Finding Craft Beer in New Orleans

I had the “pleasure” of spending some times in New Orleans the past few days.  I didn’t put “pleasure” in quotes because New Orleans isn’t a fun town, I put it in quotes because I was there for a conference and didn’t get the chance to get out much.

I did manage to escape the ether of the conference center on Saturday night, and headed directly for the part of New Orleans I like the least – Bourbon Street.  I was with three other guys, and they wanted to go, so what was I to do?  I figured there was no chance I could talk them into finding a nice quiet craft beer bar someplace, so I went with the flow and braced myself for beads, drunk tourists and criminals lurking in the shadows. 

Our first stop was Pat O’Brien’s, home of the world-famous Hurricane.  For those who’ve never had one, a Hurricane is a ton of rum fruited up with passion fruit, orange juice and a few other sweets.  It’s a hangover in a glass, but a tasty one.  I enjoyed mine outside in the courtyard, drinking quickly while slightly shivering under a heat lamp.

The coolest Bar in New Orleans (just past the gayest bar in New Orleans)

The next stop was Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest continually operating bar in America.  Stepping inside transports you right into a pirate bar in the 17th century, but instead of pirates, the place is filled with chubby hipsters and people still wearing nametags from whatever conference brought them to the Big Easy.  Not as colorful, but no one’s going to slit your throat either.

The best part of Lafitte’s is its location.  It’s two block past Saint Ann Street, the line that marks the beginning of the gay bar portion of Bourbon Street.  This is a line every frat boy knows not to cross.  To get to Lafitte’s, you have to walk past some very pretty boys and lots of videos of Ricky Martin and George Michael that are projected onto the buildings. As you continue down the street, the bright lights and sounds of the main section of Bourbon Street fade, and you find yourself feeling very vulnerable in a slightly dangerous city. Both act as a great a filter for meatheads and tourists.

The guys I was with squaked the whole way, but were impressed with how authentic and interesting Lafitte’s turned out to be.  It’s a must-see if you’re ever in New Orleans.  For those keeping score, I had an Abita Amber, which should be NOLA’s official beer.  Unfortunately, there’s a limit to the amount of culture you can foist on guys who want to cut loose, and soon we were headed back to the raucous mess that is the walking mall portion of Bourbon Street.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your geeky masses yearning to drink real beer"

As we walked, a sign caught my eye.  It was the Beer Fest International Beer House.  I popped in to find about 40 taps sporting a pretty nice selection of middle-of-the-road craft beers.  I had an Arrogant Bastard and got a Flying Dog Amber Lager for a buddy who normally drinks Yuengling.  Both cost $10.50 for what they claimed was a 24-ounce cup (it was more like 20), but I didn’t complain – it was the first real craft beer I’d seen in days.

I thought this place was very cool – a one-of-a-kind establishment dreamt up by a local beer nerd.  Then we walked to the other end of Bourbon Street to find another Beer Fest International Beer House that was almost identical, down to the last shabby detail.  There were also two Rick’s Cabarets and a few other “one of a kind” locations.  It made me realize that this free wheeling strip of drunken revelry is actually a closely calculated set of businesses designed to maximize profits.  I immediately felt like a yokel for ever thinking otherwise.  I drowned my sorrows in a “24-ounce” Unibroue Maudite.  It did the trick.

After that the evening gets a little blurry.  There were many shots, a couple of more beers and this very cute girl who was really into me until I told her the story of how I met my wife, who I remain happily married to.  She sort of drifted away after than.  Go figure.

The next morning I was hurting, but I was also happy.  The last time I visited Bourbon Street all you could get was Abita, Bud,  Heineken and oddly, Rolling Rock.  To be able to get good beer in the heart of meathead territory was a welcome surprise and goes to show just how far craft beer has come in the last several years.  If you ever get dragged to Bourbon Street, take comfort in the fact that at least you can have a good beer while you watch America’s finest, stumble, puke, and flash.

Oh what the hell, “Laissez les bons beers rouler!”

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Categories: Beer, Lifestyle

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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14 Comments on “Finding Craft Beer in New Orleans”

  1. Don
    February 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    So I can’t believe that you talk all about your quest for a decent beer, and you say nothing about any of the great food, or what is a worse transgression, you describe the whiskey you drank as “Shots”. Unless you were pounding tequila or something. What were the “shots”? I told you to go to the Bourbon House for a great meal and great whiskey! True it is on Bourbon Street, but it is probably the most “old world” restaurant on Bourbon Street. So fill in the gaps. What were the “shots” and did you have a decent meal, or did you do all that drinking on an empty stomach?

    • February 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

      The shots were served by “shot girls” (whom, if not for my companions, I would have nothing to do with) and there was nary a sip of whiskey while I was in Louisiana.

      Most of my meals were at the convention center or the Starbucks in the hotel. I only had one real meal “out” in New Orlesns, and that was a nice steak at Meson 934, which could’ve been in Dallas or San Francisco. I also had beignets and chicory coffee from Cafe DuMonde, but not the real one – it was the fake one in the Riverwalk Mall (although the beignets were killer).

      The End.

  2. scott
    February 9, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    I spent the summer there helping clean up the oil spill. Half my nights at Hannah’s casino, the other half on Bourbon. On bourbon there’s no decent craft beer except Abida, and even then I could only find their amber which is ehh.. but off of bourbon you can fin some great beer. Cresant City brewing, NOLA brewing, man, they got some good stuff. Its expensive, but you can drink it ANYWHERE, almost makes it priceless…. almost

    • February 10, 2011 at 10:17 am #

      The Beer Fest bars have been there for about five years according to the folks I spoke to, so perhaps you missed them. There is one around Pat O’Brien’s and one on the bad-boy end of Bourbon Street. I didn’t get a chance to try any of the other local offerings, but wish I would have.

  3. corbomite
    February 9, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    I was in New Orleans a couple of months ago and I stopped into a place on Iberville St that had a decent selection called the Alibi. Wasn’t too packed and people were friendly. Had some Samuel smith imperial stouts.

    • February 10, 2011 at 10:18 am #

      I was lucky that a place with decent (albeit expensive) beers in my path. If I was solo, I would have snooped around and found better places for sure.

  4. February 10, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    The patio of the Crescent City Brewery by Jackson Square is the best place in New Orleans to sit outside and drink beer, eat crawfish, and watch the world go by. You would have loved it! Go back and make it your first stop. I haven’t been since 1996, but it is my favorite memory.

    • February 10, 2011 at 10:43 am #

      I love that spot, too, Joe. I just wish I had some time to do so while I was there. Definitely a hit-and-run type trip.

  5. February 10, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    Jim, you should have gone a few blocks toward the river to Decatur Street and tried the Crescent City Brewhouse. The Abita Amber is ok, but the Turbodog (black & silver bottle) is one of their best year-round beers, in my opinion.

    • February 10, 2011 at 10:21 am #

      I’ve had Turbodog and it’s a good beer, but I have fond memories of Abita Amber from years ago, and always really enjoy those when I’m in New Orleans. I can get both here in NJ, but I find that they taste better with the the smell of Cajun cooking and the treat of danger in the air.

      I saw the Crescent City Brewhouse on the map and wanted to go, but I was with three other guys who wanted to go to Bourbon Street and have expense accounts. What’s a fella to do? 😉

  6. February 10, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    Next time you are in New Orleans, take the Street Car up St. Charles to Carrollton street at the river bend and go to Cooter Brown’s. One of the best beer selections (over 100 bottles) in the entire city, and they’ve also got great oysters and some flat screens if you care to watch a game.

    If you want a real meal and some whiskey, check out Clancy’s in Uptown. Amazing food, but even more amazing whisky selection hidden at the bar around the side of the main dining area. Probably 75 – 100 whiskies on offer.

    If you can’t drag your friends too far from the Quarter, try Delachaise on St. Charles near the Garden District. Good craft beer selection, respectable whiskey and scotch choices, and some good finger food. It has a very “Brooklyn” vibe to it.

    • February 10, 2011 at 10:46 am #

      All are great suggestions – but I couldn’t get my buddies off of Bourbon Street, much less out of the Quarter! It was fun, but a little frustrating.

      While I was there, I got an overwhelming craving for an oyster po boy, but I’ll I could manage was a shrimp one – at the airport!! Next time I go I’ll pad in some time for R&R.

  7. August 14, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    I hate that I read this so late. You truly missed out on any true craft beer culture we have in the city. Next time you come here are some places and beers you MUST try:

    1) Avenue Pub- the BEST beer bar in New Orleans. Voted one of the Top Beer Bars in the World by Ratebeer.com. Do NOT go to Cooter Browns as their selection really isn’t all that great and a lot of it is out of date beer. Take it from me I live here.

    2) Steins Deli- Great sandwiches and amazing beer selection. Drawback is you can’t drink on premise.

    3) NOLA Brewing- They do tours on Fridays but if you call ahead I’m sure they would love to talk to you and give you a tour. Their beer can be found throughout the city and they are the ONLY brewery in all of Orleans Parish.

    4) Bayou Teche Brewery- Not a New Orleans brewery but a great local Louisiana one and you can find their beers all over. I recommend the Boucanee which is a smoked wheat.

    5) Gordon Biersch- Not a locally owned brewpub but the brewmaster on site is an amazing brewer and the beers are awesome.

    6) Cochon Butcher- Amazing food and great beer selection to go with it.

    You have to get away from Bourbon Street if you want to have a true New Orleans experience. The FQ is for tourists. Shoot me an email the next time you are in town and I would be glad to show you a better craft beer experience.

    Cheers!

    Jeremy

  8. December 17, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

    Jeremy nailed it … you guys have to give New Orleans another shot!

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