Nick Kaye's picture

Abita Brewery Tour

You’ve likely heard of Abita, the Louisiana brewery on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain opposite New Orleans.
Abita Brewery and Brewpub
Abita Brewpub (photo credit: theconstantrambler.com)

If not, you’ve certainly run across its most well-known brews: Purple Haze, a wheat beer brewed with raspberry puree, and Turbodog, a dark, swampy brown ale with a rich malt character.

The brewery has been turning out Cajun-tinged beers since 1986, when two homebrewers, Jim Patton and Rush Cummings, helped pull together enough cash to launch the first craft brewery in the Southeast. Since then Abita, which is currently sold about 40 states, has become the beer of New Orleans, for many as synonymous with the eccentric city as Mardi Gras beads or muffuletta.  

But since Abita lies roughly 40 miles north, many visitors to New Orleans don’t make time to stop by for a tour. Big mistake. With a plush tasting room that was added in early 2008, the brewery has made it on to the list of must-see attractions for any fan of the Crescent City, well worth the trouble of trekking across the massive lake.

 Plunked next to a mobile home park near tiny Abita Springs, population 2,409, the brewery is an unmistakable ode to its home state. “We have tried from the very beginning to be a part of the culture of Louisiana,” said David Blossman, Abita’s president and one of the original investors in the brewery. “It’s easy to say that, but it’s harder to actually be it.”

The Vieux Carré-styled entrance is framed by a walled courtyard with gas lamps and wrought iron flourishes, and inside, under a honey-hued faux-tin ceiling, Abita-inspired paintings by the local artists James Michalopoulos and Eddie Mormon cover the walls.

A long mahogany bar dominates the room, which on Saturdays is liable to see as many as 300 beer-hungry visitors, ranging widely from local fans to drowsy college kids to – as witnessed on one visit – even a woman strapped with a BabyBjörn carrier. The crowd serves themselves from a row of 14 taps, filling their glasses with samples of brews like Andygator, an excellent helles-doppelbock; Pecan Harvest, made with Louisiana pecans; Jockamo India Pale Ale and, from January to March, Mardi Gras Bock.“I wanted to have an experience here,” Blossman said of the impressive tasting room, “that was on the same level if not higher than the experience you could get at Napa or Sonoma Valley.”

After a video presentation that highlights Abita’s water source, artesian wells that feed spring water directly from the Southern Hills aquifer system, the tour kicks off with a stroll through the cellar area, which is lined with rows of nearly 30-foot-tall tanks.

The 19th largest craft brewer in the country, Abita has come a long way from its humble early years. This year, Blossman expects production to reach as high as 90,000 barrels. The brewery’s hold on New Orleans is so strong that it outsells Miller and Coors combined on draught there.

To help make all that beer as efficiently as possible, in 2000 Abita became the first brewery outside of Europe to install a Merlin brewing system, run from a high-tech control room in the center of the brew house. It uses roughly 70 percent less energy than a conventional system, but, first and foremost, “I think it makes a great beer,” Blossman said.Following the tour the crowd makes a bee line to the nearby Abita Brew Pub, a long, squat building in Abita Springs’s quaint downtown that has a patio wrapped in a white picket fence.

Bikers, fresh off the adjacent 31-mile-long Tammany Trace rail trail, are a common sight among the lunch crowd, which fills a room with a mural of the pub’s exterior. This was the home of the brewery in its infancy, and it still houses the original 15-barrel brewing setup nestled into the back of the main dining room, a far cry from the sophisticated operation at the brewery down the road.

After nearly 25 years of work, Abita is now the Southeast’s largest craft brewer. But beyond that lofty title, the brewery has become an integral part of New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana, a link to the bayou for beer lovers all around America.  

photo credit: pixshark.com

Tours of the Abita Brewery (166 Barbee Road, Covington, La.; 800-737-2311, www.abita.com) are held Wednesday through Friday at 2 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Make sure you bring a designated driver along for the trip back.

The Abita Brew Pub (72011 Holly Street, Abita Springs, La.; 985-892-5837) is open Tuesday to Sunday and sells growlers of its dozen brews on tap, including the standout Restoration Pale Ale, which was created after Hurricane Katrina and helped raise more than a half million dollars for the rebuilding effort.

Comments

Don Pablo's picture
Love the Wrought Iron IPA fresh from the tap and locally in bottles. The tap room has some great food too!

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Comments

Don Pablo's picture
Love the Wrought Iron IPA fresh from the tap and locally in bottles. The tap room has some great food too!

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