Our first Illinois brewery to visit during our trip last year was Scratch Brewing Company located on some farmland about an hour and a half southeast of St. Louis, MO. Scratch was one of the most distinctly unique, beautiful, and remote breweries that we saw all year and remained that way through to the end. With a focus on locality, the people at the brewery forage and/ or grow ingredients on their land to use in the beer recipes; mushrooms, roots, pine needles, multiple herbs & spices, and hops for example. During our time sampling in their taproom, we got to try some Gruits, a Gotlandsricka, a Licorice Basil Schwarzbier, a beer made with maple sap instead of water, and a handful of other beers that prove this is not your everyday brewery; the best part is they are brewed well and we enjoyed each and every one of them! The Scratch crew also told us that they were planning to only enter beers that do not have hops in them at GABF in Denver later in the year and when we ran into them at the festival a few months later they had done just that. Do not miss out on an opportunity to visit the amazing people, location, scenery, and beers that make up Scratch Brewing Company – it’s the full package!
On 1/22/14 we said goodbye to New Orleans and Louisiana and made another trip across Lake Pontchartrain and into Mississippi to tour Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in the city of Kiln. We met with Robert Purvis who walked us around the facilities and explained the brewery’s history and approach. Lazy Magnolia was founded in 2003 by engineers, Mark and Leslie Henderson. After receiving encouragement for their home-brewed creations the couple formed a consulting company Labor Day Weekend 2003 with plans of opening the first packaging brewery in the state of Mississippi since prohibition and with a focus on providing southern inspired brews. Production began in early 2005 with a 15 bbl brewhouse in a small room and a single beer offering – still their most popular – Southern Pecan nut brown ale made with whole roasted pecans, currently sourced from Mascot Pecan Shelling Co. in GA, added directly to the mash. The logo was originally based off of a painting done by Mark of a ‘lazy magnolia’, a term he used for the late blooming magnolia trees providing shade for the couple’s back porch.
We finished out our trek through the state of Louisiana on Monday, 1/20/14, with a visit to NOLA (New Orleans Lager & Ale), located in the Irish Channel right next to the Mississippi River. Kenzie Oescher, their VP of marketing and sales, told us that although ‘lager’ is in the name they don’t actually brew any lagers. However, she went on to tell us that they are working on some recipes for a pale lager right now.
On Saturday, 1/18/14, we headed to a New Orleans neighborhood po-boy shop to fill our stomachs before making the trek 30 miles north across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to Abita Brewing Company for their 2pm Saturday tour. An Abita tour is a truly inimitable experience – a free one hour tour where you pour your own beers at their 15 tap bar (14 beers and 1 for their root beer). Despite ample instruction from the taproom employees, we witnessed many patrons comically demonstrate terrible pouring technique. After some time in the spacious taproom sampling beers and listening to a couple informative videos, the tour group is led into the cavernous brewing facility for a quick rundown on the brewing process and Abita’s productive capacity. Needless to say, the tours are well attended and Kathy Tujague, employee of 23 years and Director of the Visitor Center, shared that they had just over 25,500 people come through the doors in 2013.
After leaving Texas, we traveled east on I-10 and paid a visit to Bayou Teche Brewing, located just north of Lafayette, LA in the small Cajun town of Arnaudville. The brewery was opened in 2009 by Karlos Knott and his two brothers, Byron and Dorsey, in a transformed shipping container on the family’s property where they brewed 1 bbl batches on a daily basis, utilizing 6-8 Blichmann 1 bbl fermenters. Growing demand caused them to contract brew with Lazy Magnolia in Mississippi while they worked on expanding operations into the larger facility on the same property that they operate today. Currently, they utilize a 15 bbl brewhouse with 15 and 30 bbl fermenters. Their biere is now available throughout the southeastern United States and also in New York City as New Orleans artists traveling to NYC demanded to have it available and the brewery was contacted by a local distributor. Current head brewer, Gar Hatcher, came by way of Lazy Magnolia to work at Bayou Teche and has been hard at work tweaking recipes and coming up with new offerings.
Our final day in Texas was spent at No Label Brewing Co in downtown Katy on Thursday, 1/16/14. This converted rice production facility is growing quickly, and with 20,000 square feet to work with, they’ll have no problem doing just that. While there we spoke with headbrewer and co-founder, Brian Royo, who informed us that they started in a 1,500 square foot warehouse on the same property, which they still own and use along with their newly acquired space. During their first full year of production they made 700 barrels of No Label brews, upped the production to 1,700 barrels their second year, and nearly tripled that to around 4,800 this past year.
After our tour of 8th Wonder Brewery we snagged a quick lunch (per recommendation) at the Tacos Tierra Caliente food truck. Next, we made our way to Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company, located just off of I-10, west of downtown Houston. While there, we chatted with founding brewer Ryan Robertson in the taproom over some of Buffalo Bayou’s imaginative brews.
On the morning of 1/14/14 we packed up our gear and headed east from San Antonio to Conroe, TX which is about 40 miles north of Houston. There we enjoyed an afternoon touring the facilities of Southern Star Brewing Company and speaking with head brewer Sam Wright. We began in the spacious new taproom which is just across the loading docks from the 10,000 square foot brewing space. The taproom is separated from additional storage space in the warehouse by a massive wall of empty cans waiting for their run through the canning line.
On Monday, 1/13/14, we made our way out to Guadalupe Brewing Co in New Braunfels, TX. The first thing we noticed after walking in the door was a unique wood-paneled fermenter tank, which the headbrewer, Ryan Bishop, told us was hand-made in order to keep added insulation in place. He said they have a “Franken-brew” system since much of their equipment was pieced together, including the dairy pasteurizers repurposed as a mash tun and a hot liquor tank.
After a relaxing Sunday, we spent Monday, 1/13/14, at nearby Freetail Brewing Company in north San Antonio. Founder and CEO Scott Metzger teamed up with Head Brewer Jason Davis to create the brewpub over 5 years ago. It is named after the Mexican free-tailed bat which was designated as the state flying mammal by Texas in 1995. Bracken Cave is located less than 30 miles north east of the brewery and is the summer home of an estimated 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats, the largest known colony of bats in the world, providing important pest control and protection for local agriculture. Freetail brewed Save the Cave this past year and donates $5 of each bottle to Bat Conservation International which currently protects the area surrounding Bracken Cave.