Since last year's American Craft Beer Week (ACBW), four new breweries have opened in Louisiana — The Courtyard Brewery, Mudbug Brewery, Broken Wheel Brewery and Flying Heart Brewing — bringing the state's total number of breweries to 15. While the array of local beer offerings keeps growing, ACBW brings a host of events and specially brewed beers to the New Orleans area.
"ACBW is such an important week for craft breweries, craft bars and restaurants, and for the craft community," says Buck Brown, the "Louisiana Beer Ranger" for New Belgium Brewing Company. "It allows breweries to feature one-off, specialty and rare beers that highlight the inventive nature of the business. It also allows bars and restaurants to do something fun and interesting for the craft community."
ACBW 2015 (May 11-17) marks an anniversary for Gnarly Barley Brewing in Hammond.
"This will be our second American Craft Beer Week as a brewery, since we rolled out last year during it," says Gnarly Barley co-founder Cari Caramonta. "We will always remember this time as a very important week for us as a brewery."
The brewery's first anniversary party is Saturday, May 9, just before ACBW starts. ACBW officially begins Monday, May 11, but there are several beer events scheduled on the weekend before, including Gnarly Barley's party, the fourth annual Larry Fest Twisted Beer Competition and Mellow Brew Fest and The Avenue Pub and Bayou Teche's annual Mother's Day crawfish boil.
Beer events kick off Monday at The Avenue Pub's barrel-aged beer night. Owner Polly Watts says she moved the event to Monday to focus on big beers later in the week. A few brews to look forward to sampling are Southern Prohibition Brewing's barrel-aged Ragana Baltic porter, Yalobusha bourbon barrel-aged Heavy Hitter and two versions of barrel-aged NOLA Brewing's Irish Channel Stout — one aged in Four Roses barrels, and one called Rumplestoutskin, which is aged in Old New Orleans Rum barrels.
Tuesday features several food-focused beer events, including a multi-course beer dinner at The Chimes in Covington, a New Belgium beer and cheese pairing at St. James Cheese Company and a Gnarly Barley event at Cochon Butcher highlighting the brewery's special Buffalo Trace Eagle Rare barrel-aged Korova Milk Porter paired with small plates from the restaurant.
On Wednesday, Palace Cafe hosts a beer dinner with Baton Rouge brewery Tin Roof Brewing Company, and The Avenue Pub taps the rising local interest in sour, wild and spontaneously fermented beers. Cooter Brown's Tavern's craft beer-focused nook, the Snooty Cooter, offers some of New Belgium's rarer beers, and The Bulldog location on Magazine Street will tap a variety of hard-to-find beers from Bayou Teche, Chafunkta Brewing Company, Tin Roof and Gnarly Barley.
Local women's beer appreciation group Girls Pint Out holds an event at SoBou on Thursday in conjunction with New Belgium. Mixologist Abigail Gullo will use New Belgium's new Pear Ginger Beer in cocktails. Also on Thursday, Bywater burger joint Junction Bar & Grill hosts an outdoor crawfish boil featuring special beers from Bayou Teche and Tin Roof.
Several new participants will host events at the end of ACBW. Ale on Oak has events scheduled most nights of ACBW and will throw a Brooklyn Brewery party on Friday. Courtyard Brewery taps a collaborative cask-conditioned version of Gnarly Barley's Korova Milk Porter aged with port-deglazed currants and cacao nibs. The Metairie location of World of Beer co-hosts a crawfish boil with Bayou Teche on Saturday. Wood Pizza Bistro and Taphouse hosts a boil on its patio on Sunday and serves cask and draft versions of the brand new Chafunkta brew, Bayou Blaze.
Local beer enthusiasts have many options to choose from at ACBW, including beers from new Louisiana breweries and their latest offerings such as NOLA Brewing's Funk series and Abita Brewing Company's barrel-aged series. There also are new products from out-of-state breweries such as Oskar Blues Brewery and Lagunitas Brewing Company. On Saturday, The Avenue Pub hosts the sixth annual ACBW Grand Tasting, which features beers from across the country.
"Every year I think I'm not going to be able to top the year before, and then it happens," Watts says. "That's a testament to the many more options and the increasing maturity of our regional craft breweries and their expanded offerings."
Scott Wood, co-founder and head brewer at Courtyard Brewery, says, "As a craft brewery and taproom, every week is craft beer week for us. American Craft Beer Week is about celebrating the hard work that brewers and industry members carry on day in and day out. Introducing new people to good things and making them a part of the beer community are our overriding goals."
"If alcohol is liquid courage, craft beer is liquid friendship and we're just here to make friends," he adds.
But ACBW isn't just for converted beer enthusiasts.
"The week itself can get pretty hectic," says Vanessa Gomes, craft brand manager at distributor Champagne Beverage Company. "But when you get that one person at that one event that says, 'I don't even normally like beer, but I like this!' suddenly it was all worth it."
Abita President David Blossman sums it all up when he says, "American Craft Beer Week is a wonderful opportunity for Abita and other craft breweries across the nation to showcase the strength and creativity of the industry. ...[A]s a pioneer in craft brewing, we are proud of what our movement has achieved."