Get your drink on in New Orleans with craft brewery and distillery tours

Today we are featuring Glen Abbott, a freelance travel writer/photographer based in New Orleans. He covers motorcycle touring for Harley-Davidson’s HOG magazine, and writes a weekly column on New Orleans life and culture for www.nolavie.com. You can follow Glen on his blog at www.TravelinGringo.com.

You might not realize it from a stroll down Bourbon Street, but there’s more to New Orleans’ drinking scene than just Hurricanes, Hand Grenades, and Huge Ass Beers.

Locals and insiders know the city offers some high-quality alternatives to the mass-produced swill offered by mega-brewers and distillers – unless that’s what you’re looking for, of course (and lots of people must be, judging from the staggering amount – pardon the pun – of such beverages consumed here).

But if you’re looking for a break from the craziness, cacophony, and chaos of the French Quarter, here are a couple of suggestions, each just a short cab ride away: one is a microbrewery tour, the other a craft rum distillery. Both are places you can still get your drink on – through generous sampling opportunities – and you just may learn something in the process, if you haven’t already destroyed too many valuable brain cells.

NOLA Brewing Co.

Before NOLA Brewing started production several years ago, opportunities to find a locally brewed beer in the Big Easy were limited. By 2005, local stalwarts like Jax, Regal, Dixie, and Falstaff had either closed their doors or moved production elsewhere.

Brewer and entrepreneur Kirk Coco was determined to change that. “I said, somebody needs to open a brewery in the city again,” says Coco. “It’s not right that I’m drinking a beer made in Wisconsin. On the bottle it says ‘Dixie New Orleans, Brewed and Bottled in Wisconsin.’ Ugh!”

By 2009, Coco’s NOLA Brewing Co. was up and running, filling a niche for Crescent City beer lovers with its outstanding local craft brews.

“We’re brewing beers of a complexity and taste that can be paired with those wonderful foods that we have in New Orleans,” Coco says.

NOLA produces four flagship brews, and four seasonal varieties. My favorite is the hoppy and flavorful Hopitoulas IPA, but you can decide for yourself with ample sampling opportunities on NOLA’s once-a-week Friday afternoon tour.

The free – let me repeat: “FREE” – tour is offered only at 2:00 pm each Friday.

Make sure you arrive before 2:15, though, because due to the brewery’s limited space, that’s when the doors close, and you’ll be shut out until the next week’s tour.

So get there early, and enjoy!

NOLA Brewing Co. 3001 Tchoupitoulas St. New Orleans, LA 70130 Phone: 504-613-7727 http://www.nolabrewing.com/

Public Tours: Fridays 2:00 pm (free, no reservations required)

Celebration Distillation: Old New Orleans Rum 

If you like the harder stuff, N’Awlins also is home to a small batch, artisan rum distillery. Who knew?

Celebration Distillation – better known as the makers of Old New Orleans Rum – is tucked away in a warehouse in the city’s Gentilly neighborhood, and offers public tours six days a week.

Founded in 1995 by local artist James Michalopoulos, Celebration has the distinction of being the oldest continually operating premium rum distillery in the continental United States.

In addition to traditional rum varieties, the company is known for its signature Cajun Spice Rum.

“There’s chicory in there, there’s cayenne pepper, there’s dried ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and a couple other spices that we…throw into the infusion tank,” General Manager Parker Schonekas says. “There’s nothing artificial about it, you can taste almost like an earthy taste to it, but there’s a spiciness and then a sweetness from the rum.”

Tours are offered Mondays through Fridays at 12:00, 2:00, and 4:00 pm, and on Saturdays at 2:00 and 4:00 pm. You can save a few bucks on cab fare by calling ‘em in advance to reserve complimentary van pickup at designated times and locations in the Quarter.

Please note, Celebration’s tours are NOT free – the cost is $10 per person – but that cost includes a rum drink at the beginning of the tour and rum sampling at the end.

“It’s a very reasonable price, it takes about an hour, and you get a good amount of booze while you’re on it!” says Schonekas with a hearty laugh.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Celebration Distillation – Old New Orleans Rum 2815 Frenchmen St. New Orleans, LA 70122 504-945-9400 http://www.neworleansrum.com/

Public tours: M-F 12:00, 2:00, and 4:00 pm./Sat. 2:00 and 4:00 pm ($10 per person)

No reservations necessary — show up at distillery or call in advance for free pickup in the French Quarter