When you think of New Orleans, what comes to mind? the SAINTS, Mardi Gras, Jazz and Voodoo Fests, and the best damn food in the country, hands down, right? What you might NOT think of is delicious craft brews. Well, my beer loving friends....it's time for that to change. And who will be marching at the head of that Second Line into brew glory? None other than the guys responsible for changing the face of beer in the Big Easy, NOLA Brewing Co.
I had the honor of tasting their beers in house at NOLA on two different occasions, the first at Christmas, when I was able to taste their very exclusive, and yes, elusive, small batch of Christmas Ale. With a healthy dose of hops, this beer was refreshing and eye-opening, rather than the more common malty, spice-laden beers that dominate the holiday scene. Think Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale amped up! After my tasting, owner Kirk Coco poured me a pint of NOLA Brown (a deliciously easy-to-drink beer AND #1 of Beer Advocate's English Dark Mild Ales!) and took me and my fellow beer-lover Mark Janes, on a tour of the brewery. With ears perked and always ready for an education, I listened intently as Kirk took me through every step of the NOLA brewing process. Having worked in a winery in Italy (harvesting, operating crushers and destemmers, measuring brix, changing and cleaning tanks, barreling, the whole nine yards), I am particularly fascinated with the differences and similarities in practices.
After a healthy dose of local education, and to round off the day, we tried two beers from Kirk and Vice President Dylan Lintern's personal collection, the Bell's Two Hearted Ale and Weyerbacher's Simcoe IPA. A wonderfully hoppy finish to a lovely afternoon of beer. The Bell's full of white flower and delicate fruit aromas contrasted with the piney, resiny vibrancy of the Simcoe. Nice.
Last week, I attended a cask tasting of NOLA Blonde with Cascade Hops at the always superb Avenue Pub. Boy, I gotta tell ya, this beer is trouble with a capital T. Mild with good hop balance added to the creaminess of a cask pour made this brew go down way too easy. I was sucking them down left and right. Ahem. So if you get the chance to try this one on cask, give it a whirl. Session beer? Uh yeah.
My second visit to the brewery was to sample/taste-test their in-the-works Saison. As a Saison fan, I did NOT have to be asked twice!
Two glasses were placed in front of me, one produced with yeast strain S33 and the other with T58. Other than the differences in yeast, they were the exact same beer. Both brewed with the same amount of black pepper and cumin added.
But wow, what a difference in aroma and flavor! The T58 had tons of banana and clove on the nose and palate. After my first cursory whiff of both, my thought was, wellll the T58 is the more marketable, user-friendly....but then after a few sips, the profile became overwhelming, almost cloying without being sweet. Truer to a Hefeweizen style rather than a Saison, T58 was not what they were looking for to produce a true Saison.
The winner was S33 (come on down!), with its true to form yeastiness, with touches of that black pepper and cumin seamlessly melded in. With the dominance of the banana and clove notes in the T58, you unfortunately missed the spice altogether. Go S33!
After the taste-test, we sampled their yet to be released stout. I thoroughly enjoyed the nose on this one. Charred wood, roasted coffee, tobacco, caramel and dark chocolate covered cherry, exactly the kind of aromas you want in a big, hearty stout. Comforting, wrap-you-up-in-a-blanket, sitting next to a fire kinda scents. Its like a sensory massage. Stay tuned for its release....
Then just when I was about to curl up in the corner of the tasting room with my stout and a blanket, Dylan brought out Hopitoulas straight from the tank. SOOOO GOOD. What an amazing difference in vibrancy out of the tank vs. from the tap at a bar! Wonderful notes of pine and citrus literally exploding out of the glass like all the fireworks we set off after the Saints won the NFC Championship. If hops grew in a field like poppies, I felt like I was frolicking through them. Think Wizard of Oz, except the opposite. No snoozing. What a PERFECT way to end my day....Cheers and to Kirk, Dylan, Peter, and Mel!!
Give it up for NOLA Brewing Co.!!!