Not everyone is a fan of polka music and the chicken dance, so if you choose to skip that part of the annual Oktoberfest celebration, we’ll let you slide. You may not want to skip the beer part though. With two local craft breweries and plenty of seasonal brews from which to choose, there’s never been a better time to raise your mug.
Trends in Craft Brewing
Although the surging popularity of wine, wine bars, designer drinks, and alternative malt beverages, not to mention the economy, have been hitting the beer industry from all sides in recent years, there is one segment of the beer market that is holding its own: craft brewing.
Craft brewers are typically small, independent brewers that use traditional ingredients and brewing styles. Craft brewers may interpret historic styles of brewing with unique twists or develop new styles that have no precedent. Craft beer is usually defined by four distinct markets: brewpubs, microbreweries, regional craft breweries, and contract brewing companies.
While overall U.S. beer sales are down 1.3 percent and imported beer sales are down 9.5 percent for the first six months of 2009, the craft brewing industry showed 5 percent by volume and 9 percent by dollars growth for the same period.
Locally, Abita Brewing Company’s sales are up 13 percent in volume so far in 2009 and they expect to brew 90,000 barrels this year. Heiner Brau brewery in Covington remains relatively small by comparison, expecting to brew 1,200 barrels this year, but sales are up 50 percent over last year.
The only other segment of the beer market that has seen an increase is budget beers. “People are trading down right now,” said David Blossman, President of Abita Brewing Company in Abita Springs.
But with the major breweries recently announcing price increases to compensate for lower sales volumes and higher commodity prices, local craft beer is all the more desirable and reasonably priced. “We’re an affordable luxury. For $7.50 a six-pack you can have the finest beer in the world,” said Blossman.
Craft beers do seem to be enjoying a nationwide renaissance, with bars specializing in local and hard-to-find beers popping up and the best restaurants sporting well-chosen beer lists alongside their wine lists.
“Every year we are growing, only in Louisiana it takes a little longer,” said Henryk Orlik, Owner and Brewmaster for Heiner Brau, who notes that Louisiana and the south in general tend to lag behind national trends.
It’s All About Taste
Craft beers are usually more interesting in depth and flavor because they’re brewed in smaller batches and more attention is paid to detail and the quality of the ingredients.
“I like simple beers,” said Orlik, who is one of only 10 German master brewers in the United States. He began his brewing career in Germany in 1972 at the age of 16. His focus at Heiner Brau brewery is on quality and his dedication to the art of brewing is in strict accordance with the German Purity Law of 1516. That means no adjuncts, no artificial carbonation, and no other additives are used to enhance the brewing process. Just simple malted barley, hops, yeast, and water.
“Simpleness is the elegance of it. We’re artisans,” said Blossman. “Here in America you can create your own recipes, just like a chef. This is the fun part of being a brewer,” said Orlik.
Orlik said that while the trend in the rest of the U.S. is toward big, bold beers, southern beer drinkers tend to prefer lighter-flavored beers, with golden and light amber-style beers leading the way. Heiner Brau’s strawberry beer has also been a big regional hit and is now brewed year- round. Orlik’s dream beer was and is Heiner Brau’s Kölsch, a light, crisp, clean and fresh golden German brew that he describes as “easy to drink and not very heavy”.
Another trend in the beer industry is the preference for light beer, which because of its smooth, mild taste and fewer calories has surpassed many traditional beers in popularity. Abita Brewing Company produces Abita Light as one of its seven flagship beers. ““Our consumers want flavor, we’re seeing a flavor revolution. Our light beer, bar none, is the most flavorful light beer out there,” said Blossman.
Heiner Brau’s Beers
Henryk Orlik immigrated to America from Germany in 1994 and after working in Cleveland, the Abita Brewery, and a North Carolina microbrewery, he returned to open Heiner Brau in downtown Covington in late 2004. “It was always my dream to start my own brewery,” said Orlik.
Heiner Brau offers three year-round beers: Kölsch, a light golden German beer; Maerzen, a partially filtered dark brown Bavarian lager; and Strawberry Ale, available only in draft.
Right now you can sample their Festbier Oktoberfest. This brew is a Bavarian style beer made to celebrate the fall harvest. It is a fresh, dark golden beer with a light malty finish and is available September through November only. Other seasonal beers include Mardi Gras Festbier; Maibock, a special Mayday beer; and Hefe-Weisse, Orlik’s favorite summertime beer. You can find Heiner Brau beers locally in Winn Dixie, Rouse’s, Acquistapace’s and other stores, restaurants, and taverns.
Apart from the Heiner Brau label, Orlik has produced beers for Zea Rotisserie and Grill Restaurants since 2005. Available only at Zea’s in the New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette areas are the Clearview Golden Lager, Amber Lager, Category 5 Pale Ale, and the Pontchartrain Porter.
Heiner Brau is also now creating exclusive house brews for Chef John Besh’s restaurants. These brews include Lüke Fru, a young beer suited to the raw bar; Lüke Export, a golden pilsner; and Lüke Alt, an aged pilsner in the Düsseldorf amber style with a dark chocolate aftertaste.
Operating in this area since 1986, Abita Brewing Company is the oldest and largest craft beer brewer in the southeast and is now the 19th largest craft brewer and the 30th largest brewery in the United States. Abita beers are distributed in 40 states. The majority of their sales (58 percent) still come from Louisiana, but out-of-state sales are growing fast (up 23 percent this year).
Almost everyone around these parts is familiar with at least one of their beers, the most popular being Abita Amber, one of their seven flagship brews. The others are Abita Light; Abita Golden; Jockamo IPA, a traditional India pale ale; Purple Haze, a raspberry wheat beer; Restoration Pale Ale; and Turbodog, a dark brown ale with a rich body and a sweet chocolate toffee-like flavor.
Abita also produces five seasonal brews with the current one being Fall Fest, a Maerzen-style Oktoberfest lager that is a full-bodied, malty beer with a beautiful amber color. The other seasonal brews are Bock, Red Ale, Wheat and Christmas Ale.
Three harvest brews are made each year incorporating Louisiana-grown ingredients. Now in stores is the Pecan Harvest Ale, made with real Louisiana pecans toasted to perfection. Other harvest brews are Strawberry Harvest Lager and Satsuma Harvest Wit.
Released earlier this year are Abita’s two Big Beers in Big Bottles, each a full 22 ounces. Andygator is a unique high-gravity brew. But unlike other high-gravity brews, it is fermented to a dry finish with a slightly sweet flavor and subtle fruit aroma. Abbey Ale is a “Dubbel” or double ale, dark amber in color, with the aroma of caramel, fruits, and cloves. The beer inside the bottles is big too: both Andygator and Abbey Ale have an alcohol by volume content of eight percent.
Abbey Ale is Abita’s most recent effort in giving back to the community. This brew honors the tradition of monks who perfected the art of brewing beer to support the monastery. For each bottle of beer sold, Abita is sending a 25-cent donation to St. Joseph’s Abbey in Covington. “By the end of the first full year, we should be able to give a $30,000 donation,” said Blossman. The Abita Brewing Company previously raised $550,000 for hurricane storm relief with their Restoration Pale Ale.
Heiner Brau brewery will host its traditional Bavarian Oktoberfest 2009 October 16th and 17th at the trailhead in downtown Covington. Admission is free and there will be live music, food, fun, and of course, Heiner Brau beers. Hours on Friday, October 16th are 5-9 pm and Saturday the 17th will feature a full day of family events, starting with a one-mile fun run and 5-K race at 9 am to benefit KidSense.
The day continues with Family Fest from 10 am – 2 pm with live music, kid’s crafts, food, contests, critter petting, and more. Traditional Oktoberfest continues from 2 pm – 7 pm under the huge beer tent rain or shine with Oompah-pah bands, authentic German food, and more beer. For more information, visit www.heinerbrau.com.
And while there won’t be any local brews featured, Mandeville will be holding the first annual Mandeville Oktoberfest on October 16th and 17th at the Mandeville Trailhead. “We thought this would be a great fall event that didn’t replicate anything else in Mandeville,” said Denise Gutnisky, Director of Events for the Mandeville Trailhead.
Mandeville’s Oktoberfest will feature Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest, Heineken, Pilsner Urquell, Shiner Bock and Miller Lite beers. Traditional German food will be served and live music provided by Benny Grunch and Cats Meow in addition to Oompah-pah bands. There also will be yodeling and chicken drop contests, beer stein races, chicken dance lessons courtesy of the Honeybees, and the First Annual Little Miss Wiener Schnitzel Contest 2009 for dogs. For more information, visit www.mandevilletrailhead.blogspot.com.