Brewing in the Big Easy
Photography by ELIJAH BAYLIS
To locals, Tchoupitoulus Street in New Orleans’ riverfront industrial district, from about the convention center and following the meandering Mighty Muddy, is known as the sliver on the river — a small swath of land that remained amazingly unscathed during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
That sliver on the river also is home to some of the best beer being brewed in a city who’s beer history can be summed up by Jack’s Brewery in the French Quarter, Dixie Beer and the myriad French Quarter vendors hocking cheap Big Ass Beers in plastic cups.
For a city that carried the moniker “We’re a drinking town with a football problem,” the craft beer craze, like the Saints success, has taken time to germinate. In the super competitive world of craft brewing in America — in 2016, there were more than 5,000 breweries in the United States. Today, according to the latest statistics from the Brewers Association trade group — New Orleans brewers are raising the bar.
There are 13 active breweries in the Big Easy, but venture down to that sliver on the river to take in three of the best around, featuring an insatiable craze in the craft beer world — the Northeast or New England IPA.
Centuries ago, brewers in Northern Europe brewed beer for far away colonies. India became one of those popular destinations for European beer as it sat under colonial British control. As legend has it, the long journey on ships from Europe to India played havoc on the product, leaving a great deal of it lost to spoilage.
To keep the beer preserved for longer amounts of time would take adding hops in great quantity. The resulting beer was an ale that could stand the longer journeys. The IPA, as many claim, had been born.
By adding so many hops for preservation, though, the beers were made stronger with higher alcohol contents and harsh bittering characteristics. American brewers in the first craft beer revolution — in the late 1980s and early '90s — brewed these hoptastically strong and bitter — very bitter. Yet people continued to gravitate to those beers. Brewers got more bold, playing around with traditional IPAs.
We saw a rise of Black IPAs, which had the color and roastiness of a stout with the hop bittering of an IPA. Then brewers started changing when the hops were added, limiting the number of bittering hops and instead loading a beer toward the end with aroma and flavor hops. The shorter the hop has in the boil, the less bittering properties those hops will impart.
The people went wild with these newer, pungent IPAs that were easy on the palate with intense flavors and aromas. Out of those beers, we find ourselves where we are now with the era of the New England IPA.
The name pays homage to the bread basket of those dank, unfiltered, hazy — many say “juicy” — IPAs most notably brewed in the Northeast. Brewery names have become like a siren call for hop heads — Trillium, Tree House, The Alchemist, Bissell Brothers and Hill Farmstead. Just say the name and visions of juice dance in the eyes.
The craze has made it to Louisiana, and on that tiny sliver on the river, brewers there are churning out classic NE IPAs and joining in a statewide trend that is turning the Pelican State into NE IPA South.
When in New Orleans and wanting to experience the true NE IPA phenomenon, the first stop must be Courtyard Brewing.
Courtyard is special in many respects, but mostly because the only place one can enjoy a Courtyard beer is at Courtyard Brewery. The nano brewery is rumored to be expanding soon, but even the most knowledgeable of New Orleans beer aficionados can’t squeeze any inside information as to the future.
The brewery is small, tucked behind a sliding fence off Erata Street in the shadow of the Crescent City Connector. Chairs and large spools for tables greet customers. Inside, the room is dark with Christmas lights and loud, local music.
Don’t ask what is best on the menu, because it changes often due to the small amount brewed in each batch. The ever-changing menu board is hand written with colored chalk showing on-site offerings in yellow, and visitor taps (really good ones), in blue and red. But to get a true taste of an NE IPA, get a local offering.
Look for hops in beers such as Citra, Mosaic, Galaxy, El Dorado and Vic Secret, beers created with the dankest hops used in a NE IPA.
Of course, you could always grab a 32-ounce growler for the road, although making a decision on which beer to take home is the most challenging question of the day.
Travel west — or is it north? (New Orleans by the river is so confusing) — to Urban South for your second stop on the NOLA dank tour.
Urban South is vastly larger — in brewery space and production — than the 3-year-old Courtyard and features a re-tooled dank IPA known as Holy Roller. The menus lists it as Holy Roller 2.0, as the recipe underwent reconstruction this past summer, producing one of the best NE IPAs available.
Urban South takes chances with its IPAs, its most recent one being brewed with the piny resinous Simcoe hops with real spruce tips added to it. They also in 2017 unveiled a milkshake-style IPA made with pineapple and strawberry.
Urban South also releases annually two special IPAs — Modillian in the spring and Finial in the fall. Both are highly acclaimed and worthy of a special trip for release days.
Another mile up the road sits the city’s most recognizable craft brewery — NOLA, which stands for New Orleans Lagers and Ales. The brewery is the largest on the sliver and features a two-story tap room with outdoor deck and a large ball room inside.
NOLA’s Hoppywrite Infringement is their foray into the world of NE IPAs, but they made a name for themselves in the hop universe with their Hopitoulas IPA, playing off the name of the street on which they are located.
New England certainly has had a head start on the advent and increased popularity of the NE IPA, but Louisiana is quickly stamping itself as the next great frontier for a beer style that sees no signs of fading away.
So, what are you waiting for? The breweries are calling.
Enjoy the juice!