Beer on the Road: New Orleans

New Orleans Beer Notes

In August 2015, I was able to tag along with my wife during a business trip to New Orleans, LA. NOLA is one of those special places with a legend, a reputation and mystery. Talking with friends about the upcoming trip I was told there are three things that characterize NOLA: great food, great music and debauchery. Hum, sounds about right. But I learned there was so much more.

I got my first glimpse of NOLA beer scene at the Brewers Association SAVOR event in Washington DC. SAVOR: an American Craft Beer and Food Event, is the most classy beer event I've ever attended. It attracts some of the best beers in the country, all coming together to showcase there beers paired with foods. Plus, the salons (themed talks) it is a night to cherish and remember. You can later download the talks for later learning. This is where I was first introduced to NOLA beers.

NOLA Brewing Co at SAVOR 2015

NOLA Brewing Co at SAVOR 2015

Getting Around the Big Easy

I arrived in New Orleans with a general idea of some beer places I wanted to experience. Really for the most part, my calendar was fluid. Our hotel was within easy walking distance to the French Quarter, but the August weather of NOLA is brutal, with temps near 95°F everyday with about the same degree of humidity. I've wanted to try out Uber for some time and the program had just come to NO a few months earlier. Some may have had issues with this private-driver taxi service, but every ride I had during my time there was only an excellent, comfortable and convenient experience. On one day I had taken four Uber rides to get from one beer establishment to another and then on to dinner that evening.

Crescent City Brewhouse

New Orleans has many nicknames, one of which is the Crescent City. This moniker alludes to the course of the Lower Mississippi River as it moves around and through the city. And thus, this oldest of NO brewers takes its name from this.

In 1991, the Crescent City Brewhouse opened on the site, bringing New Orleans and Louisiana its first brewpub. This represented a revival of the brewing industry that once flourished in the immediate area, and the first brewery to open in more than 72 years.
— http://www.crescentcitybrewhouse.com/history.html

Crescent City Brewhouse is located in the heart of the French Quarter at 527 Decatur St, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130-1027. Decatur Street is a-buzz of activity that demands your attention. Music, street performers, shops, food and the river close by. This is where you find the legendary Cafe Du Monde, the iconic New Orleans cafe known for café au laits, chicory coffee & beignets. As you walk in front of the Crescent City Brewhouse, its the jazz that first gets your attention. Its when you get close enough you realize their is a band playing.  

The setting is irresistible and I must go inside. I need a cool beer and some lunch. The cool jazz band is playing comfortably in the front, friendly inviting in those off the street as they did me. This is an excellent cool background to a cool brew. The Creole Queen paddlewheel sits in the distance view.  The Mississippi River is right there.

I ordered the grilled oysters for lunch. Being from the Chesapeake Bay area, I always try the local oyster fare to test against ours. To get the most of the CCB beers i ordered their monthly special brown ale. Everything was poured into the Hefeweizen-style vase glass, which I've always found to be a very sexy glass. It paired well with the grilled oysters which I found very nice. 

To get the best range of their beers I ordered a four-sample paddle. I found the Pilsner pleasant and refreshing. The Hefeweizen, as I've come to expect is a great summer drink but not as characteristically full as German offerings. The Red Stallion is their signature beer. Its a Vienna lager in style, malty sweet. The last brew was the Black Forest, a black lager which I found to be a bit thin but tasty. 

NOLA Brewing

I leave Crescent City Brewing quite satisfied but yet very hungry, wanting to take in as much of this city as I can with the time I have here. My wife is at her conference and I get to play beer geek for the day. I must not squander this opportunity been given to me. Uber please!

NOLA Brewing is a bit of a ride from downtown, really only about a 13 minute ride but too far to walk on a sultry NO summer day. As usual, my Uber is quick to arrive and quick to get me there. He pulls up, I get out in front of the taproom, and zoom he is gone. NO beer, round two.

The taproom is nice but unassuming. People are enjoying their beer and the place is busy. Another paddle was in order and they had a lot of great sounding beers to choose from. 

NOLA Brewing taproom

NOLA Brewing taproom

The Coffee Birth sounded interesting—a coffee infused IPA. It certainly lived up to expectations, full of coffee notes which made drinking this light amber-colored beer a bit confusing.  Of course, who could pass up a Buffalo Stout, a buffalo trace barrel aged. Full of bourbon and as black as night. Real nice! Hopitoulas IPA, their mainstream IPA. Lower Line Sour was tart and refreshing without being overpoweringly sour. A great beer for this place and time.

NOLA sampler

NOLA sampler

Rouses Market

I enjoy trying local beers when traveling. Sometimes is may be difficult to find the right bottle shop to be able to bring back local beer prizes. Rouses Market on Poydras St, was an easy walk from our hotel and has a good selection of local beers. NOLA, Parish Brewing, Abita, Bayou Tech (another brewery discovered at SAVOR). Not only did they have great foods to order but was a nice grocery store, too. They are located at 701 Baronne St, New Orleans, LA  70113-1005. Definitely recommended for beers to drink while staying in NO or for taking home.

The Trillist

A good source for information on the NO beer scene was the iPhone app and local resource website, The Trillist, they had many good New Orleans recommendations for local food and drink.

Final Thoughts

There are so many great beer places in New Orleans it is humanly impossible to drink your way through the city in a week. So, therefore I have an excellent reason to come back. Besides all that is Bourbon St and the Red Dress Run, I loved the food, the drink, the culture very much. I will be back!

There's a Tree in My Beer

Dogfish Head's Pennsylvania Tuxedo brewed with spruce tips

Dogfish Head's Pennsylvania Tuxedo brewed with spruce tips

When you think of winter beers several things may come to mind. For me, its the special seasonal releases like the Anchor Steam Christmas Ale (a 41-year tradition this year) or Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome — always a seasonal favorite. Of course there are many others that likely bring back memories or invoke pleasant sensations. And then there are the traditional seasonal ingredients added to many winter beers — fruits, spices, honey. And the ABV often gets a bump, too. Like all beer seasonal releases, it brings a beery anticipation. Now, there are countless reviews available on winter releases—I particularly enjoyed Tom Bedell's 12 Beers of Christmas, where for the last three years he has "taken on the agreeable task of writing about a dozen holiday beers or winter warmers, one a day (or late into the night)".  But I want to take you to another place. Let's take an unfamiliar path through the forest and see what is waiting for us there.

I want to discuss just one beer and probably not one you think of as a Winter beer. But wait! What is more Winter-like than the Christmas tree. And for many of us the tree of choice is a spruce tree. See where I'm going with this?

I've read about the American colonists using spruce tips in brewing their beer. As someone within an interest in tree things, this caught my fancy. Then in December 2014, I found a local beer in Madison WI that was a spruce tip beer. I tried it to satisfy my curiosity. Yup, no doubt, it had a tree quality about it. Done! It was interesting but I didn't need another one. Then a few months later I saw the Yards’ Tavern Spruce on the bottle shop shelf. Again, tried it, curiosity was satisfied but I didn't need another.  

Then I saw the Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo. Anyone that has had more than one of DFH beers knows that they live up to their motto of "Off-Centered-Beers-For-Off-Centered-People". You are use to getting wild and crazy ingredients from the four corners of the world in you beer. Hey, its DFH, sometimes its great and sometimes — well lets say its just not my style. So, another spruce tip beer? Why not?

"It's like biting into a Christmas tree!"

I grabbed a four-pack, got home and poured one. Oooh, this is interesting. It's like biting into a Christmas tree, but without the tinsel. I loved the flash of tree-like quality, but this time it was well balanced and quite enjoyable. One is not enough, I want another. I raved to my beer geek buddies about this and they (mostly) had the same reaction. This was the first beer in some time that my reaction was "one is not enough,"

The DFH Background

Here is what the Dogfish has to say about their beer. "A spruce-infused 8.5% ABV Pale Ale. Brewed in collaboration with Family Run outerwear company in Woolrich, our two like-mined companies came together to make this beer with Pacific Northwest hop varieties to make a sessionable concoction with a grassy citrus kick complimented by the resinous conifer qualities of fresh green Spruce Tips.

"Brewed in collaboration with family-run outdoor clothing company Woolrich, Pennsylvania Tuxedo is a sessionable concoction with a grassy citrus kick complemented by the resinous conifer notes of fresh green spruce tips. We went into the forests of north-central Pennsylvania and Georgetown, Del., to pick these fresh tips ourselves. A dry yet doughy malt backbone lets the hops and spruce shine while still balancing out the bitterness, making this one an easy sipper."

Expert Opinion

For some reason I expected the beer boards at BeerAdvocate and Untappd to be as crazy about this beer as much as I was. I guess I'm old enough and just wise enough to really know better. If you pay any attention to the beer rating sites, you know reviews can be all over the place and often coming from (frankly) unqualified tasters. If you realize that these are merely someones opinion and thats all, then you can relax and enjoy your beer. Beer reviews are a mixed lot as mentioned in the All About Beer article of July 2015, Beer Reviews All About Beer The Agony and Ecstasy of Beer Reviews.

Someone with an educated opinion will try a beer and ask “does it taste how it’s supposed to” before reviewing. A novice drinker will rate solely based on how they like it. I see a lot of reviews on Untappd where people will give a beer a low rating and in the comment say it’s because they don’t like the style.

There are no beer experts, just beer drinkers with opinions
— Jason Alstrom, a founder of BeerAdvocate.com

The collective gave it 84 pts at BeerAdvocate while The Bros gave it a 90pt rating. I agree with The Bros. Untappd has is posted at 4-Stars, which is higher than when I first posted my review there. I was a bit concerned but it seems this beer has caught on. I attributed the early lower scores to the fact that spruce was not the taste for many of the hop-heads.

The beer rating article mentioned early may explain some of this thinking, "Someone with an educated opinion will try a beer and ask “does it taste how it’s supposed to” before reviewing. A novice drinker will rate solely based on how they like it. I see a lot of reviews on Untappd where people will give a beer a low rating and in the comment say it’s because they don’t like the style."

As for tasting an unusual ingredient such as hops, it says, "we’re seeing more and more brewers color outside of the lines — my feeling is that they should be as free as chefs to do so." Now isn't that the reason we are enjoying so many excellent beers today, brewers are taking some chances and getting excellent responses and kudos from the craft beer community.

Spruce As A Beer Ingredient

If you'd like to learn more about spruce as an ingredient in beer, here are two excellent sources.

The Oxford Companion to Beer is always an great source for information on beer history, styles and ingredients. About spruce in beer from Garrett Oliver's beer compendium... 

"The green shoots at the tips of the branches of evergreens, can be harvested in spring and used as a flavoring in beer. To the taste they are far less resinous than the more mature needles and twigs (although these can be used as well, to harsher effect) and even somewhat citrusy. When boiled in water they can provide either simple flavoring to the brewing liquor or, if further concentrated, an essence to be added to the ferment, as appears in recipes for spruce and pine ales dating as far back as the 17th century. It is reported that in 1769 when Captain James Cook landed in New Zealand, it was with beer on board made with a mash of spruce tips, a beverage with an added antiscorbutic element. Like many beers brewed with ingredients alternative to imported British malt and hops, evergreen-flavored beers were common in colonial American brewing, often combining with molasses as the primary fermentable."  Oliver, Garrett; Colicchio, Tom (2011-09-09). The Oxford Companion to Beer (Oxford University Press.

The Drunken Botanist is another fun information source on where our the ingredients for all kinds of "spiritual" drinks. If you are the person that likes to get a bit deeper on topics of your passion, then this is a handy reference to keep close. Ben Franklin has been associated with this special beer ingredient and the Yard's Spruce Tavern does have his face on its packaging. 

"Recipes for spruce beer were abundant in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century journals. Benjamin Franklin is widely credited with creating a recipe for the beer— but it wasn’t his invention. While he was ambassador to France, he copied several recipes from a cookbook called The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, written by a woman named Hannah Glasse in 1747. He never meant to take credit for her recipe; he simply copied it for his personal use. Nonetheless, it was found among his papers, and the story that one of the Founding Fathers created a recipe for spruce beer was too good to resist. Modern re-creations of the recipe credit him alone, not Hannah Glasse." Stewart, Amy (2013-03-19). The Drunken Botanist. Algonquin Books.

Summary

While the DFH Pennsylvania Tuxedo may not be the first beer you think of as a winter seasonal beer, its special ingredient of spruce tips does make a compelling connection. I think, and hope, this becomes a regular seasonal release for Dogfish Head. While I still have a couple in my fridge, I know they won't last long.

Beer on the Road: Albany

Beer Reconnoitering

When I travel to a new town I try to do some research ahead so I have at least a few places I want to visit. One of the best sources is BeerAdvocate website, searching "Places" by city. I typically have a few goals, one is to bring back some bottles of beers that don't ship to my area. BA says that the best places in Albany to solve this issue was Oliver's Beverage Center.

Oliver's Beverage Center

By the time I arrived at Oliver's I had only 15 minutes before closing, so I needed to be efficient. I was not disappointed, they had all the good stuff on display as I walked in, but I was looking deeper. Having been reading about aging beers I focused on some barleywines and imperial stouts by recognized great breweries such as Sierra Nevada. I also was able to pick up a few from local breweries I didn't know but styles I've enjoyed. Plus, the bottles just looked good with the cork-and-cage. Stay tuned for a future writing on the success of my choices.

The Merry Monk

The Merry Monk, Albany NY

The Merry Monk, Albany NY

An establishment with the name of all-things-Belgian-beer it has to be good. Plus, the BA for The Merry Monk told me it was a place to have my first meal and beer. The pub food was beyond the classic choices. I ordered the hand-made salmon burger with roasted brussels sprouts and was not disappointed. 

The beer was excellent, many local belgian-styles like Ommegang. Oh I'll have a Ghent Bhent from Chatham Brewing from Chatham NY. A flight is always a favorite method to maximize tasting opportunities. Ommegang Rare Vos and Abbey Ale, Burly Monk by another local Common Roots Brewing in Glenn Falls NY and finally the night cap was a Vicaris Winter Ale by Brouwerji Dielewyns in Belgium. Simply beautiful. And to boot, my hotel was within a fine-minute walk.

Olde English Pub

Olde English Pub, Albany NY

Olde English Pub, Albany NY

Of course the best way to find great beer in an unfamiliar town is from a trusted fellow beer geek living in the area. 

So at our hosts recommendation we went to the Olde English pub, which is nicely tucked away into an old house that's been converted to an English style pub. Dark and warm, a friendly old pub with a painting of Churchill over the mantle watching your every move kind of charming. They had wonderful array of English beers, many that I've not had before, and some old favorites such as the Samuel Smith collection. I had a new beer that I knew of but not tried, Morland's Old Speckled Hen. The beer of the evening was Fuller's London Porter. Deep, roasty, full of malt-forward flavors. I'm too use to the American hoppy versions of the style, but the English varieties are a welcome diversion that I want to try more of.

The Albany Pump Station & Evans Brewing

Albany Pump Station & Evans Brewing Co, Albany NY

Albany Pump Station & Evans Brewing Co, Albany NY

Then we walker around the corner to Evans Brewing and Albany Pumping Station. This was a huge old warehouse brick building that was once the old pump house that would pump water from the Hudson River to the top of the hill where it could be distributed for use in the city of Albany. It now serves as the location for Evans Brewing and have done an incredible job turning into a beautiful eatery and brewpub. The group settled on the Kick-ass Brown which according to the banners draped on the walls had won a Gold metal at the Great American Beer Festival.

The Ruck in Troy

The Ruck, Troy NY

The Ruck, Troy NY

The thing about being a beer geek is that we have a way of finding each other. It's perhaps a bird-of-a-feather kinda thing. But its a beautiful thing with much merit. Life lesson: if you have not declared your beer geek status, go now, shout it out loud where ever you are. So I'd mentioned to a colleague with family in Vermont that I was hoping to find some Hill Farmstead beer, but understand that they don't leave the state. The night before he had dinner with his sister living in Albany and she knew of this place — well you can guess the rest. The Ruck in Troy NY, was just ten minutes up the road was serving Hill's plus they had vertical tastings of both 2013 and 2015 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barleywine 2014 and 2015. Yes!

It was all I'd hoped for. If I lived in Troy we would be best friends. They were pouring the Hill's Double Galaxy DIPA plus the Conduct of Life pale ale. I had to experience both Hill's and the BCS vertical, but the Bigfoot samples were a bridge too far. Hey, I have a liver to think about. I wish I had more time to spend here and take in more of their incredible beer selections. It was obvious they take beer seriously. But alas, I had to meet friends for dinner and I was already late. If I'm ever back in their neighborhood, I will be sure that there is more time for The Ruck.

The Pearl St Pub

Pearl St Pub, Albany NY

Pearl St Pub, Albany NY

Dinner was a capricious decision and as we walked down Pearl St the Pearl St Pub caught our fancy. Well the salmon BLT was thick but the beer choices was thin. The Davidson Brothers brown ale was a good beer, but to be fair, it didn't have a chance just having the Bourbon County Stouts. 

So I left Albany with many great beer memories but still so many beery places that must be left until next time.

Washington State Beer Adventures

In July 2015, I had the good fortune to take a family trip to Washington State, first to Seattle and then on to the San Juan Islands. I was really looking forward to this trip since it has been ten years since I've been there, and my appreciation of beer has grown a good bit since then. Now knowing how to appreciate the big hopped beers and that Yakima Valley is just to the East of where I will be, I was excited to go back.

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