Locally Brewed: The history of craft brew in Louisiana

Exploring the first Craft Brewer in the state & the beers that are creating a buzz
Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 9:45 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Craft beer is experiencing a bit of a buzz these days as new breweries pop up around the region, there is no denying that Southeast Louisiana has started tapping into brewing.

“These beers are being brewed, that are just infinitely better than what we had to choose from beforehand,” Patrick Brown, owner of 504 Craft Beer Reserve, said. “Outside of the Gulf South, this has been brewing, for lack of a better term, for decades.”

Brown’s shop is essentially a beer emporium, stacked with craft beer, but it was only in the last decade that a store dedicated to brews was even viable in the region.

“New Orleans is interesting in that we’re usually on the forefront of food and culture in the country, but in brewing, we started out a little bit behind,” Patrick Healey, with New Orleans Brewery Tours, said.

That’s except for one brewer, nestled in the heart of the Northshore, blazing a path for craft beer lovers well before it was even defined. “In fact, it wasn’t called ‘craft’ back then, that’s a newer term,” David Blossman, the president of Abita Brewing Company, said.

Since 1986, Abita Beer has been the heavyweight in the craft brew game in Louisiana, but now it’s beginning to bubble over.

“We’ve got more brethren out there preaching the gospel of great beer, and fresh beer, and local beer,” Blossman said.

With so many new options, though, it’s important to understand what makes a craft beer.


Locally Brewed: The breweries large, medium, & pint-sized

“There’s really only two types of beer in the world: lagers and ales. Everything we know about beer falls under those two categories and it’s a type of yeast,” Brown said.

Lager yeast creates what many know as a basic beer, the golden fizzy stuff. Lagers ferment at colder temperatures and won’t create as many bold flavors, unlike Ale yeast, which is responsible for a wide variety of different beers.

“The vast majority of beer styles out there are ales however the vast majority of beer we consume are lagers,” Brown said.

It’s easy to think of your typical lagers as those big national brands many are used to seeing in the grocery stores.

“The lagers yeast will allow for a lighter mouthfeel and then there are stouts that go up to super viscous and velvety and silky, creamy, and chocolatey, a fluffy mouth,” Brown said.

While many craft brewers will make lagers and stouts, some of the most popular styles fall under the ale category, like an IPA, India Pale Ale, first made during the colonial era.

“In England, they were adding hops to act as a preservative because they were shipping beer to the colonies,” Brown said. “The hops create floral and piney, grapefruit citrus notes.”

IPAs have a whole category of their own, sometimes double, or triple hopped, which boosts the alcohol content, there are also English and West Coast styles, but the most popular comes from the East Coast.

“Many of the local breweries are making these kinds of New England style IPAs or a hazy IPA, which is much more tropical, a lot more citrus notes, and very approachable,” Brown said.

Brown says they sell more IPAs than anything, next on the list is Sours.

“There’s a huge spectrum of sours from what’s called Saisons and farmhouse ales that are kind of funky barnyard earthy flavors to fruited sours that have more of a tartness that are refreshing and bright with fresh purees, nowadays fruit purees,” Alex Flores, the head brewer at Urban South Brewery, said. “The bars in Germany, because of their acidity level, they were served with fruit syrup. So, they would pour them on fruit syrups to cut through the acidity, so they were kind of these quenching sorts of Gatorade refreshing drinks.”

Flores is pushing that unique category forward by adding things you may never expect to find in a beer.

“We kind of mixed Smoothie King’s with our sours to have very pulpy viscous beers you’re getting chunks of fruit really frothy and viscous liquid, really refreshing,” Flores said.

It’s a spectrum of suds that in New Orleans, just scratches the surface, as the craft beer locally brewed is just finding its footing.

“New Orleans beer is just taking it to another level. I think you’re going to see a lot more breweries open up but they’re going to have to come in with their ‘A’ game because those that are currently brewing are really, really doing a great job. So, it’s going to be a difficult market to penetrate, but no I can definitely see this continue and seeing more breweries open up with maybe different concepts but more types of beer,” Brown said.

You can find the breweries near you on the map below:

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