New Orleans, Louisiana. The name alone evokes so much for me – the dueling trumpets and trombones of a brass band second line. The crunch and subsequent snap of a fried shrimp po’boy. The ancient, creaking motion of the streetcar as it rumbles down St. Charles avenue. All are classic icons of New Orleans, or NOLA to the people who call it home. Since 2008, a brewery has been looking to add fresh craft beer to the list of New Orleans icons.
New Orleans was once the brewing mecca of the South – Dixie, Jax, Falstaff, and many others were once produced in the Crescent City and one by one, they fell by the wayside as the behemoth brewers took market share. By 2005, Dixie was the only brewery left in the city limits of New Orleans. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina devastated the brewery and what Katrina didn’t get to, the looters did. While Dixie beer is still produced, it is done so on contract by other breweries outside of New Orleans. With Dixie removed, one of the historically great brewing cities of America was left without a single brewery – truly heartbreaking to this beer lover.
But in 2008, Kirk Coco was determined to change that. Fresh off duty with the US Navy, Kirk had returned to his hometown of New Orleans with a mission to contribute to the city’s revitalization. His contribution? NOLA Brewing Company. Kirk partnered with the former Dixie brewmaster Peter Caddoo to found NOLA and together they set out to re-establish the brewing tradition in New Orleans. They found a warehouse space in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans just off of Tchoupitoulas street and blocks from the Mississippi river. Once again, New Orleans had a brewery in its city limits.
On a warm Friday afternoon, I stopped by NOLA with a few friends to check out the brewery. From the outside of the cavernous, red structure I could just make out the glint of small brewing system within. It was clear that with all the empty space inside, NOLA has big ambitions, and why not? As the only brewery in New Orleans, they are receiving loads of support, press, and accolades.
Photo courtesy of Traveling Mermaid
Before, we could make it to the door, Kirk was there to meet us. We were an hour or so early for the tour, so he showed us into the offices of the brewery where they had a waiting room with a couple couches, some end tables, a few magazines to read and a keg of NOLA Blonde Ale on tap with a stack of pint glasses right next to it.
“Help yourself!”, Kirk called out to us as he motioned us over to the keg. Needless to say, I didn’t hesitate. I poured a round for the group and we settled into what has to be the best waiting room in America.
An hour in a waiting room can go by pretty quickly when you’ve got some friends and a keg of beer (which was really delicious by the way), and before we knew it, the tour had begun. Melanie, the head brewer at NOLA, took us through the brewing process, explained the history and growth of NOLA, and even handed out many more generous samples.
The tour was phenomenal – we had unprecedented access to just about every area of the brewery and a full rundown on all the beers they made or were in the process of developing. And having Melanie as our guide made the experience that much better – she is a passionate, enthusiastic host with a contagious passion for both brewing and the city of New Orleans.
Though NOLA has no official tasting room, we were allowed to continue sampling after the tour, but to be honest we had already had MORE than enough, and it was time for our group to call it quits if we wanted to see anything else that day and not black out at 4:00 in the afternoon.
We thanked our gracious hosts Kirk and Melanie and had our designated driver whisk us off to a local Po’Boy shop where we quickly filled our stomaches with a lunch of french bread, fried seafood, and hot sauce to sop up the beer.
The po’boy sandwich is one of those classic New Orleans traditions, and if Kirk has his way, soon NOLA brewing will be too.
And that’s something I can cheers to.
3001 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA, 70115
Hours: Tours offered Fridays at 2:00pm
TRR Tips – Get to the tour early so you can enjoy the ‘waiting’ room. Also, designate a driver as they are not shy about pouring samples at NOLA. If you like the beers, let them know. These are some hard working folks and they love to hear that their work is appreciated.