It’s difficult to predict what direction craft beer will be going in next year, but here are my thoughts for the Top 8 beer trends in New Orleans and Louisiana in 2015.
1. More local breweries
Hopefully, in 2015, Cajun Fire, Second Line, Wayward Owl and Urban South will join NOLA Brewing and Courtyard Brewery in New Orleans. Statewide, Mudbug in Thibodaux will open and Tom Conklin’s Chappapeela Farms Brewery in Husser on the North Shore will open or be well on its way to opening.
2. More civic education and advocacy for local breweries and businesses
The success of breweries opening in New Orleans is very much dependant on City Council, the City Planning Commission, and the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. There are a lot of very old laws on the city and state books that are actively holding back the growth of these small businesses. Only education and advocacy will turn the tide to help New Orleans be more business friendly and include small breweries in their goal to support entrepreneurship. To that end, a group of New Orleans brewers and breweries are forming a city-specific guild to both educate city officials and other stakeholders and advocate for a more positive business growth environment. If successful, that will be a critical piece of ensuring that the 2015 brewery forecast lives up to expectations.
3. Barrel-aged beers
The increasing number of breweries both opening in the state and coming to the state from other areas means an increasing diversity of types of beers. Many local breweries, like Abita, Bayou Teche, NOLA Brewing, Old Rail Brewing Company, Parish Brewing and Covington Brewhouse, have begun barrel-aging programs. Abita’s Bourbon Street bourbon barrel-aging series of beer is becoming more and more popular, and Bayou Teche’s series has resulted in a wide range of beer aged in both bourbon and French wine barrels. I predict that experimentation will continue, leading Louisiana’s breweries to constantly push the envelope on flavors, using the complex notes that come from used (and new) whiskey and wine barrels.
4. Sour, wild and funky beers
Barrel aging often, but not always, leads to breweries thinking seriously about sour and funky beer fermentation processes. By using yeasts once considered disastrous to successful brewing, like Lactobacillus or Brettanomyces, breweries can make beers with a wide range of tart, sour or funky flavors. NOLA Brewing has released two sour beers: Piety, a 100% Lactobacillus-fermented American Wild/Sour Ale, and Lowerline, fermented with both Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces and aged with tart cherries. Parish Brewing and Tin Roof have done some experimentation for Louisiana Craft Brewers Week and/or American Craft Beer Week, and Bayou Teche is planning to celebrate its fifth anniversary in February with a persimmon beer that will be soured in some fashion.
Other styles are also proving increasingly popular. Lindsay Nations of Shreveport’s Great Raft Brewery predicts an overall increase in lager brewing. Brewing a lager involves using a whole different class of yeast than ale yeast, and requires very cold fermentation. While the German styles that Abita, Crescent City Brewhouse, Gordon Biersch NOLA and Covington Brewhouse are known for all require lager yeast and fermentation (called “lagering”), more and more modern twists on the beer genre are entering the market. Great Raft is well known for its lager program. Two of its flagship beers, Southern Drawl pale lager and Reasonably Corrupt black lager, have spread lager love to those who associate “lager” with tasteless, fizzy, yellow mainstream beers. Great Raft has also done small-batch lagers like At Arms Length Imperial Pale Lager, a hoppy lager version of the popular IPA (Imperial Pale Ale) style. And although Abita has been making lager since it opened 28 years ago, the past two years have found them acclaimed by the Great American Beer Festival. Abita’s Andygator Helles Doppelbock won silver in the Bock category in 2013 and, this past year, their new Oktoberfest lager took home bronze in the German-Style Marzen category. Lagers are hugely popular and will continue to break out of the German mold in 2015 and become a unique American and Louisiana version of the classic lager styles.
Another trend that’s just starting to amp up and will hopefully increase exponentially in 2015 is the growler fill trend. A growler is a 32- or 64-ounce jug or bottle that can be filled at a brewery or bar for the customer to take home. Courtyard Brewery encourages growler sales and a relative newcomer to the New Orleans craft beer retail scene is Pearl Wine Company, which has just started a growler program of its own. NOLA Brewing will fill growlers of their beer (not their experimental stuff, though) in its tap room as well. I think 2015 will be when more retailers realize the market for filling and selling beer on draft to go. This may be something that requires some legislation change on the state and/or city level, however.
7. Local collaborations
Larger craft breweries like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are all about working with other breweries to create and brew beer together. And as the number of Louisiana breweries increases, local collaborations will increase as well. Mandeville’s Chafunkta Brewing led the way in 2014, collaborating with neighboring Old Rail brewpub on Off the Tracks, a Belgian ale brewed with boysenberries for American Craft Beer Week in May. For Louisiana Craft Brewers Week in September, Chafunkta’s Josh Erickson teamed up with his old homebrew buddy, Gnarly Barley’s Zac Caramonta, to create a black IPA called Black Tooth Grin. In 2015, I predict more breweries will get in on this trend, as it’s a great way to share resources and encourage collegiality between brewers. And it’s fun for the consumer to see what two different brewers can do when they put their heads together.
8. Local beers overtaking national craft brands
And finally, although the New Orleans craft beer market has been getting some really great and well-known national beer brands as of late, like Bruery, Lagunitas, Green Flash and New Belgium (to name a few), I think 2015 is when there will be more local options to outsell non-local craft beer. New Orleans and Louisiana as a whole have populations that are fiercely loyal to what’s local, and as more breweries open in the city and state, the better the local options will be. Competition will drive all breweries to produce better and better beers. And eventually, our brewers will take back the craft beer market, the taps and the shelf space that’s allocated to beers from other parts of the country.
All signs point to 2015 being the Year of Louisiana Beer.