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Eat & Drink

A Tale of Two Beer Tour Buses

Satisfying beer tours are cropping up in New Orleans, exploring the city’s distinct craft breweries in style.

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NOLA Brew Bus outside of The Avenue Pub. (Courtesy photo)

Residents of and visitors to New Orleans now have two options for exploring the local beer scene and beyond. Since there are now enough breweries in the city to actually create a satisfying tour, two companies have stepped up, with a third on the way, each offering their own take on providing transportation to expose what New Orleans has to offer to everyone, from beer newbies to experts.

A beer flight on the balcony at NOLA Brewing. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

New Orleans Original Brewery Tour

The New Orleans Original Brewery Tour, created and run every day at 4 p.m. by Premium Tours and Transportation, launched in conjunction with the opening of Urban South Brewing in March 2016. Premium Tours co-founder Patrick Healy notes that the tour needed three stops in close proximity, so waiting on Urban South to open was a no-brainer. Courtyard Brewery and NOLA Brewing round out the three-hour afternoon tour, which includes beer samples and a private tour of the brewery at each stop.

Healy says they will run the tour with as few as two people booked. “It’s important to be consistent,” he says, noting that information is available at most hotel concierge stands as well as online.

The small luxury bus picks up guests at their home or hotel and whisks them to Courtyard Brewery, which recently underwent an expansion and renovation. At Courtyard, everyone gets a 6-ounce pour of one of the brewery’s signature beer, and then the bartender will help even the newest beer drinker pick out a second beer to try.

A tour in progress with New Orleans Original Brewery Tour. (Courtesy photo)

Next stop is Urban South Brewing. Even though Urban South isn’t open to the public every day, guests on the Original Brewery Tour are still able to experience a brewery tour — sometimes Healy or another one of the guides leads it if the brewers are unavailable — as well as 4-ounce sample sizes of the brewery’s flagship beers, Holly Roller IPA and Charming Wit.

The final stop of the day is at NOLA Brewing, where you can get two full pours of whatever looks good. Healy says sometimes folks eat some McClure’s Barbecue (on-site), some grab an Uber to where they’re planning to have dinner, and some get back on the bus to head back to the hotel. “We’ve actually had situations where people on the tour — strangers at the start — end up getting along, making plans with each other, and keeping in touch,” says Healy.

The NOLA Brew Bus. (Courtesy photo)

NOLA BREW BUS

NOLA Brew Bus, a new tour company that started in late September, conducts brewery tours four times a week. Each tour visits three of the four breweries in New Orleans: Courtyard Brewery, NOLA Brewing, Urban South, and Second Line. The lineup each day is a little different.

The tour includes one brewery tour out of the three breweries and at least five samples of beer (a total of 48 ounces in all). NOLA Brew Bus also includes a historical analysis of sites passed by while driving to each destination as well as general New Orleans history.

NOLA Brew Bus has other tours to get the New Orleans beer scene experience. The Craft Beer Bar and NOLA History Tour, given once a week on Thursday afternoon, also includes the historical component, but focuses on bar-hopping between three of the best beer bars in the city: Avenue Pub, Cooter Brown’s, and The Bulldog Mid-City. This tour brings you to all three bars, which are all unique, low-key, and have a neighborhood vibe, and pays for your first pint of local beer at each.

The outdoor courtyard at the brewery is a scenic spot for beer drinking. (Photo courtesy Instagram user Southernsprout)

Since the three bars are spread out all over the city, this is the perfect opportunity to ride through several neighborhoods a visitor might not get to see otherwise, while hearing about local history from a city-certified tour guide.

“We’re just catching up now with craft beer,” NOLA Brew Bus founder Matt Marsiglia says. “That’s the thing about New Orleans, we take our time. That’s the cool thing about the city,” he says. Marsiglia’s interest in craft beer is only rivaled by his desire to let visitors explore beyond the French Quarter.  “You take the French Quarter out of the city, and you just talk about the Bywater, Uptown, Mid-City, and all the history and stuff we have going on,” he says. “Ninety percent of our tourists stay in the French Quarter. We need to get some of those tours into our neighborhoods and to local businesses.”

Marsiglia recently added an Abita Brewing tour to the lineup. The region’s most popular brewery can be tough for visitors to get to — it’s about an hour’s drive away and tucked into the small town of Abita Springs. There’s no other way to get to it than to drive, which when visiting a brewery can be dicey, especially if unfamiliar with the area. Enter NOLA Brew Bus, which will drive you up there for Abita’s Friday afternoon tour.

Avenue Pub carries a large selection of beer on draft using a recently renovated system. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Pickup and drop off for all weekday tours is at Crescent City Brewhouse, or at the Avenue Pub during the weekend (Friday through Sunday).

Pricing for the two companies’ tours is comparable: $69 for the New Orleans Original Brewery Tour and $70 for NOLA Brew Bus’s brewery tour and beer bar tour. It’s $50 for the Abita tour.

Marsiglia hopes that his business taps into the expanding beer tourism culture. “When I go on vacation, the first thing I do is go to Google Maps and type, ‘craft beer bars’. Where do I go in that city to get good craft beer? So, I’m hoping that when people Google craft beer in New Orleans, the Brew Bus will pop up.”

Nora McGunnigle is a freelance beer and food writer in New Orleans, where she focuses on the unique food and beer culture of Louisiana and the Gulf region. Her work can be found in publications like Beer Advocate, Thrillist, and Eater NOLA. You can often find her holding important meetings at the Avenue Pub. Follow her on Twitter at @noradeirdre and keep up with her work at NOLAbeerblog.com

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