Beer Buzz: Our Top Five New Orleans Brews

In honor of our recent trip to the Crescent City, we bring you our five favorite beers discovered while on a four-day stay in New Orleans. Only one of these beers hails from New Orleans proper, but the rest are from Louisiana and the surrounding New Orleans area.

Disclaimer: most of these beers are toward the dark side, which happens to be my current taste preference. When it starts to get cold, it becomes stout season for me.

1. Abita Imperial Stout

If you ever find yourself in the New Orleans area, and you happen to be a beer geek like me, a tour of the Abita Brewing Company facility in Abita Springs, Louisiana is a must. Situated about 35 miles north of New Orleans, across Lake Pontchartrain, Abita is a passionate group of beer enthusiasts that make beer in the most efficient manner possible with the least footprint. I know, I know, this probably sounds a bit too “greenie” for some of you dirt bikers out there; but it was fascinating for me to see how each stage of the brewing process was maximized for efficiency, and how waste material is reused or donated to local farmers as feed for their animals. All-in-all this was a very impressive facility.

I tried the Imperial Stout in the Abita tasting room before my tour of the Abita Springs facility and was instantly drawn to its balanced flavor. Mind you, this is one big beer. Though if you’re anything like me, and you enjoy the taste of dark beers as well as the taste of bourbon, then you’ll love this bourbon barrel aged stout. With its high alcohol content and bourbon flavor this beer drinks like a dessert beer or after dinner cognac: rich, malty, chocolate flavors combined perfectly with the subtle taste of bourbon. One satisfying brew.

Evidently, the flavor is the result of the bourbon barrel aging process, and according to Abita, “after cold aging the beer is transferred into bourbon barrels where it is aged for another eight weeks to absorb all of the flavors from the barrels.” Indeed this beer has absorbed that bourbon caramel flavor. Make no mistake: this is no session beer; this is a slow sipping, 22 oz. bottle of goodness balanced to perfection. Ideal for a leisurely afternoon or evening where quality over quantity is your aim.

Brewer: Abita Brewing Company
Hometown: Abita Springs, Louisiana
Brew Name: Imperial Stout
Style: American Double/Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.00%

2. Chafunkta Old 504 Coffee Porter

This beer was a surprise discovery. Having just toured the Abita Brewing facility not far up the road, my wife and I made our way south to the little town of Mandeville, which is situated on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. We stopped for a late lunch and posted up at the Barley Oak Old World Draught Haus (which by the way, is one cool spot, with views from a second-story deck out onto Pontchartrain). I asked for a recommendation from the bartender for a good local brew and he replied that I couldn’t get any more local than Chafunkta, which happened to be brewed right there in Mandeville.

The Old 504 is a classic American Porter/Stout style with slight bitterness that seems to be popular with us americans. Bitterness in our porters and stouts seems to parallel our obsession with hoppiness in IPAs. We like our stout beers to drink like a cup of straight black coffee in the morning. That’s not to say that with all of the variations of dark beers available in the U.S. market right now that all american porters/stouts are this way, but it seems to be the norm for many of the american style porters and stouts on the market. With the exception of smoked stouts, for the most part I like almost any style of dark beer, and the Old 504 was right in my wheelhouse with its french roast coffee bitterness and faint notes of vanilla. Thank you, Chafunkta, for this fine beer.

Brewer: Chafunkta Brewing Company
Hometown: Mandeville, Louisiana
Brew Name: Old 504 Coffee Porter
Style: American Porter
ABV: 6.00%

3. Abita Maple Pecan Nut Brown Ale

Maple pecan? Are you kidding me? As soon as I saw the name of this beer I knew I had to have one. Though unfortunately this beer wasn’t on tap when I visited the Abita Brewing facility. I found it later at a Garden District grocery store and snapped one up for sampling on the front porch of the bed & breakfast we stayed at in New Orleans.

This beer was as good as I thought it would be. The mellowness of the brown ale style allowed the maple and pecan flavors to come through in just the right amounts that leave you shaking your head sip after sip and wondering how flavors like this can be brewed into a beer. It reminded me of Rogue Brewing’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar, which is like drinking Nutella from a bottle. Likewise, Abita’s Maple Pecan ale is like liquid pecan pie. Get your hands on one of these!

: Abita Brewing Company
Hometown: Abita Springs, Louisiana
Brew Name: Maple Pecan Nut Brown Ale
Style: American Brown Ale
ABV: 8.50%

4. Gnarly Barley Imperial Korova Milk Porter

Throughout my stay in New Orleans I kept seeing the Gnarly Barley name. For some reason I thought it was an out of state beer, but come to find out it was another local New Orleans area brewery turning out some nice craft brews. The wife and I stopped in for a pre-dinner libation at local watering hole Cooter Brown’s and were bellied up at their craft beer bar-within-a-bar called the “Snooty Cooter,” which features 46 unique craft beers on tap.

It was here that I laid eyes on Gnarly Barley’s Imperial Korova Milk Porter on the menu. A name so regal sounding I had to try the beer simply so I could tell others I had drank an “Imperial Korova Milk Porter.” More than just a fancy name, this is one complex beer, almost tough to categorize as it seems to bridge multiple genres of beer. Gnarly Barley describes this beer as a “Baltic Oatmeal Milk Porter.” Huh? I can say that I have had an oatmeal stout, a milk stout, and Baltic porter on separate occasions, but never all at one time. As I said, this is one complex beer with sweetness typical of a milk stout, maltiness found in the Baltic porter, and a slightly boozy bourbon-type finish. This was certainly the most unique beer I had in New Orleans and one I thoroughly enjoyed for its originality.

: Gnarly Barley Brewing
Hometown: Hammond, Louisiana
Brew Name: Imperial Korova Milk Porter
Style: Milk/Sweet Stout
ABV: 9.00%

5. NOLA Irish Channel Stout

NOLA Brewing is one of the only real breweries making their own beer located within the city limits of New Orleans, hence the NOLA name, which they say actually stands for “New Orleans Lager & Ale” (How convenient.) NOLA is located on a street with one of the hardest to pronounce names I’ve ever come across: Tchoupitoulas (pronounced CHOP-ah-too-lus.) where they have an on-site tasting room and pub where visitor’s can stop by and sample various brews on tap.

Another example of the American Stout style, NOLA’s Irish Channel moves from coffee to espresso with its dark flavor then adds American hops for a "crisp bitterness" to the finish. At 6.8% ABV this is certainly one of the more session-able of the five beers on this list. Named after the neighborhood near the Mississippi River where the brewery is located, I had this beer twice when I was in New Orleans: once at a bourbon and beer bar on the first night I was there, the second time at their tasting room on Tchoupitoulas. The first time poured from a can; the second time from a tap. Both times delicious; especially if you like bitterness to your stouts.

Brewer: New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Company (NOLA)
Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana
Brew Name: Irish Channel Stout
Style: American Stout
ABV: 6.80%

Review by Dale Spangler