New breweries are popping up all over Louisiana, with Gnarly Barley in Hammond and Chafunkta in Mandeville among the latest additions. Their offerings are all over map, too. Porters, lagers, wheat ales, barley wines and pale ales—including a good assortment of the hoppier India Pale Ales, IPAs—provide new opportunities to drink local, and drink well. Guitarists Danny Abel (Gravity A, Khris Royal, Pat Casey and the New Sound, Corey Henry, Cha Wa, Big Easy Bounce Band, Mia Borders) and Casey Robinson (Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Casey Robinson Band, Mutineerz) met up one afternoon at Avenue Pub to sample the hoppiest of Louisiana brews. India Pale Ales orignially got their name from ales being shipped from Britain to India, a former colony, with extra hops added as a natural preservative for the long voyage. Today, India Pale Ales have evolved, and the English IPAs tend to be less hoppy—but more malty—than the Belgian and American IPAs that tend to less malt and more hops. The most hoppy and alcoholic of the lot are the Double IPAs, Triple IPAs or Imperial IPAs, brewed mainly in the U.S. or in Belgium, largely for the American market.
First out, Hoppopotomus IPA (7% alcohol) from Gnarly Barley Brewing Company. Owner and brewmaster Zac Caramonta just signed a lease on a building in Hammond where he hopes to start commercial production in October. He currently operates out of his house, and can therefore only give his product away at charitable events.
CR: “Sometimes that bitterness that some IPAs have can stick in your craw, and you might not really want that. This is good, with a nice grapefruity smell. The taste drops off at the end, though. If you were describing this as an audio cue, it’d be a lot of mids.”
Abita Brewing Company’s Jockamo IPA (6.5% alcohol) packs a punch of coriander, with garlic-onion notes:
CR: “It’s as if they replaced the bitterness with a tangy, sweet sauce, and the smell is almost mustardy. I’ve had this before and I drink Jockamo at times, especially at festivals, but now, when we’re comparing…”
DA: “I’d pick this over Amber, and I’m actually a sucker for Abita Strawberry. On a warm day, it’s almost like drinking juice.”
Spring IPA (6.2% alcohol), also from Abita, is a seasonal with careful flavors, not unlike cake batter:
CR: “Jockamo Light.”
DA: “I feel like a lot of the Abita beers are variations on the same thing, like they have the same base, with stuff added to it. I’d rather drink Jockamo.”
CR: “Actually, I’d rather have this one; it’s more balanced. This is the Ford F-150 of IPAs.”
NOLA Brewing’s Mechahopzilla (8.8% alcohol) is surprisingly malty and sweet, making you thirsty as you drink it. The flavors are tropical and bitter, like over-ripe papaya and fermented passionfruit:
CR: “Burnt coffee at the end. Grandma’s candies? I think with the hops and the bitterness, there’a a balance that must be achieved and I’m getting body-slammed in the throat with hops here. I’d like some more contrast.”
Hopitoulas (6% alcohol) from NOLA is a bit like Mechahopzilla’s younger brother, with a whiff of canned peas and a walk in the woods:
CR: “I like the flavor. ‘NOLA Hopitoulas—just don’t smell it.’” [laughs]
DA: “I usually like NOLA, and I like this. The only thing about NOLA is that their beers are always bold, so I often feel that I can’t drink a lot.”
Parish Brewing’s Farmhouse IPA (7.5% alcohol) is a Belgian-style IPA that comes in wine-sized bottles and smells of pear and elderflower. The taste is fruity, lively—almost like a cider—and mellow on the hops:
CR: “It’s cloudy too. Nice aroma, lots of carbonation. I love this!”
Chafunkta Brewing Company’s Voo Ka Ray IPA (7.5% alcohol) has a roasted aroma and the taste is meaty, almost like a sweet gravy:
CR: “Skunky and funky. What’s next?”
Bayou Teche’s Cocodrie (8% alcohol) is a just-released dry-hopped Tripel IPA:
Tin Roof’s Juke Joint IPA (7% alcohol) has bitterness that lasts:
Robinson and Abel share what they think of as the “musician’s typical experience with beer”—not making enough money on gigs to afford better beer selections, and frequently being offered cheap beer for free, creating a taste for what they otherwise might not choose.
CR: “There may be a case of Miller Light in the green room. Anything else you have to fork over the money for yourself. So as a musician you have to compromise, unless you’re willing to pay.
DA: “Blue Nile treats you great when you’re there, like you’re family. And Maple Leaf is cool, even if they don’t have as much of a beer selection. Those bars, it’s like ‘What do you want? Here.’”
So out of all these beers, which one is your favorite?
DA: Same. They’re both great.
Lazy Magnolia’s Timber Beast Rye IPA (9% alcohol) isn’t technically a Louisiana IPA since it’s brewed in Kiln, MS, about 14 miles outside state lines. However, this Imperial IPA comes on clean and brash and doesn’t have the murkiness of some rye brews. The aftertaste is long, bitter and somewhat metallic (the bane of many homebrews) but the initial flavor is impressive.
Another beer that deserves mention is Parish Brewing’s Envie (5.5% alcohol). Not technically an IPA, more of a regular American pale ale, but hoppy enough to qualify. Envie is an excellent brew, well-balanced and refreshing, on par with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6% alcohol). The flavors include grapefruit, passionfruit and dill. Envie is sold in bottles, but only in the Lafayette area. In New Orleans, Envie is currently available on tap at Avenue Pub, Bulldogs on Magazine and in Mid-City, Evangeline on Decatur and Lager’s in Metairie, as well as other places.
The WYES beer tasting on June 21 offered local beer lovers one-off opportunities to taste other local IPAs: Cajun Fire’s made-in-Nola Hoppy Hour IPA (9.2% alcohol); Great Raft’s Ermahgerd Hops (7.5% alcohol) from Shreveport; Mandeville’s Old Rail Seven Sisters IPA (7% alcohol); Chafunkta’s Fontaine Blueberry Wheat IPA (6.5% alcohol) made with local blueberries; Covington Brewhouse’s Anonymous IPA (6.5% alcohol); Parish Brewing’s Calypso Single Hop IPA (6.5% alcohol) and Pacifica Single Hop IPA (6.5% alcohol); Tin Roof’s Rougarou black double IPA (9.5% alcohol); Tu Lu Lu’s IPA (7.2% alcohol) from Cut Off; and Crooked Letter in Ocean Springs, MS, brought their Gipsy IPA (7.5% alcohol). Soon available, let’s hope, in a brewpup near you.