If there’s anything I have learned in the last couple of months, it’s that the New Orleans’ beer scene is fluid. Yes, that’s a bad pun; I won’t do it again. From the recent opening of Miel in the Irish Channel, and the upcoming new Courtyard Brewery place in Mid-City, to the closing, alas, of Wayward Owl’s taproom in the Gem theatre, there’s a lot happening; there’s even a Beer Choir.
And that’s not even mentioning the beer itself.
So it was daunting to think of writing about beer here. My first thought was that Nora McGunnigle pretty much covers the field, though she’s about more than beer. Then there’s Todd Price and Ian McNulty, who also cover beer and more; and there are other people I have not heard of yet.
So why me? Aside from my encyclopedic beer knowledge that “runs the entire gamut from A to B”? (Apologies to Dorothy Parker.) a chain of events unfolded like things do in New Orleans (One person introduces you to another person who puts you in contact with someone who says, “You should absolutely write about beer.”). Then, I really started noticing how much the local beer universe is always growing and changing and how many people I know who have a connection with brewing or the beer trade, including the gang I drink with at The Avenue Pub every Friday evening.
And, while I claim no expertise, I do have a long history with beer.
My first drink of beer — maybe around age four, or five, or eight was a Metz, or maybe a Lone Star, or a Falstaff, or a Jax.
More importantly, it was certainly a lager of the kind that has ruled America since Germans started coming here in the 1800s. And it was certainly in Bessie, Oklahoma, a town of maybe a couple hundred souls, depending on how you measure towns and souls. Bessie is a tiny dot on the map of western Oklahoma, just south of old Route 66, where the wind really does come sweeping down the plain. It was a German town where Peace Lutheran Church offered a service in German every Sunday until at least the 1960s.
My German grandparents’ house was not air-conditioned, except for something called a “water cooler” on the front porch by the dining room window. It was about the size of a washing machine. It hooked up to a garden hose and blew relatively cool air and an occasional drop of water onto your face if you got right up to it. Since the house was no refuge from the summer heat, all of us cousins just ran around and played outside. We had a home-made swing set and a teeter-totter that was really just a wooden ladder balanced on a sawhorse. We checked the chicken house for eggs, or peeked into the dark, spidery parts of the barn. We peed on the dirt floor in the corner of grandpa’s workshop, because we could. And we always went down into the cellar, because it was cool down there, and because none of our houses had cellars. That’s where the beer was, on the top of the narrow steps going down from the wash room.
All we really knew about beer was that kids couldn’t have any. Then one day, I could! I came running into the kitchen — parched and coated with red dirt from some Bessie adventure. Mom and Uncle Gil were there. Mom handed me a little jelly glass half-filled with something yellow and fizzy.
I drank. It was liquid electricity ‑‑ cold, clean, bright, sharp, and wonderful. I loved it, but nobody offered me any more. And I didn’t drink another beer for a long time.
My next beer experience was more like a baptism. One summer day when I was about 12, I went out to the woods with my loyal hunting dachshund, Heidi, to shoot random things with my pellet gun. I saw a Coors can half-buried in the grass at the foot of a tree. I was a pretty good shot, so it was no challenge for me to blast that can from less than 10 yards away. I was quite surprised to find that the can had never been opened and that a stream of hot, stale beer under pressure can travel pretty far. Mom never did believe my story of why I came home smelling like beer.
Eventually, I got old enough to drink legally and often, and I was a dutiful consumer of the usual mass-produced and marketed adjunct lagers, usually the 3.2 percent (ABW) beer sold in Oklahoma grocery stores back then.
Occasionally we got some “liquor store beer” of higher ABV or something really exotic like a Heineken or – heaven be praised – a Guinness. But I never dreamed that one fine day I could walk into almost any grocery store and see 15 or 20 different kinds of IPAs alone, plus other styles I’d never imagined. So if you ever see me staring at all the beer in my neighborhood Rouse’s, it’s not because I’m confused, it’s because I’m grateful. Better still, of course, are the beers you can get on tap these days.
So, as for this column, that long history with beer is my foundation and my dive into the local beer scene in New Orleans. And while I might never be an expert, I’ll always be an eager student and observer. Plus there are already plenty of real experts, eager students, and keen observers in this town ‑‑ brewers, bar owners, and beer lovers. I want to learn from them, and from you. So please inform, amuse, advise, question, or chastise me at email@example.com.
This much I guarantee: What I write about beer will cost you nothing, and it’ll be worth every penny.