Week 39 of 52
166 Barbee Rd.
Abita Springs, LA
Wed,Thurs & Fri: 2pm – 3pm
Tour Time: 2pm
Sat: 10am – 3pm
Tour Times: 11am, 12pm, 1pm & 2pm
Type of Establishment: Brewery & Tasting Room
Visit: After a incredible week of consumption in the French Quarter, it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. We headed West to the Bayou to have some frog legs and catfish and embarked north to Abita Springs, home of Abita Brewing. It was about 85 degrees with 100% humidity on a late October day. We were thirsty, but severely full. The beer beckoned, we did not back down.
Beers on Tap (at time of visit):
Turbodog Brown Ale
Purple Haze Raspberry Ale
Select Rye Pale
Save Our Shores Imperial Pilsner
Its a brewery, you drink from the taps. You cannot get any bottles here.
But you can obtain Abita Brewing’s bottled beer at almost any store selling beer in Louisiana. They also distribute in 48 states, including Washington.
You can most reliably find some Abita down at Full Throttle Bottles in Seattle. Next time you have a fish fry, crawfish/shrimp boil, or a Mardi Gras party – head down there to get your Turbodog.
Again, my comments are limited. If you brought a bag of peanuts or chips – I think you can eat them here. But, this is purely a brewery visit. They are focused one thing: letting you drink the beer and see where it came from.
Abita Brewing does, however, have a brewpub up the road about 1 mile. In the teeny town of Abita Springs, LA, Abita’s brewpub puts out some interesting food and showcases roughly 20 beers on tap at all times.
More interestingly, the brewpub pours some pub exclusives that cannot be found anywhere else, including Chocolate Stout, Blue (blueberry wheat beer), and Nitro Pale. You can also purchase growlers of these beers, or snag a six pack of some of their packaged ales.
The food at the brewpub provides a nice snapshot of Louisiana cuisine. Its not the best place to get this food, but its serviceable. A collection of po boys with all the fixins, oysters brochette, fried artichokes, blackened shrimp, crawfish cakes and stuffed quail might make you right. For me, I always loved their home recipe meatloaf, which is no longer on the menu – boo. If you are looking for a recommendation, try the Andygator infused crawfish cakes topped with a Turbodog remoulade sauce. Yum.
I’ll just get this out of the way: You serve yourself at Abita Brewing. Yep, you heard me – be your own bartender at this tasting room.
The fact stated above was the main reason that I decided to return to Abita. Some six years ago when I was nothing more than a Loyola student, a few friends and I visited the still relatively small Abita brewery. We wanted to see what changed, after some major renovations and upgrades.
The Old Brewery & Tour
My first visit was back in 2004, before Hurrican Katrina. Abita was producing a lot of beer at the time, but not nearly what they sell these days. At the time, they had just a few beers in their collection and did not produce one hoppy ale.
The brewery was in the same location but remarkably smaller, less efficient and much less attractive. I remember walking into the brewery for a tour and being directed to what had to be a refurbished closet. The “welcome room” was a tiny space with a jockey box setup and about 5 taps. There was a stack of cups and sign that read: “serve yourself.” What!? Of course, I will. Thank you very much.
The mentality at the old brewery was grab as much beer as possible, make sure you try all five styles and then stumble around the brewery tour for 30 minutes, with absolutely zero idea what the brewer was talking about. Except for my buddy Nick asking dumb questions about how they clean the place – we had zero communication with the tour guide. We had no idea how to connect with the guy, because we had such little knowledge of the brewing process.
Regardless, the old brewery tour was a hell of a time. Not once have I visited a brewery that left you to your own devices in procuring drunkenness. What a world. Would it all change as Abita grew up?
All Grown Up – Abita Goes Gorgeous.
I had heard a lot of amazing things about Abita in the past few years. First, Abita underwent an incredible transformation right after we visited in 2004. Even before the great storm of 2005, Abita was in the midst of a great growth, increasing brewing capacity, fermenting capacity and brewery technology.
The brewery purchased one of only two Merlin brew kettle systems that are currently being used in the USA (we believe, but their may be more). Their 100 bbl system is only defeated by the 200 bbl system being used over at New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, CO.
The Merlin allows for an extremely clean brewing process, while maximizing heat efficiency (it saves 70% in energy cost) and removing trub. Its a pretty sexy thing to see and you can taste the difference in Abita beer.
Additionally, Abita grabbed a slew of 300 bbl fermenters and built a brand spanking new brewhouse that sparkles with cleanliness. Very impressive.
They also built a new administrative building with a New Orleans flair. This building houses the Tasting Room and patio, where you get to enjoy Abita’s beer – as your own bartender. That’s right, even though they built a gorgeous new bar – you still pour your own beer.
One big difference is that you now have to choose from about 15 beers! But do not fret, the tasting experience is now expanded to roughly an hour. After a brief introduction, visitors are invited to grab a beer (or two, three, whatever you can carry) and take a seat. The tour begins with an extremely informative and appealing video (on big flat screens) about the brewing process.
The video is perhaps the smartest move that Abita could have made. I was on the tour with my father and his friend, who know very little about brewing. But, Abita’s video showed the brewing process in action; the ingredients, the working parts, and even a life cycle of a beer were all comprehensible and tangible.
At this time, you are finally ready to take a quick (10 minute) peak at the brewery. By now, you understand how all the parts work and this is a great opportunity to ground the images you just saw on screen with the real thing. I love this tour.
Abita also uses this opportunity to “wow” you with its green initiative. I was utterly shocked to see a Louisiana brewery doing some of the things that Abita is doing.
As the site says:
“Conserving energy and water, reusing by-products and waste, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, driving greener vehicles and using recycled materials are some of the ways the Abita Brewing Company is working to keep our part of the world green and clean.”
This brewer is recycling cooling water into their liquor tanks, using a kettle that saves 70% in energy cost, capturing vapor to reuse steam, reusing waste water to produce energy, capturing bio-gas to fuel boilers, using snub bottles to reduce glass, and using recycled cartons that use 50% less paper. These are just a few of the things that Abita is doing to improve the way brewing damages the environment. If you ever brewed a batch of beer, you know how wasteful it can be; its nice to see someone doing something about it.
The Beer & Result
All in all – I was floored with the improvements at this place. That includes improvements to the beer.
I never have been a huge fan of Abita Brewing, but their beer is noticeably improved. Additions to the family include: Jockamo IPA, a 6.5% IPA generously hopped with Willamette and Columbus hops; Restoration Pale, a nice malty pale dry-hopped with Cascade, which was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and started as a fund raiser; and last but certainly not least – SOS.
SOS stands for Save Our Shores. Abita has always got involved with helping out Louisiana during times of disaster. This time, Abita put together a charity to help out families that were impacted by the BP oil spill. Abita brewed this Imperial Pilsner (its marketed as just a Pils, but its big as hell) with the intention of raising .75 cents per bottle sold for its charity – and its doing a heck of a job.
SOS is easily Abita’s most desirable beer. The wheat malts blend perfectly with the Perle and Sterling hops that are packed in the bottle gratuitously. While the beer has a subtle malt backbone, its sharp and packs a delightful hoppiness. Get this beer – and help save Louisiana shores. You can also contribute by going to their website here.
All in all, I still love New Orleans and I’m beginning to love Abita, more and more. I was blown away with what the brewery has become and how great this tour is for visitors. If you are in New Orleans, there is no justification for missing this trip.
Been to Abita – Let us know what you thought below!
I have been on leave from BeerBlotter.com in order to peruse the alleyways, taverns, and sound of the mighty New Orleans. And so I apologize to my fellow Blotter brethren/sistern (made up) for having to pull all the weight of this hefty machine. Kudos to them for keeping it running.
But alas, I miss the daily musings of musty bottles and bitter pints. The Blotter has become a reflection of what we all are: loose lipped, eager to share, legend seeking beer drinkers.
So, I decided to chime in this morning and share a snapshot of my adventures through the dirty. This will only be a peak of what is to come on the Blotter in the coming week.
Loving Me Some NOLA.
Last year, we visited a fledgling operation along New Orleans’ historic tongue twister of a street – Tchoupitoulas. The newcomer to the Louisiana beer scene (and really the only true brewery in New Orleans since Katrina sank Dixie Brewing), NOLA Brewing hit the market in early 2009 with two products: Brown and Blonde. They grabbed instant success and imminent growth could be smelled from a mile away.
We were not wrong. NOLA Brewing has grown in production size, quality, distribution, and of course – their lineup. Now brewing 4 year round beers and several seasonals, they are all grown up.
I decided to pop in, unannounced (sorry Dylan), and grab a taste of the new, the recreated and the “whats to come.” Luckily, I was able to siphon off a taste of the new Irish Channel Stout before its release. I was floored. Much more to come on these guys. Don’t miss that write up.
Holy Crap – What Happened Here?
6 years ago, craft beer was just a scant curiosity for me. I knew nothing, cared little and grabbed Schlitz cans without a second thought. But living in New Orleans, you had to notice the Abita Brewing stranglehold of 25 years. So, we took a little trip to the brewery.
6 years ago, the trip was just a hoot – now its an experience. Abita Brewing has undergone a dramatic face lift, expanding to an almost 50,000 square foot facility. Whats more is that they added a 100 barrel Merlin brewing system, a plethora of 300 barrel fermenters and a shiny new tasting room. Luckily for us they didn’t change the “be your own bartender in the tasting room” rule, which makes this the best brewery visit around.
Still On Top. Zero Challengers.
Last time I waxed poetic about New Orleans beer, we sat Avenue Pub right at the top. There is nothing that can change my mind about this choice.
Avenue Pub has all the factors: amazing taps, great bottles, phenomenal food, incredible aura and mind-boggling comfort/location (balcony over St. Charles!). With a direct line to Stone Brewing and Brooklyn Brewing’s top of the line beers, I am always surprised. With the new commitment to Belgian beer, my jaw drops with each visit.
Kudos to Avenue Pub’s Polly for keeping this one on top.
For now, I must rest as I embark on my final journey through New Orleans, tomorrow. I am going to peg gater and eggs, oysters on the half shell and some Liuzza’s gumbo for the day. How will I wash it all down? We’ll see what NOLA has to offer.
On to the next saga in our “Top 5 Lists” column. We won’t stop until we hit all of the cities we have visited since our beer mania spawned. There are quite a bit of cities – we travel often.
Again, lets revisit the rules and disclaimer:
This will be a quick rundown of the 5 places that we would tell you to visit, if you happened across one of these fair cities. The reason that we want to do this is that we have been getting a lot of inquiries from readers who are simply traveling and want to know where to find beer mecca. The goal is to put this on the site in an easy to read format, cataloged for viewing at any time.
First, the rules:
- We go places because we want, not because someone asked. I cannot stress this enough. We were never enticed to these places by promises of freebies, attention, pats on the back or back room happy endings – we just went because we heard the word.
- We cannot be everywhere. Typically when we visit a city, its for a few days only. This severely limits what we can visit. If there is a critically-acclaimed otherworldly place that we did not make it to, we will try and asterisk it in the Top 5 list so that you know it exists.
- We are not millionaires. Wow, bet you could have guessed that one. We cannot purchase the best of the best all of the time. This limits what we might get out of a particular venue. Just want you to know.
- We like all types of places. These lists are not “beer bar” centric – far from it. In fact, you may find places that make you shake your head. But, if they have the total package of beer, character, service, food and aura – they get the mark.
- We try to poll our choices, but sometimes there is bias. There are 3 primary writers for BeerBlotter.com. We always try to discuss what we like best and poll our choices. Unfortunately, you cannot do it all the time because we are all not at the same places at the same time. As the variables change, so do our opinions. Thus, you might get some choices that are filled with bias. Again, just a warning.
Ok, now that we are through with the rules, lets move on to the Top 5 list for New Orleans, Louisiana.
New Orleans, LA.
- Visits: Man oh man. We have been here many times. The most recent being May 2009, July 2009, and October 2009.
- Area Brewers of Note: Not too many. A recent growth has significantly expanded the list – Abita Brewing, Nola Brewing, Lazy Magnolia Brewery (MS), Heiner Brau, Parish Brewing Co., and to some extent Dixie Brewing Co (though now made up in Wisconsin)
- Town Favorite: There is only one actual brewery in NOLA – Nola Brewing Co. They make some tasty beer. But the town favorite continues to be Abita Brewing Co., who makes beer up north about 45 minutes in Abita Springs. Read more about them below!
- The Top 5…..
Honorable Mentions – Generally a brewery and a beer store make it into the Top 5. Unfortunately, New Orleans lacks a Top 5 brewery to visit that is in New Orleans. As for bottle stores – almost non-existent.
NOLA Brewing (New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing) is emerging and the staff is incredible, but its not a “place to go drink a beer” (unless there are changes since 2009). Abita Brewing is a very cool place, and probably would have made the list if it rested within the boundaries of New Orleans (NOLA). Abita is out in Abita Springs, about 45 minutes north of NOLA, close to gator farms, swamps and back country Louisiana. Its a very good visit.
In the past, Abita had a self-serving tasting room! You’d guzzle endless beer in preparation for a brewery tour that began and ended in the beer room. Great fun. Since then, Abita invested quite a bit in making an incredible taproom. Their beer selection has expanded as well – including an IPA, Satsuma Ale and now….an Imperial Stout (would love to try that). If you visit, make sure to hit both the brewery and the pub, where you can sample some bottled ales and decent NOLA food.
Bottle Shop. There is only one that can be mentioned: Steins Market & Deli, 2207 Magazine, Lower Garden District. At Stein’s, you can find bottles from Brooklyn Brewing, Harpoon Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin, St. Somewhere and breweries across Belgium. If you don’t make it to Stein’s – Whole Foods (Magazine St) is not too bad and generally has some Brooklyn beers.
Now on to the Top 5…..
#5 -Turtle Bay -1119 Decatur St., French Quarter
This place makes it for a combination of good tap selection and excellent location. The place is located beside or across the street from three of our favorite places in New Orleans – Molly’s at the Market (excellent cocktails, incredible culture), Coops Place (our favorite restaurant in the city) and Fiorella’s (best fried chicken in the city).
But lets talk about Turtle Bay. Nothing flashy, but the same great edgy, back of the quarter, atmosphere that you expect from the Decatur bars. Turtle Bay has about 24 taps, including most of the best from the LA/MS scene. While we were there we had a NOLA Brewing Hopitoulas IPA and a Lazy Magnolia Sweet Potato Stout. These are our two favorite New Orleans beers.
Hopitoulas IPA is lightly bitter with a wonderfully delightful sweetness that has you coming back for more. The beer is named for New Orleans’ famed Tchoupitoulas Avenue that runs from downtown to uptown.
Lazy Magnolia’s Jefferson Sweet Potato Stout is typically poured on nitro and served as a sweet, creamy stout. The beer has a light smokey flavor with an incredible smoothness. A very good late fall beer in New Orleans.
Back to the place – it does the job. Go there and start up with a few beers. Head next door to Coops for their famous jambalaya, grab a few pieces of fried chicken at Fiorella’s and then head to Molly’s for an after drink cocktail. After that – head to Frenchmen Street…..more on that later.
#4 – The Bulldog – 3236 Magazine St., Garden District
This place is perpetually on the “must visit” list for beer bars in New Orleans. Its not our favorite, but its one of the original beer bars in the city, with one of the largest tap lists.
The thing that holds Bulldog back in our mind is that though they have a ton of taps, they are generally stuffed full of international macrobrews and beers that would not interest the beer aficionado. I do not want to dog the Bulldog (no pun intended), but the atmosphere here is directed towards college students and young professionals. Its more of a party joint – which is fine by us. We have had amazing times there over the years.
But, the Bulldog stays up here on the list for a combination of a few things. First, they are brilliantly located in the heart of Magazine’s bar district, walking distance to other entertaining watering holes. Second, they have really good food. Try the wings and any of their sandwiches. Finally, they do have an incredible outdoor seating area right on Magazine St. This has been the perfect spot to watch Magazine parades over the years.
Stop by and grab something from Abita on tap. Check the bottle list as well. Its pretty substantial.
#3 – Cooter Browns – 509 S Carrollton Ave., Uptown
Oh baby. Cooter’s is a lot like The Bulldog. Classic Uptown bar, extensive taps and bottle list, and even better food. Its probably the #1 spot on most “must visit” lists.
But unlike The Bulldog this one passes all our tests. The crowd can be strange, but the space is large and you are certainly never bothered. The tap selection is impressive, typically carrying everything that Abita, Lazy Magnolia and NOLA Brewing each offer. Their bottle list is the most extensive in the city. If for some reason you aren’t intrigued by any of their 50+ taps, you will find something in their bottle cooler, which generally has a few hundred selections, including many European ales.
The best part about Cooter Browns is the extensive and tasty food. Cooter’s is one of the only places in Uptown where you can have oysters on the half shell. Not only are their oysters affordable and delicious, but they come with the full gamut of toppings.
Head to the ordering space off the front and grab one of their famous po boy sandwiches. A favorite is the crawfish pie po boy, filled with two deep fried crawfish pies, gravy and all the fixins.
Stop by Cooters for any sporting event. They have about 12 large screen plasmas and a projector for New Orleans and LSU games. Its the perfect place for a mid-day beer stop.
#2 – d.b.a. - 618 Frenchman St., Marigny
#1 and #2 were very close, but for the wrong reasons. Since beer is the focus, I think this order is best.
d.b.a is a close #2 for one major reason – its on Frenchmen St. Frenchmen is the center of the musical universe in New Orleans. Besides having some of the most incredible music you will ever hear, the bars are also incredibly alive and filled with the culture that you expect to see in New Orleans. We spent many a day on Frenchmen during our times down there.
d.b.a is also one of probably three bars on Frenchmen that have music almost every night; and boy do they have music. This used to be the frequent home of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers (Now Cottonmouth Kings), and we have seen many impressive national blues and folk acts travel through those doors over the years.
On to the beer. d.b.a. New Orleans is the follow up to its sister bar in the East Village of NYC. The New Orleans version has typically slacked behind in the beer realm, but it seems to have a growing tap list. In the past two years, we have noticed that they are being more creative with what fills the taps. Now you will see Harpoon Leviathan Imperial IPA, Stone Smoked Porter, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine, Lazy Magnolia Pecan Brown, and Nola Hopitoulas.
During our last visit we saw an impressive swing band over a couple Leviathan Imperial IPAs. If you visit, check out Frenchmen extensively. Visit the Apple Barrel and the Spotted Cat, both icons seen in the HBO series, Treme. Also, try a bite at the authentic Japanese Izakaya (tavern), Yuki. Hint: get the beef tongue and mini fried crabs.
#1 – Avenue Pub - 1732 St. Charles Ave., Lower Garden District
Avenue Pub is situated in a rather unknown area on St. Charles up from downtown. Its essentially a place that visitors do not find. For these reasons, it had to be amazing to unseat d.b.a. for #1 on our list – it is.
Avenue Pub has the best of both worlds: the best beer selection and the best bar food of any place on the list. What makes it so head and shoulders above the rest is its creative beer and food menus.
The beer selection rivals that of your typical NW and NE beer bars. Its diverse, style-fulfilling, and unique to the area. They have a great relationship with Stone, who gives them vintage ales for their taps. They also have a cask on some days, and other beer events that are impressive. While we were there they had a Amarillo dry-hopped version of Hopitoulas on cask.
Their bottle list includes some favorites from Mikkeller and Brooklyn. They have approximately 50 selections in the bottle, and none of them are beers to frown upon.
Their food is almost as unique. The bar operates J’anita’s, a tiny kitchen/stand connected to the backside of the bar top. J’anita’s menu requires a double take. It has some items you would never think to see on a bar menu. Lets go over a few favorties…..
Buddha’s Temptation – bleu cheese stuffed, bacon wrapped, deep fried apricots!?!
Crunchy Duck Balls - duck breast rolled in Panko and fried, served with berry chipotle sauce.
Beach Sammich – blackened redfish, spicy slaw, and ceaser on a toasted ciabatta.
Swamp Reuben – this isnt anything amazingly weird, but its the best reuben we’ve ever had. Lose the pastrami, this one comes with pulled pork or beef brisket.
St. Chuck Duck – grilled sourdough w/ currant tapenade, topped with chedder and bleu cheese, over cabernet sauteed duck and granny smith apples. Wow.
Sweet Spot – Cabernet soaked burger with caramelized onions, pears, bleu cheese and balsamic reduction.
Got your appetite going yet? Whats cool about Avenue Pub is that they feed you normal pub grub – something you might get a hankering for after your 12th po boy, 6th bowl of gumbo, 4th order of jambalaya and 35th friend crawfish/crab/shrimp/fish.
Oh yes, we don’t want to forget to tell you about the balcony. Avenue Pub is right along the streetcar line. Their rooftop balcony peers over St. Charles and the streetcar as its passes you by every 20-30 minutes.
Go and grab some Buddha’s temptation over a Jefferson Stout. Love life.
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