Tall Boy $6
La 31 Bier Noire $4

The PBR and High Life are in there to appease the hipsters and cost-conscious, I assume.

Beer and BBQ! What could be better? I will be posting a report on the event this weekend, and I hope anyone who is intrigued by a popup that is trying to incorporate New Orleans craft beer stops by tonight. I'll be there.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Brewing Competitions!

Attn: all homebrewers! There are TWO upcoming homebrew competitions in Louisiana which sound quite exciting.

1) Aaron Hyde at Brewstock has announced the organization of Louisiana's first statewide homebrew competition in November 2013. It looks like it will coincide with all matter of beer celebration as well! The specific rules will be posted this month, but according to the press release:
All 23 BJCP beer categories will be allowed for entry, with ribbons going to the top three beers in each category. 
Prizes from sponsors will also be awarded. 
The competition will be open to residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas only. 
Judging will take place over the course of a weekend in November, to be determined.
2) Covington Brewhouse and Main Grain Homebrew Supplies are co-sponsoring an excellent homebrew competition that may result in your beer being produced for distribution!
In the tradition of Iron Chef, Bombastic Brewer will pit home brewers against each other in an event that will search for one of the best beers in the South. The style will be IPA with a max starting gravity of 16 Plato or specific gravity 1.056. The winning beer may be used as a future beer to be brewed and distributed by Covington Brewhouse as well as being a featured beer on Main Grain’s 12th Tap.

For more details and to register, please go to: www.BombasticBrewer.com or www.maingrain.com/Bombastic-Brewer.html
So, check out the rules and regulations and dust off your homebrew equipment because sh*t's getting REAL down here!