Thursday, June 27, 2013

Beer Hiking The Big Easy

New Orleans, LA

A couple of weeks ago, while taking an evening stroll in New Orleans, I tweeted under the influence that walking there can't adequately be described -- it has to be experienced. I'm still not sure if that's proper English, but I'm still sure it's true.

New Orleans easily ranks with the best walking cities in America -- maybe even the world. I wouldn't say it's necessarily pedestrian friendly, but if you're riding around The Big Easy in a cab or a tour bus, you're not really seeing the city. The neighborhoods clash more brilliantly than anywhere I've been outside of NYC and with so many places to duck into, a short 1 mile walk can feel like an all-day adventure. Grab a water bottle, some comfortable shoes, and start walking. (And be careful, for fuck's sake. This town can be dangerous.)

As for the beer scene, it's still pretty sparse, but undeniably growing. It's no big secret that there's a shit-load of bars in this town and you only have to look to see that more and more are choosing to carry local craft beer. The corporate piss water factories still have a firm grip on this town, but just about everywhere I went had some solid options from Abita Brewing, NOLA (New Orleans Lagers & Ales), Covington Brewhouse, and plenty of others from less than a hundred miles away.

Several days before my first hike, I had the good luck to meet @TheBeerBuddha via Twitter and he invited me to a bottle sharing party. The turnout was very impressive and I spoke with at least 3 people who are in the process of or seriously considering opening their own breweries. The level of enthusiasm and thirst for craft beer I witnessed at this party left me with no doubt that great things are fermenting in this part of America. But you can look up all that shit on your own. I want to tell you about my first beer hike.

New Orleans: Uptown
Cooter Brown's / Le Bon Temps Roulé / The Bulldog / Avenue Pub; 6.4 mi.

View New Orleans: Uptown in a larger map

After a long work week, I began the first of my two UHBs at NOLA Brewing, currently the only production brewery in New Orleans (sorry, but Dixie is currently being contract brewed in Wisconsin). I couldn't work NOLA into the actual route because of their very limited hours, but it was a great warm-up to the hike. Only open one day a week -- and only for a few hours -- NOLA is attracting great crowds to their brewery. The rules are a little different than I'm used to here: you pay $5 for a pint glass and that gets you all the beer you can drink (in moderation, of course.) I guess they can't legally sell beer at the brewery, but can sell glassware and give the beer away. In the taproom, there are some beertenders to help you out, but outside in the brewery are some more taps where you help yourself (under the watchful eye of an attendant, of course):

The best thing about visiting NOLA Brewing (besides the tasty beer, of course) was the tour. You've probably taken some brewery tours in your lifetime and maybe you agree that unless you're at Cantillon or Anchor Steam, most brewery tours are pretty much the same: over here is where the grain is milled, over here is the kettle, over here is where we add the hops, yeast is magic, etc. What really made this one cool however, was that it was conducted by president and co-founder Kirk Coco. Besides the poignant story of how he came to start the brewery, his charismatic and infectious enthusiasm for his operation and the staff at the brewery were incredibly refreshing. The guy knows how to keep you engaged. I didn't get to speak with him personally, but after his tour, I can be almost certain that Kirk is a great guy to have beers with. I recommend getting to NOLA Brewing as soon as you can -- they are growing rapidly and Kirk will not be able to spare this kind of time for long.

Kirk Coco: President, Co-Founder, Tour Guide

It wasn't easy to leave the fun and good conversation at the brewery, but I needed to get moving. I took a short walk up to St. Charles Avenue and grabbed the streetcar west to my first official stop of the hike.*

 *At the time of this post, the west end of the St. Charles line is under construction and only runs to Jefferson Ave. From there, you can get on a free shuttle bus that takes you to Carrollton.

Cooter Brown's is a large bar with tap and bottle lists to match. It's not a bottle shop, but its inventory is so big that it could be. There's a welcoming section of picnic tables outside, but I chose to escape the humidity and park at the bar inside. While waiting for my food to come up, I had one of my favorite beers of the trip, Pontchartrain Pilsner. Crisp and hydrating, I would probably buy it by the case if I lived here -- especially in the summer. The food here is great, too. My catfish po' boy was the best I had in the two weeks I was there.

From Cooter Brown's, I picked up the Mississippi River Trail and headed south. Much of this part of the urban trail is obscured from the mighty river itself, but there is still plenty to look at. It's a pleasant, flat walk that takes you between long swaths of fenced off government property and the Black Pearl neighborhood. The River Trail ends at The Fly, a scenic little section at the waterfront end of Audubon Park (apparently named after a butterfly-shaped structure that used to be here years ago.) I arrived with perfect timing, right as a barge slowly lumbered up the River under the watchful gaze of a higher power...  Maybe...

From The Fly, I worked past the many little league baseball games (it was Friday evening) and railroad tracks and up to Magazine Street, which has a seemingly endless selection of bars, restaurants, cafés, shops, and stores.

I chose to stop in here pretty unscientifically: I was thirsty and I heard some rowdy piany music playing. The bar was in full Friday night swing, but I didn't have to fight too hard to get to the bar and retrieve my plastic cup of Abita Amber (I think). The only place to sit was over by the ragtime slinging fellow in the corner. From there I had a good view of the action (and the corner pocket of a pool table.)


I'll admit that I sort of cheated a little on this stop. I did indeed have a pint at The Bulldog, but it was actually right after my NOLA Brewing tour earlier in the day. I walked right by it on my way to catch the streetcar. What the hell was I supposed to do? NOT stop in? Preposterous!

The Bulldog has a down-to-earth pub atmosphere and a great beer selection (the patio is dog-friendly, too.) It's definitely one of the best beer bars in the city. (They also have a Mid-City location, up near City Park, that I wasn't able to visit.) I meant to come back here on the actual UBH, but I have to admit fatigue was getting the better of me by the time I passed it a second time after Le Bon so I elected to keep walking.

Beer hiking solo seems to be more exhausting than when you have friends to walk and talk with. I missed having Link with me, too, although I'm sure the heat and humidity would have been miserable for him.

The mile-and-a-half stroll through the Garden District, past some incredibly beautiful houses, took longer than usual. There is a lot to stop and admire in this historic neighborhood and I made a promise to myself to come back during the day sometime, when it's a lot more viewer-friendly.

I'm not really sure how to begin my love letter to The Avenue Pub. During my two weeks in New Orleans, I probably visited this place 11 or so times (my accommodations were right around the corner, so I finished almost every day of touring with a beer or two here.) It's a perfect place to spend an evening -- cool air, warm service, great beer, comfortable atmosphere. Besides the world-class tap and bottle lists, there is also a beautiful balcony overlooking St. Charles Avenue and a small kitchen that serves delicious grub (R.I.P. Green Goblins, but have the duck quesadilla). The Ave showed up a lot when I was doing my homework for this trip, so I wasn't surprised by the quality of and commitment to the beer, but I wasn't expecting to feel so at home in such a short time. I have no doubt that it will continue to be a staple of subsequent visits to the city.

My home away from home away from home.
That's pretty much it for New Orleans UBH #1. Distance-wise, it's about average for me, but it felt a hell of a lot longer -- probably because I was hiking alone, worn out after a very long work week, and not quite adjusted to the tropical climate. As usual, there are any number of places you can stop and drink along this route -- these were just my choices. Special thanks to my local contacts Jeremy ( and Nora ( for their recommendations and warm hospitality at the bottle share. I hope to repay the kindness someday.

NEXT UP: New Orleans UBH #2 - Bywater to Downtown.

Cheers and thanks for reading.  Here's the slideshow:

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