What began as a couple of friends sharing the occasional six pack of beer has grown into a couple thousand people sampling over two hundred unique brews. If the second annual Bayou Beer Festival is a testament to the local beer scene, it’s safe to say we’re doing quite well.
I doubt Bayou Beer Society and Festival organizers Joel Ohmer and Jim Barrett ever expected their fun, little hobby to become such an incredible event back when it was just the two of them comparing notes on new beers. Stepping under the pavilion at Southdown Plantation in Houma, you immediately get a sense of how huge and diverse the world of beer is and how many people love living in it. Tables surround the edges of the pavilion backed by enthusiastic volunteers and their buckets of beer. After you scan their selection and make a decision, they’ll pour you a generous sample that you sip as you turn back to your friends and start making observations.
What I love about trying new beers at a festival, a tasting, or a dinner is that I’m not necessarily looking for a good beer. In fact, the occasional bad beer in this setting can be a lot of fun. It challenges you and expands the horizons of your pallet. And it’s always fun to see the reaction of your friends when they sample a bad brew…. That being said, there were plenty of great and interesting beers at the Festival this year. Being able to try so many unique types back to back is a dream come true to anyone who nearly freezes to death while agonizing over a beer purchase in front of the cooler at the grocery store. I always want to take so many home, but I’m not made of money and there’s only so much space in the fridge if I’m not immediately taken with it. After an event like the beer fest, you’re left with a bunch of leads on great new beers to seek out.
Toward the back of the pavilion, an intimidating crawfish loomed over the crowd. Mudbug, our most local brewery, was the festival’s title sponsor. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to provide any of their exciting beers since they’re not up and running yet, though we’re assured they’re extremely close and awaiting a few final inspections. Brewmaster Leith Adams, who could be seen drumming on the porch at Southdown with his band Nonc Nu and da Wild Matous, has a very distinct vision for Mudbug. Aside from being the closest brewery to us in the outskirts of Thibodaux, Mudbug’s beers will hit close to home as well. King Cake Ale, Cafe au Lait Stout, Pelican Pilsner, Cajun Stout, Burning Saison, Intracoastal IPA are just a few of the bayou-centric beers Adams has planned. It’s really exciting to know that very soon we’ll have such a local brewery. And while it’s a shame we couldn’t get a taste at the Festival, their spirit and enthusiasm was definitely felt throughout the event.
The sight that greeted festival-goers as they stepped out of the pavilion made the scale of the local beer community clear: a sea of people surrounded by local breweries. Most of the Louisiana Breweries were represented (Nola, Abita, Chafunkta, Covington, Bayou Teche, 40 Arpent, Gnarly Barley, Tin Roof, and more) as well as some Mississippi breweries. Also outside was Which Craft?, the local ambassador to the world of beer for many of us. Owners Donny and Frank were offering some very unique beers not available anywhere else in the area. I was especially fond of the gose, a tart and salty type of beer to which I’ve only recently been introduced.
What impressed me most was the large homebrewer presence. At the inaugural festival last year, there were a few homebrewers with a couple tables of their beers. This year, they took up a long row of booths and had dozens of beers to offer. Some were small but passionate operations with just a keg and a sign while others had labeled bottles and logos. I was blown away by the variety and quality: Bourbon Pecan Pie Porter, Rye Saison, Apricot Ale, I’ll Be Bock, Weiss Weiss Baby, Pointe Porter. The tiny bit of experience I have with homebrewing made it clear that these people had to be extremely patient and passionate to show up to the festival and treat us with their many months of labor.
In the crowd, I ran into Roy Guilbeau, the chef at La Casa Del Sol in Thibodaux responsible for the incredible beer dinners there. He’s excited for next month’s collaboration with Lazy Magnolia. If the last few dinners are any indication, it’ll be another great meal. Roy does an excellent job of pairing the variety of unique beers each brewery brings while sticking to Mexican cuisine. The combinations are always really inventive and perfectly paired. (The Lazy Magnolia dinner is Tuesday, December 2nd at 6:00 pm. You can call (985) 446-2576 for reservations.)
It was incredibly satisfying to see so many people turn out to celebrate their love of beer. I was especially pleased with the prominent role local breweries played. And with the proceeds going toward supporting local veterans, it’s impossible for me not to love this festival. I hope it continues to grow as more breweries like Mudbug start production and more people learn how great local beer can be. The very next day after the festival, the Bayou Beer Society posted a save-the-date for next year: November 14th, 2015.
I already can’t wait.