52 Weeks: Abita Brewing Co., New Orleans, LA
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!