Where to Drink Craft Beer in New Orleans
504 Craft Beer Reserve
It took Jason Paulin and Patrick Brown two years to fine-tune 504 Craft Beer Reserve's concept and sprawling, 2,800-square-foot layout before its Mid-City launch in March of 2016. It shows in an unparalleled selection of small-batch sours, IPAs and stouts, not to mention $3-off growler fills on summer Fridays and "pantry beers" that are priced to move despite their widespread popularity (including Parish's Canebrake, NOLA's Hopitoulas, and Founders' All Day IPA).
"We want our customers to be promiscuous in their beer drinking," explains Paulin, a former bartender and business consultant who grew up with Brown in the suburb of Metairie. (They played on the same football team; he was the quarterback and Brown was his left tackle.) "There are so many Bud, Coors, Miller drinkers… an almost limitless customer base to expand craft culture." 3939 Tulane Ave. 504craftbeer.com
The seafood-centric Borgne isn't the only John Besh restaurant with a serious beer program. Pizza Domenica, a collaboration with recent James Beard winner Alon Shaya, starts with a sterling draft system: pressurized blends of nitrogen and CO2 for pumping out creamy stouts and IPAs, along with 12 temperature-controlled lines that keep everything cool, fresh and clean.
"We've all seen a bartender pouring a pitcher of beer," explains general manager Stephen Jeffcoat, "then suddenly the line starts blowing suds and making a mess. That doesn't happen on our system."
Another noticeable difference between Pizza Domenica and its wood-fired competitors is an emphasis on bold Italian breweries. It's as if the custom-made copper tower behind the bar was built as a monument to Belgian-style brews like Baladin's Super Floreale or Brewfist's Spaghetti Western coffee stout. 4933 Magazine St. pizzadomenica.com
If you're in the Bywater neighborhood, start with a "rail" (three six-ounce pours for $8) at Junction. The Art Deco-inspired bar pairs grass-fed burgers with 40 rotating taps, nearly a third of which come from somewhere in Louisiana.
"It’s our version of a beer flight,” says co-owner Lloyd Miller. “Riding the rail gives you the option of trying out a few different flavors before investing in the full pint, not unlike picking up a 7-inch before you drop a bigger chunk of dough on a full album." 3021 St. Claude Ave. junctionnola.com
Parish Brewing Co.
Though it's three hours outside the city, Parish Brewing Co. is an essential stop for any beer lover visiting New Orleans—because its beer is comparable to that from cult producers like 3 Floyds, Jester King or Prairie Artisan Ales. One variety in particular, a double IPA called Ghost in the Machine, has earned a nearly perfect "World Class" rating on Beer Advocate for its juicy and intensely hoppy-but-not-jarring flavor profile. It's so popular, Parish limits customers to two potent four-packs a person every time it's released.
"Only a handful of breweries out there are making anything like this," says founder-brewmaster Andrew Godley, “maybe less than five out of the 4,000-plus in the U.S. Ghost says to folks around the country: ‘These guys in Louisiana are capable of making beer that will blow your mind." 229 Jared Dr, Broussard, parishbeer.com
Cooter Brown's Back Bar
Two years ago, Cooter Brown's manager Jonathan Junca faced a quandary: how to appeal to NOLA’s growing craft beer scene without alienating the pilsner-drinking regulars who’d supported the bar since 1977. His solution was to launch the Bud-free “Snooty Cooter” in the bar’s back room.
Junca has since departed, but recent new owners Jeff O'Bryon, Ivan Burgess and David Brown have embraced his project. "We knew Cooter Brown's was going to be a slam dunk when we purchased it," says O'Bryon. "It's been one of the best bars in the city for almost four decades. Hell, my parents used to come here when they were in college. It just needed a little love and elbow grease to cement its place as one of New Orleans' greatest bars."
Which brings us to the trio's most noticeable tweak: Snooty Cooter is now simply Cooter Brown's Back Bar. "I felt like the previous name propelled the number one thing I don't like about the craft beer scene," says O'Bryon, "that beer should be 'snooty'. In fact, beer's lack of snootiness is my favorite thing about it. If you don't like it, try a different one." 509 S. Carrollton Ave. cooterbrowns.com
NOLA Brewing Company
After nearly a decade in operation, NOLA is the oldest craft brewery near downtown New Orleans. And while being first to a nascent trend doesn't always make you the best, Kirk Coco has worked hard to keep his company on top of the city’s craft beer scene. Today, NOLA has a fantastic bi-level bar and a lineup of experimental, barrel-aged wild ales and one-off recipes in its Lagniappe and Funk lines. At the Garden District flagship location, a Crowler machine cans NOLA's 24 drafts for to-go tipplers.
"We are finally returning to neighborhood breweries," says Coco, "something we haven’t had since the late 1800s. Craft drinkers have gone from thinking any dark beer was exotic to drinking imperial IPAs, stouts and porters, as well as sour, barrel-aged and wild beers. People now seek out new beers instead of needing us to put them in their hands and say please try them." 3001 Tchoupitoulas St. nolabrewing.com
The Avenue Pub
When Polly Watts's father passed away in 2006—just a year after Hurricane Katrina hit—he left her quite an inheritance: The Avenue Pub, a neighborhood staple in need of a new business plan. She found it right behind the walls, where fresh kegs could be kept as close as the top-notch draft lines at Evil Twin's world renowned Tørst bar in Brooklyn. The only problem was figuring out how the Pub's reputation for 24/7 revelry would mesh with a progressive beer program.
"Twenty-four-hour bars have their challenges," explains Watts, "but from a craft beer perspective I'd say it's mostly been a benefit, largely because of the volume we go through. The biggest 24-hour challenge was converting 4:00-10:00 a.m. customers to craft beer and away from the [Budweiser Miller Coors] go-to's. At first we had to carry a dual product line to make both the prime time and the very late-night customers happy. It's been a few years since I felt pressured to do that."
That's probably because the Avenue Pub now ranks nationally as a Top 50 Beer Bar in Draft magazine and RateBeer, enough that industry vets like Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch make it a must-stop every time they're in town. 1732 St Charles Ave. theavenuepub.com
Daniel Stein didn't even have a liquor license when the Philadelphia native opened his eponymous deli on Valentine's Day, 2007. He knew how to make a killer sandwich, however, so a steady supply of Reubens, hoagies, and Davidovich bagels—imported straight from New York City!—kept the place afloat until the fall, when Stein began to stock the rare and revelatory craft beer he learned to love while working at Whole Foods and Martin Wine Cellar. 2207 Magazine St. steinsdeli.net
The Courtyard Brewery
NOLA’s first nano brewery is just coming up on its second birthday, but it's already a local staple thanks to small-scale specialties like a jet black stout made with Louisiana oysters (the Kerouac-cribbing 7000000000000 Light Years of Infinite Darkness), several hop-forward heavy hitters including a house IPA (called Sonic Youth in 1983), and a soon-to-be-released saison (Little Odd Assortments) that gets its citrusy bite from calamansi fruit. Also on deck: an imperial stout that hides its high alcohol content with a big batch of District donuts.
True to its title, Courtyard's taproom spills onto an outdoor patio that offers ample space for striking up a conversation or sampling guest brews from nationally-respected names like Lagunitas, Stone, and Green Flash.
You’ll want to stick with Courtyard's own kegs, however, as they’re not available anywhere else around town. "We went from 13 handles to 34 in order to accommodate more guest beer and to take pressure off of our house taps,” says owner-brewer Scott Wood. 1020 Erato St. courtyardbrewing.com