Friday, June 14, 2013

A Craft Beer Tour of the Northshore

Old 504 Vanilla Coffee Porter from Chafunkta at The Chimes Covington
I've been to a handful of places on Lake Pontchartrain's Northshore, but overall I'm fairly inexperienced when it comes to the entire area other than driving through on I-12.  I've competed in the Hammond Blues and BBQ Festival twice, filmed at the local breweries and eaten at the Abita Brew Pub, and I have visited The Barley Oak a handful of times, but the rest has remained sadly foreign to me.  

This past week I had the opportunity to change that.  I rode around with Vanessa Gomes, the reasonably new Craft Brands Manager at Champagne Beverage, to several popular craft beer retailers on the Northshore.  I had the pleasure of meeting some of the people that are making the craft beer scene flourish in an area that probably gets less attention than they deserve for adding culture to Louisiana.  Our first stop landed us at The Chimes in Covington fairly early in the morning.  Being a Baton Rouge guy, I am certainly familiar with The Chimes by LSU's campus and the one on Coursey, but the Covington location promised to out-shine both of them.  The property that the restaurant sits on is gorgeous.  Along the river in Covington, they still have old courthouse that was built in the 1800s on site as you drive up.  We sat down with Shane Waller, the bar manager and now beer buyer of sorts for all locations, to chat about the restaurant and their beer program.  I began with an Old 504 Vanilla Coffee Porter from Mandeville's Chafunkta Brewing Company since I can't get it in Baton Rouge.  We had a great chat about the business and the push to move towards more American craft beer instead of the previous domestics and imports model of "Around the World" get-your-name-on-the-wall fame.  I support that movement despite my name being on the wall twice at the LSU Chimes.  Shane showed me the keg room and the massive kitchen as well.  They definitely do some volume!

Adam Acquistapace and Jay Ducote
Vanessa and I's next stop came at Acquistapace's Covington Supermarket.  There we met with Adam Acquistapace who manages the the alcohol department and pays especially close attention to his craft beer selection.  Adam and I actually knew each other from undergrad at LSU, though I couldn't recall exactly how we met over a decade ago.  Much like Calandro's here in Baton Rouge, Acquistapace's has become one of the the Covington area's go-to bottle shops.  Paying careful attention to shelf life, storage temperatures, and stocking the right beers individually and in packages, this store definitely has an impressive spread of superb craft brews!

Chicken Fried Steak at Columbia Street Tap Room and Grill
Lunch time came along and that brought us to the Columbia Street Tap Room and Grill, also known around the area just as the "Tap Room."  This Covington hot-spot owes a lot of its success to Jonathan James, the beverage manager and entertainment director.  He joined myself, Vanessa, and Alex from Champagne who had previously met us at Chimes as well.  Before long we added Josh Erickson and a couple of his colleagues from the Chafunkta Brewing Company.  Before we left, Matt and Kyle from LA Craft joined the party as well.  I had a deliciuos chicken fried steak for lunch with an awesome white gravy, mashed potatoes, and sauteed veggies.  I also had several beers from the local selection such as the Chafunkta Voo Ka Ray IPA seen below, another pint of the the Old 504, and a bottle of the Parish Farmhouse IPA.  Life doesn't get much better!

Chafunkta's Voo Ka Ray IPA as seen at the "Tap Room"
Jay and Vanessa enjoying a Gueuze
Our last destination on the voyage took us to Hammond where we visited The Red White & Brew bottle shop.  Owner Todd Delaune greeted us with a smile.  Vanessa and I perused the selection of wines and his expanding craft beer stock.  Todd's store is one where you can take a bottle or twelve to go, or you can stay and drink on site.  The space has a very comfortable charm as you can sit around the bar in the middle of the retail floor.  Todd joined us in drinking a bottle of Gueuze Tilquin, a sour beer that is just sensational.  I'm usually not a huge fan (I appreciate, just don't love) of sours like lambics, but a gueuze doesn't have fruit added like a lambic, which clearly is what I don't enjoy, because this beer was top notch.  The Red White & Brew also just put in a 6 tap beer system so they can feature some local beers that they can't get in bottles.  Hello Chafunkta and Parish in Hammond!  I'll be back to this place for sure!

My small sampling of the Northshore made me want to go back for more.  Obviously Barley Oak and the soon to open Old Rail Brewpub are must-visits as well for the craft-beer loving traveler or local.  Everywhere I went made me want to come again and explore someplace new.  Perhaps next time I'll find a way to stay for dinner and some more evening drinks!  Thanks Vanessa, Champagne Beverage, and everyone I met or met up with along the way!

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