"Brewing is passionate work for passionate people,” according to German native and brewmaster Wolfram (Wolf) Koehler. His French Quarter brewpub, Crescent City Brewhouse, has defined New Orleans brewing for a quarter of a century. Having been here for so long, through the ups and downs of living in the Crescent City, combined with living and brewing in Europe and Central America, Wolf has a lot of experiences to share and opinions to offer.
1. He had to educate the city about what a brewpub is.
"When I first told the Vieux Carre Commission I was going to put a brewery in the FQ, they were laughing me out of the building. 'We just got rid of that stinker [Jax] across the street!' That's what they thought I was doing. I said, no, you misunderstand." He told the VCC that not only was he not building a production brewery, but also, "This restaurant will have less of an impact on its environment than other restaurants because we won't have any cans or bottles. Of course no one wanted to believe me, and there were very few examples around, but I traveled throughout the country, and collected information and took pictures.”
2. Crescent City Brewhouse will celebrate 25 years as the state's first brewpub next year.
“We’re coming up on 25 years now. It’s definitely a huge milestone, if you think about all the other breweries, not only in New Orleans, but in Louisiana there’s only one that existed [before us] which is Abita. So not only are we the first brewpub in the state, but also the longest lasting. I’m very proud of the fact that New Orleans has supported us for such a long period of time. Despite recession, Katrina, the BP oil spill, and a proliferation of hundreds of restaurants, we are still here stronger than ever.”
3. He almost lost everything after Katrina, but now takes great pride in how the city has rebounded.
“The damage to the building was initially minor, but then everything molded. It took me more than a year to get full insurance. I actually was about to go bankrupt on a Friday after a check run for my employees if I had not received payment the day before."
“New Orleans, especially since it is now ten years after Katrina (which was the low point in my life perhaps) has emerged as a city, a society, and as a business better than before. I think that New Orleans grabbed itself by the scruff of the neck and pulled itself out of a nearly impossible situation.“
4. The CCB brewery equipment footprint is small, but tall.
The gleaming brewing equipment visible from the bar and dining rooms was placed specifically to discourage brewery tours in the tiny space. “I knew that a brewery tour would be an important aspect, so I built it so people can see it, rather than walking around the brewery.” The equipment is on four levels, going up, down and between. During the summer brewing, staff members bring several extra T-shirts to change into throughout the day because of all of the running around they have to do.
5. He’s been brewing since he was sixteen years old.
“I started working in a brewery when I was 16, and hated every minute of it. But then I went to Berlin to study the brewing sciences, which set me free. From there I went to Belize, which was exactly the place—even though I didn't know that it existed— that made me want to become a brewmaster in the first place. Tropical, beautiful, and in need of good beer.”
Wolf left Belize after six years, finding it “too small and culturally a bit boring. Then I found New Orleans, or New Orleans found me. It’s a tropical place with laissez faire attitude, but with enough going for it that you can accomplish something with a great quality of life.”
6. He is an impassioned advocate of pilsners and lagers in general.
“People like pilsners—this is a philosophical difference between myself and other brewers—90% of mankind drinks pilsner. A good pilsner is the definition of beer for me. I like IPAs, I like stouts, I like ales, I like weissbeers. But beer, to me, is a nicely hopped, beautifully poured pilsner.”
"Beer is a very sacred and simple concoction of four ingredients, and I love that! You know, other people see it as a restriction— I see it as the traditional way of improving the quality of the product by making it harder for the brewer to brew it. It's so much more difficult to have five different beers with the same four ingredients than if you have 15 different ingredients you're playing with. What I'm doing is what people have been drinking for the last 500 years."
7. He’s stepped back into the brewmaster position, but is looking for someone to take over.
“I’m the brewmaster again, I’m back at the helm—which is one of my favorite things to do, so I’m not complaining. However, we’re looking for a seasoned Brewer who is not afraid of challenges, such as a four-story-tall brewery with many bells and whistles, but who is also willing to tackle the many technical intricacies which are typical in a brewery.”
8. The brewhouse was designed to be more than a brewery, more than a restaurant.
“We are a meeting place more than a restaurant or a bar. We are both of the above but you can find new artwork every single month, as well as a great, exciting menu and live music every night. So when you come to the brewhouse, it’s not singular, it’s an experience. It’s more of a European traditional guest house, where you go to meet friends, then decide if you want to eat here or not, and you feel comfortable if you come in shorts or in a tuxedo. I think that’s the secret to our success—we are not requiring you to be anybody besides yourself.”
9. The Brewhouse hosts a different artist every month, and their work becomes a permanent part of the brewpub’s decor.
“These are all from artists who have exhibited at the brewhouse and I have bought or have been given pieces of art by those artists...you can find them all over the place. That’s one way we have filled the space with things that are connected to New Orleans and to us. Bridge the gap between the German brewhouse and New Orleans’ artist community, and they have all contributed to it one way or another. I enjoy it tremendously, because each piece has a story.”
10. CCB does a low-key Oktoberfest.
Although Wolf hails from Germany, Crescent City Brewhouse’s Oktoberfest celebrations are quite low-key. “We have an Oktoberfest menu with decidedly German dishes, including a special beer and decorations. Other than that, we’ll do our own thing because we feel that there are places that are more suited to it, the Deutsches Haus for example. We don’t want to compete with them, because I think they have a worthwhile mission to accomplish, and I’m very fond of their efforts and their dedication. So, we’ve had Oktoberfest before, but we don’t promote it too much, because October is a very, very busy month for us.”