It’s a beer lover’s dream — and a showcase of the burgeoning local craft brewery scene.
Now in its fifth year, the 2016 Abita New Orleans International Beer Fest will offer unlimited samples of more than 150 beers
Saturday from 2 p.m.
to 6 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Among the 60-plus breweries represented are well-known powerhouses like Stella Artois, Sam Adams, Spaten Munich, Sierra Nevada, Chimay and Sapporo, as well as local breweries including Abita, NOLA Brewing Co. and 40 Arpent.
Also among this year’s lineup will be Big Easy brewery newcomers Second Line and Urban South, both of whose craft ales are garnering quick fan bases around the city.
Small and lesser-known breweries from other states also will be showcasing their wares, and chances are, even the most well-versed beer lover will discover something new.
In addition, hard cider enthusiasts will find a tent with samples from vendors such as Angry Orchard, Original Sin and Strongbow. Other festival activities include short seminars on topics such as cooking with beer and tips for beer and food pairings.
According to Alex Colee, one of the festival’s organizers, past visitor numbers have reached over 3,500. He expects this year’s turnout to be just as strong.
“New Orleans is a great fit for a beer festival because it has a thriving live event scene as well as a growing craft beer scene,” says Colee. “We find that each year we come back to New Orleans there is a new craft brewery that has popped up.”
For Michael Naquin, founder of 40 Arpent Brewing Co., the event is “a good way for drinkers to keep up with what’s new.”
This year will mark the Arabi brewery’s third appearance at the New Orleans International Beer Fest. “It’s a great opportunity to stay informed about the growing craft market and sample beers not found in your local watering hole,” Naquin says.
Mark Logan, founder of Mid-City’s Second Line Brewing, whose ales, including a red IPA, will be making their debut fest appearance this year, agrees that when it comes to choice, the International New Orleans Beer Festival offers visitors access to relatively unknown ales that might be impossible to otherwise sample in even the most well-curated tap rooms around town.
Furthermore, as Colee notes, the festival’s unlimited sampling offers drinkers the opportunity for low-stakes experimentation.
“When you go to a bar, it’s hard sometimes to branch out and try new beers because you risk not liking it, and you’re stuck with an entire pint,” explains Colee. “At the NOIBF, you get 2-ounce samples ... so if you don’t like something, you can just pour it out in one of our provided buckets and move right on to the next. It’s a great way to branch out.”
For smaller local brewers like Naquin and Logan, the New Orleans International Beer Festival is key in building rapport between those who brew and those who drink.
“It gives the public a chance to meet those who are actually making the product,” Naquin said. “The personal connection absolutely adds to the experience.”
Naquin says that given an expanding craft market, such face-to-face meetings are essential to establishing a devoted following. For instance, he notes 40 Arpent’s first appearance at the 2014 International New Orleans Beer Fest gave the nascent brewery critical exposure and helped expand its local following.
Second Line’s Logan said his Mid-City location, slightly off the beaten path on North Bernadotte Street, means many aficionados have yet to visit his new beer garden. He expects to reach new fans at the fest.
He also anticipates engaging in some brainstorming.
From other festivals, Logan knows many attendees are beer makers themselves. “The festival gives amateur brewers the chance to bounce ideas off the professionals,” Logan said. “Some even want the chance to discuss what it’s like to own a brewery.”
While Logan believes New Orleans still has some catching up to do with the longer established craft beer scenes of the Northwest and Northeast, he sees this year’s beer fest as coinciding with a turning point in the city’s craft scene.
“We’re reaching a point of critical mass here with more local craft brewers,” Logan said. “The city is now attracting talent from professional brewers, all aiming for a certain gold standard. The beer is getting better, more diverse and gaining national credibility.”