2013: The Year in Beer

00:00 January 26, 2014
By: Nora McGunnigle

2013 was a huge year for Louisiana breweries and beer lovers, with new breweries opening and unprecedented statewide support. When the year began, Louisiana had six production breweries - Abita, Bayou Teche, Covington Brewhouse, NOLA Brewing, Parish, and Tin Roof - and one independent and locally-owned brewpub, Crescent City Brewhouse in the French Quarter. (Gordon Biersch, a national brewpub chain, has a location downtown as well.) None of the breweries had tap rooms in which they could sell their beer directly to the public.

In March, Chafunkta Brewing in Mandeville opened as Louisiana's seventh production brewery. The state's third brewpub, The Old Rail, also in Mandeville, opened in July, and the first two breweries in Shreveport since Prohibition, Great Raft and Red River Brewing, received their license to brew and sell beer within days of each other back in October. This means there is now a total of nine commercial breweries in Louisiana with at least four more - Gnarly Barley in Hammond, 40 Arpent in Arabi, Courtyard Brewing in the Lower Garden District, and Mudbug in Thibodeaux - in the final licensing and approval process who hope to be brewing by Mardi Gras.

In June, the Louisiana House and Senate passed a measure that designated the week of September 23 - 29 as "Louisiana Craft Brewer Week," which was intended to recognize the many contributions by Louisiana craft brewers to the state. Both American Craft Beer Week in May and Louisiana Craft Brewer Week in September provided many opportunities for the craft beer community to celebrate local breweries and their beer.

In other statewide news, the Lt. Governor, Jay Dardenne, commissioned the Louisiana Office of Tourism to feature Louisiana's breweries on their website promoting the "Louisiana Brewing Trail." (http://breweries.louisianatravel.com/) The site provides information on all commercial breweries, their stories, and their locations.

Beer events flourished in 2013; in June, the area's longest-running beer event, WYES's International Beer Tasting and Sampling fundraiser, celebrated thirty years of providing opportunities to breweries all over the world (as well as local homebrewers) to share their beer with sellout crowds. Another popular nonprofit beer event, New Orleans On Tap, which benefits the Louisiana SPCA, was held in the fairgrounds of City Park for the fourth year to close out Louisiana Craft Brewers Week in September. The for-profit, New Orleans International Beer Festival, was held in Champions Square in March and was also heavily attended.

In addition, a new beer festival debuted in November in Houma. The Bayou Beer Festival focused on local beer as well as national brands like Stone, New Belgium, and Sweetwater, with homebrewers and local musicians. It was the first beer festival held in the Houma-Thibodaux area and its success confirmed that craft beer fans are all over the state.

The Avenue Pub had the honor of hosting a rare Belgian beer tapping in September, one of only forty bars in the world to do so. Cantillon Brewery's annually released Zwanze beer is a different take every year on sour and barrel blended beer and is sought out by the region's most passionate beer drinkers. Travelers came from as far as Houston and Atlanta to try the rare beer as well as the Avenue Pub's other stellar Belgian and sour beer offerings saved especially for that day.

In specific brewery news, Abita brought home a silver medal in the Bock category at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, Colorado in October. This is the first GABF medal that Abita has won and the only medal held by Louisiana's current production breweries. The brewery has been steadily expanding their selections all year, releasing Spring IPA in March, Lemon Wheat in May, and Grapefruit IPA in December. Abita's brewers also started a barrel aged program called Bourbon Street, and their Select series in 2013 included the French Connection, an ale brewed with Belgian yeast and French hops; Macchiato Milk Stout; and Strawator, a cross between their popular Strawberry beer and their Andygator.

NOLA Brewing opened their long-awaited, on-premise tap room in September, serving all their regular beer as well as more experimental brews. They also decided to make their popular Irish Channel Stout, previously a winter seasonal, a year round beer. This summer, they collaborated with New Belgium Brewing to produce a Belgian pale ale made with local muscadine grapes called Swamp Grape Escape, which was released during Louisiana Craft Brewers Week.

Bayou Teche also opened their new brewery and taproom in Arnaudville. Gar Hatcher came on board as Head Brewer and oversaw a series of specialty beers throughout 2013. For crawfish season, Bayou Teche released Saison D'Écrevisses with Belgian yeast and rye malt. After that, Hatcher aged Bayou Teche's previously released Biere Joi in Jack Daniels barrels with chili arbol and cocoa nibs. He followed up with a Belgian tripel IPA called Cocodrie and a honey beer called Miel Sauvage, which was aged for 100 days to honor the length of Napoleon's exile. Their last specialty seasonal beer of the year, a Belgian stout brewed with licorice called Loup Garou, was released in December.

Parish Brewing's tap room opened in July, the first local brewery to do so. Founder, Andrew Godley, released several specialty beers, a Belgian Farmhouse IPA, a black IPA called Dr. Hoptagon, and the second vintage of his annual Grand Reserve barleywine.

Tin Roof is in the process of opening their tap room in the Baton Rouge brewery. They re-released their Watermelon Wheat and Parade Ground Porter seasonals in cans, and debuted a new seasonal, Juke Joint IPA. The brewery also experimented with their beers, adding Thai chili to their Blonde Ale and calling it Blonde Chili Sex Magic, and releasing their flagship beers brewed with British yeasts for American Craft Beer Week. Tin Roof also released a Double Black IPA called Rougarou in the fall, which was crammed with malts and hops and has an ABV of 10%.

Covington Brewhouse underwent a change in leadership, bringing in David Arbo as President and giving Brewmaster Brian Broussard an ownership stake. The first release under the new regime was their new flagship beer, Anonymous IPA, a marked departure from the German style beers that Covington was previously known for.

Not only are there more places making beer in the state, but there are more places to enjoy it. The Aline Street Beer Garden, which focuses on German style beer in a traditional Munich biergarten environment, has been open since February. Owner Jason Comboy has recently added local, cask-conditioned beers to the mix, rotating the Thursday cask nights between NOLA Brewing, Covington Brewhouse, Bayou Teche, and Abita.

In the French Quarter, Evangeline's is well known to locals and tourists for providing exclusively local-area beer on draft. Owners Ed Bowden and Jenifer Evangeline are passionately committed to showcasing Louisiana and neighboring breweries in the Decatur Street bar, which has a beautiful courtyard and local cuisine that pairs perfectly with the beer they serve.

Down in Houma, a new craft beer bar concept called Which Craft? opened this year. Co-owner and manager Donny Terrebonne says that when he and partner Frank McGonagill opened the bottle-focused bar adjacent to Frank's wife's Thai restaurant it took ten minutes for the word to get out on Facebook and for thirsty local craft beer lovers to find it.

By mid 2014, the number of commercial breweries will have doubled from the six that were operational at the start of 2013. National and well respected brands that hit the market in 2013 like New Belgium, Sweetwater, and The Bruery have also raised the craft beer profile of the area.

Support your local breweries by buying their beers, visiting and touring them, and asking for craft beer wherever you can't find it.

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