New Orleans is called the Big Easy, and people take things slowly here. This attitude may infuriate outsiders who are in a hurry, but it’s not a bad one to have when you are a brewer.
Acadian Brewing Co. in New Orleans makes lagers, and brewmaster Doug Lindley takes his sweet time. The beers are fermented for about 10 days and aged for at least a month. The result is clean, flavorful beer that doesn’t stray far from its European roots. “German people come in and say, ‘This is like home,’” Lindley says with pride.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out why lagers are the beers of choice in Louisiana. Acadian’s beers are meant to be drunk cold in hot, humid weather, but they have more than enough taste to stand up to the chill. Acadian Pilsener, the first beer the microbrewery produced, is malty with a crisp, bitter finish. Vienna Amber, which Lindley prefers to call simply “Vienna” because “amber’s a color, not a style,” is malty and hoppy. Both the pilsener and the Vienna are bottled for distribution.
The draft-only selections include some very interesting choices. One seasonal brew is Helles Bock, made with a triple decoction mash and aged for three months in the tank. Lindley decided to brew the Helles becauseit’s light in color, which appeals to Southern beer drinkers. It is well balanced, sweet, and malty but with enough hops to cut the sweetness. Helles Bock proved quite popular, and Lindley is considering producing it year-round.
Hefe-Pils, an unfiltered, draft version of the pilsener, is (at the time of this writing) sold only at Acadian’s taproom and one other account. Hefe-Pils is pulled out of secondary
fermentation just before fermentation is complete, then slow-fermented in the keg. It’s served from a slow-pour tap to give it a creamy, dense head. It takes a bartender about seven minutes to pour a 16-ounce glass of the Hefe-Pils, but the wait is well worth it, as the beer explodes with flavors.
“People will come in and swear it’s a different beer (than the pilsener),” Lindley says.
Lindley prefers not to offer details about his beer recipes other than to say they conform to the Reinheitsgebot (German purity law of 1516), that he uses a German yeast strain, and that the hops are imported Hallertauer and Saaz, processed to give them a higher alpha-acid content. “There’s more concentrated bittering and less trash and trub in the kettle,” Lindley explains. “Your yield is higher, and it’s cheaper in the long run.”
The beer is brewed with dechlorinated local water, sterile filtered and acidified to lower the pH. “A lot of people think Louisiana water is extremely hard, but it’s not,” Lindley says. “It’s very close to Munich water but has more sulfate than I wish it had.” He has had to adjust the hop levels in his recipes to compensate for the potential harshness the sulfates can produce.
Lindley began brewing lagers as a homebrewer. “Everybody was making ales using (Wyeast) 1056 yeast,” he says. “I wanted my own identity.” He had been homebrewing for years when he got laid off from a construction job and began to seriously consider turning pro. He spent time at New Orleans’ Dixie Brewing Co., learning from its brewers, then hooked up with Jim Cronin, a homebrewer and former neurobiologist who wanted to open a microbrewery. In 1990 Cronin, the brewery’s president, began raising money, and Lindley made sample batches of beer to serve bankers while pursuing funds. The brewery rolled out its first batch of Acadian Pilsener in January 1996 and debuted the Vienna in September 1996. Acadian produced about 2,000 barrels in its first year.
Acadian is located in a former marine shop, with ceilings high enough for sailboats and a loftlike second floor that hangs, sort of like a balcony, over the main floor. The brewery is on the second floor; the lagering tanks, kegging equipment, bottling line, and cold room on the first. Because a gate extends across one of the tall garage doors, it’s an open-air brewery but one with a determined emphasis on cleanliness. Lindley will allow only one yeast strain in the brewery, and that is kept in a yeast brink inside a clean room. It’s transferred to fermenters through an enclosed line. Throughout the brewing and bottling/kegging process, strict rules apply, down to transfer lines with a minimum number of flex points.
Having the brewery on the second floor presents an obvious problem: How do they get those tons of grain up the narrow, metal stairs? Lindley, First Assistant David Macon, and Second Assistant Monte Brown don’t use the stairs. Part of the second floor’s low wall collapses, so they swing it out of the way and carry the grain with a fork lift.
The brewers make 37-barrel batches, which yield about 35 barrels. The equipment includes DME stainless-steel kettles and converted dairy tanks with the front legs cut down so the yeast will run out. The yeast brink is a converted child’s whirlpool.
The brewers usually brew three times a week. “Most brews take place at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. — less heat, less distraction, and it’s quieter,” Lindley says. They don’t grind the grain until the end of the day before they brew, to prevent moisture from building up in the grist case and harming the grain.
Each brew is a three-step mash. The wort is fermented at 50° F, then lowered to 48° F after a day or two for a diacetyl rest. The beers are lagered at 31° F, and each glycol-chilled lagering tank is individually controlled. The lagering tanks hold 110, 90, and 31 barrels, respectively, which allows Acadian to blend batches and make a more consistent product. The beer is filtered but not pasteurized and has a shelf life of about 100 days.
The three brewers also handle all the bottling and kegging, a time-consuming part of the production. They label the bottles first on an Enos labeler and usually bottle once a week. They use a four-head Meheen filler that can do one bottle every two seconds. “It’s really not that fast when you’re doing 400 cases of beer,” Lindley says.
Given Louisiana’s heavily Catholic, French-descended populace, it seems appropriate that a crucifix hangs over the brewing equipment at La Brasserie D’Acadie. Lindley says that the crucifix is there “because all of us are Catholic, and because a lot of breweries in Germany have them.” He read somewhere that the German brewers believe a crucifix protects the brewery. “So far it’s worked for us,” he says.
Acadian Brewing would like to do 5,000 barrels in 1997, but that could stretch the small bottling line to its limit. The beer is available throughout New Orleans and in other parts of Louisiana, including Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and Thibodeux. Acadian has more than 50 draft accounts, mostly in New Orleans.
A good place to sample the beer is at the brewery’s taproom, The Beer Garden, located in the same building as the brewery (it was the boat shop’s showroom) but officially a separate business. The Beer Garden features a copper-topped, 59-foot, L-shaped bar, which Lindley built, and pours beers from nearly every Louisiana brewery, including Abita from Abita Springs, Dixie Brewing Co., and Louisiana Brewing Co. of Breaux Bridge. The bar sells other beer in bottles as well as wine and liquor.
The Beer Garden is casual, with wooden booths, tables, and chairs. A variety of Louisiana- and beer-related photographs and ads, including a couple of vintage concert posters that some music fans would kill for, decorate the walls. It only serves chips and such, unless you’re lucky enough to be there on a Saturday during crawfish season. You can also order in New York-style pizza from the restaurant across the street. Live music, in a variety of styles, is featured regularly.
The Beer Garden sells six-packs and 5.2- and 15.5-gallon kegs to go. The smaller kegs have proven popular at parties and have helped the brewery get tap handles in bars, because the hookups are the same as for half-barrel Sankey kegs. The Beer Garden opens at 11 a.m. seven days a week. New Orleans has no closing hours, so it closes when the customers are all gone.
While Acadian Brewing’s beer is primarily consumed by Louisianans, sales to tourists are a significant part of the business. “Tourists are looking to drink the local beer here,” Lindley says. “They don’t come here to drink Bud. They come here looking for Abita, Dixie, or us.”
Acadian Brewing Co., is located 201 N. Carrollton, New Orleans, La. 70119. Call (504) 488-8274.
Stan Hieronymus and Daria Labinsky are authors of the Beer Travelers Guide, which lists more than 1,700 brewpubs, bars, and restaurants in the United States that serve flavorful beer.