Michael Naquin begins a typical 16-hour day at 7:30 a.m. He flicks on the radio, starts the water heater and gets to work. With the help of his “cellar man,” Charles Hall, Naquin will finish brewing two batches of 40 Arpent beer by late that night.
Stainless steel tanks with the capacity to ferment 45 barrels a month dominate the 6,000-square-foot warehouse in Old Arabi. Sacks of Pilsen malt from Canada, Best Red malt from Germany and Camellia Red Kidney Beans from Louisiana are piled high next to Naquin’s desk.
“If you drink coffee, you will absolutely love this beer,” Naquin said, offering a sample of his signature Milk Stout. “It tastes like café au lait.”
The 4-month-old microbrewery, at 6809 N. Peters St., already has three beers on draft at 42 locations across New Orleans, Metairie, Slidell and Houma. From his brewery, Naquin can even catch a glimpse of one of his outlets.
“There goes the Natchez,” Naquin said, nodding at the historic riverboat passing by, its flags fluttering above the levee’s crest. The paddlewheeler serves passengers 40 Arpent beer.
Philip Hebert, an Arabi resident, regularly shows up at free tastings of the brewery’s flagship Irish Red Bean and Rice Ale and Milk Stout, which are held most Friday afternoons from 5-7 p.m.
“The beer is amazing — it is very unique,” Hebert said. A beer aficionado, Hebert can often be found sampling beers at the Bulldog, Turtle Bay or Markey’s Bar, three New Orleans taverns noted for extensive selections of international and specialty beers. The beer brewed in his own neighborhood, however, offers something a little different.
“There are flavors in these beers that I’ve never tasted before,” Hebert said.
In fact, beans in the Irish Red Beans and Rice Ale lend a distinctive, buttery flavor, Naquin said. The yeast the brewmaster uses to make the Belgian-style Delacroix Ale yields a refreshing tartness reminiscent of pears. An alcohol content of seven percent provides its kick. The Milk Stout is 40 Arpent’s most popular beer.
“People say they don’t like dark beer because they think of Guinness, which is acidic,” said Naquin, noting that the Milk Stout is smooth.
Naquin grew up in Houma with strong roots in Louisiana. He started homebrewing about 13 years ago. After visiting microbreweries in Asheville, North Carolina, to learn the craft, he apprenticed with Patrick O’Neil at Zea Rotisserie & Grill and Tom Conklin at Crescent City Brewhouse. Once he decided to start his own brewery, friends suggested St. Bernard Parish as a home base, and Parish Councilman Ray Lauga was a strong advocate.
“We’re trying to revive Old Arabi and get new businesses,” Lauga said. The parish has approved a $1.1 million beautification plan for St. Claude Avenue and wants new businesses to be part of the area’s revitalization and recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
“Before the storm, St. Bernard was all about independent, family-owned businesses, and we lost a lot of that,” said Terry Saucier, a lifelong Arabi resident who hopes the brewery can jumpstart change.
It was a foregone conclusion that Naquin would christen the brewery in honor of a local landmark, the old 40 Arpent Canal, named for the unit of land measure from the French colonial era.
“I love that they named it after 40 Arpents, which is a big part of the St. Bernard culture,” Hebert said.