Finally. A brewpub will finally open in New Orleans. Serious beer drinkers who have witnessed the success of the brewpub and micro brewery phenomenon around the country can now rejoice. Louisiana, like many other states, until recently had laws in place that prohibited establishments from both brewing and serving beer on the premises. Now that the law has been changed, beer drinkers can look forward to the opening of the Crescent City Brewhouse. The Brewhouse is the brainchild of locals Harold Mann and Fritz Schroth and Brewmaster Wolfram Koehler. Mann and Schroth began thinking about having the Louisiana law changed, and subsequently opening a brewpub, more than two years ago. Now, through extensive lobbying efforts, their persistence has paid off. The law prohibiting brewpubs was changed several months ago, and the three partners are anticipating an opening sometime after Oktoberfest, probably near the end of the year.
For the uninitiated, brewpubs comprise one part of the micro brewing movement. Micro breweries produce quality ”European”-style beers in relatively small batches. At the beginning of the century, there were over 1,600 breweries in the U.S. Prohibition and restrictive liquor laws reduced this number to about 40 by 1980. But just over ten years ago, micro breweries began appearing on the West Coast. These micro brewers, some of them former homebrewers, sought to capitalize upon the increasing demand for distinctive, locally-made products.
At the same time, Americans were becoming increasingly discontent with the choice between bland, mass-produced American beers and expensive premium imports. The early micro breweries filled this void and concentrated on distributing their beers locally. A few of these early pioneers now distribute their products nationally—Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada come to mind—but most still distribute to a local or regional clientele.
Locals are probably most familiar with Abita Beer brewed in Abita Springs, founded in 1986 by transplanted Californian Jim Patton. This small local brewery produces several fine lager beers (Amber and Golden), as well as delicious seasonal beers such as Mardi Gras Bock, an unusual Irish Red Ale and Christmas Dark Lager. Their Fall Fest beer is currently on the market (an “Oktoberfest” style beer—one that is light amber in color, with a fairly heavy body and an emphasis on the malt flavor).
Dixie Beer, another locally-produced brew (and the only regional brewery that’s survived since its founding in 1907), is introducing a new “Blackened Voodoo Lager” beer in mid-November. Most locals know that Dixie’s experienced hard times over the past few years, but the brewery finally seems now to be on the comeback trail, and just in time for the resurgence in interest in local and regional brews.
Brewpubs, as opposed to breweries that package for off-premise sale, take the concept of locally-produced beers one step further. By brewing and selling the beer on site, freshness is almost assured. And ask a serious beer drinker what the most important qualities are of beer and freshness will always be mentioned. The brewpub concept is not new, but rather a modern revival of the European brew houses that are still common today, particularly in Belgium and Germany.
New Orleans needs a brewpub, that much is for sure. After watching brewpubs sprout up around the country, it appeared to many of us that the South would be passed over completely. The West Coast is generally credited with being home to the first few brewpubs. Cities such as Portland and Seattle, in particular, have taken the idea to the max. These cities and others have enjoyed a virtual beer revolution. The number of brewpubs and local breweries has not even peaked yet out there. Residents of Portland and Seattle in search of a brew have the enviable task of choosing from several pubs, many within a few blocks of one another. In addition, even establishments who do not brew their own offer a variety of regional beers on draft.
More recently, the brewpub concept has spread to the East and the mid-western U.S. With the exception of Florida, North Carolina and a couple of other states, brewpubs are not well represented in the South. Some of the greatest growth has been occurring north of the border in Canada, and specifically Ontario. Brewpubs are now being identified as a major growth segment of the restaurant industry. The American Homebrewers Association reports the opening of twenty new micro/pub breweries in the continental U.S. in the most recent issue of their quarterly journal. Each quarter, the listing of new openings seems to increase. Recent estimates have put the total number of U.S. brewpubs at 120. This number is expected to double in the near future.
Now back to the issue at hand. Yes, it’s true we have two local breweries that we can call our own, but there is nowhere to go and raise a pint of “house” brew. With renovations well under way, the Crescent City Brewhouse will occupy the old Steinberg building at 527 Decatur. Plans are to offer a menu based upon fresh Louisiana seafood, much of it grilled. “Simple elegance” will be their theme, according to one of the partners. Lunch specials will be attractively priced and should be enough to lure both locals and out-of-towners. There will also be a regular luncheon menu and dinner will be offered as well.
Partners also say that the Brewhouse will not just offer food and beer, but will also have live entertainment, which will be something unusual for brewpubs in this country. A combination of local and international talent will be on tap.
And what about the beer? Strictly lagers, as you might expect from a German-trained brewer who landed in New Orleans by way of Belize. Wolfram Koehler will be the man brewing the hand-crafted beer from nothing but the freshest ingredients. That means that only water, malt, yeast and hops will find their way into Crescent City brews. A variety of three to five house beers are expected to be available at any time. An experienced brewer working with fresh, quality ingredients can only mean one thing—good beer!
The restaurant and pub will occupy the first two floors of the brewery. Future plans call for the third floor to be converted into a music club. In the meantime, live entertainment will be provided in the restaurant on the first two floors. Patrons will be able to get a first-hand view of the inner workings of the brewery, too. The impressive stainless steel, copper and brass brewing equipment will be visible from the restaurant.
So the countdown begins. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to the opening of a place that serves good food, homemade beer, and offers entertainment too! A brewpub in New Orleans is a natural and one can only wonder why it hasn’t happened sooner.