When I found out that NOLA Brewing gave free tours at 2:00 p.m. on Fridays I was very excited. I happen to love beer, I
always almost always have. (I wasn’t that big a fan back when I took a swig when I was 8 or so out of my Dad’s Bud when he wasn’t looking at Frankie and Jonny’s). Beer is big enough passion of mine that I’ve visited different breweries all over the world. Whenever I go anywhere, for work or vacation, I try to hook up with a local brewery and check it out. So when I showed up early for the Friday brewery tour I was sure of two things: 1. I wasn’t going to learn a damn thing on the brewery tour and 2. I was going to try the Hurricane Saison. I was wrong about both.
First, I was shut out of the Hurricane Saison because the brewery was all out of it. The Saison has become so popular, they had none in stock. Great for them, no good for my selfish little hopes and dreams of having some.
Second, and more importantly, this was probably the single greatest brewery tour I’ve ever taken. Unlike the usual tours, the NOLA Brewing tour was personally led by the founder, Kirk Coco, with his vast array of knowledge and intense passion for beer at our disposal.
Another thing that set this tour apart from the others was the facilities. Many tours are in highly pristine areas of the brewery, which have been dressed up for the visitors. NOLA has no such frills (although I think they might eventually get there). NOLA Brewing is first and foremost a working Brewery, there is no glitzy visitor’s entrance, no overly decorated tasting room. But I think NOLA’s no frills style added to the charm of the place. The actual brewing operations take place in a large hanger-like portion of the building, with pretty much all operations under the single arching roof. The “Brew Cave” as I like to call it. Compared to many tours where you travel between rooms or even various buildings to see the different brewing equipment, the Brew Cave set up lets you see the whole process in one look.
Another distinguishing factor was the structure of the tour. In most breweries, even the smaller ones, your tour might as well be a ride at Disney World, a car stuck on the rails whizzing by things in a predetermined order and coming to a stop. If you didn’t get to see something, well the tour just doesn’t cover that. Our tour with NOLA Brewing hit all the requisite stops, but the wide open question policy let us detour all over the place. One question prompted a quick trip into the refrigeration unit for an explanation and a hands on experience. Another question, this one about NOLA’s upcoming Seventh Street Wheat (a seasonal beer due out in mid-June), ran the group back across the Brew Cave to see a mini-batch being brewed for tasting and tweaking. A question about the home kegs or “Fridge Pigs,” had Kirk uncovering various machines and parts to show the group in detail how the Fridge Pigs work.
NOLA adds one more twist to the brew tour experience, you’ve got a beer while you tour. While this may seem like a minor point, the educational value of having a beer on tour is great. Instead of having to imagine the smell of the hops in a beer or the different tastes certain brewing techniques can elicit, you can experience it first hand with a final product.
At last, with the questions on the operational side of the Brewery complete, the tour settled into the office areas for more beer and greater exploration into Kirk’s beer mind. The story of how NOLA Brewing got started, Kirk’s favorite beers, the best places around town to get a beer and other questions you’d certainly want to ask the founder of a brewery, but wouldn’t ever think of being able to. Never once did Kirk balk at a question, nor did his enthusiasm wane throughout the tour or subsequent inquisition.
While a free Friday afternoon may be a bit hard to come by, I highly recommend sneaking out for the NOLA Brewing tour. It’s a great opportunity to learn a thing or two about beer, no matter how much or little you know already. Oh yeah, and there is some great free beer in it for you.