Now in its ninth year, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation’s Boudin, Bourbon & Beer is well known for its creative takes on the regional boudin sausage, the camaraderie of chefs who participate, and high end flourishes like a cigar bar and swanky bourbon cocktails. But let’s not forget: back when this event first started in 2010, it was just Boudin & Beer.
The Emeril Foundation was looking for a casual event to complement its formal, high dollar ticket Carnival du Vin ball, and approached Abita to partner with them. And thus Boudin & Beer was created, with the beer giving a more casual feel as well as being a great accompaniment to the boudin. In 2013, bourbon became a part of the picture with Buffalo Trace’s sponsorship, and over the past few years, it’s taken center stage. Even with bourbon stealing the spotlight, there are still plenty of participating chefs who are all about the beer, and figuring out which ones pair best with their dishes.
#1: Abita Amber
Abita’s flagship beer is a Munich-style lager that is light and refreshing, but still has a distinctive malt flavor and a hint of sweetness. Eric Cook, chef at Gris Gris on Magazine Street, is a longtime fan of Abita Amber, which he calls “straightforward with a complex yet subtle flavor.” Chef Cook is pairing the beer with smoked boudin dirty rice with bacon braised Brussels sprouts and a bourbon-blackberry reduction. The deep layers of flavor that will go in the dish reflect chef Cook’s philosophy of food, which is remarkably similar to the reasons he loves Abita Amber: “it’s simplicity at its finest,” he says, “exactly how we do dishes at Gris-Gris.” This is the first time that chef Cook and his team will be at Boudin, Bourbon & Beer, and he says they’re super excited about it.
#2: The Boot
This is also the first year at Boudin, Bourbon & Beer for chef Alfredo Nogueira, who’s been bringing Cane & Table’s kitchen game up to the same level as its cocktail list over the past year or so. His dish for the event is his take on morcilla, a Spanish blood sausage made with pork. He’s serving it with pickled pepper that will provide an acidic crunch. It also needs something that will counterbalance the richness of the morcilla (which he says will be pureed smooth, like a “gateway morcilla”) in an accompanying beverage, which is why he chose The Boot, a crisp refreshing beer with Kolsch yeast, pilsner malt (which gives it its beer flavor), oats (which softens the mouthfeel), wheat (which lightens the entire beer), and fragrant Hallertau hops (a new German-grown hop that is related to the Pacific Northwest’s famous Cascade hop.) This unique hybrid beer is only available in Louisiana. It’s Abita’s thank you to the residents for their support from the start.
Chef Nogueira says that the hops in the beer complement the spices he’s using in the morcilla – coriander, cloves, and cumin, and finds that the flavors echo one another. “Since there’s some spice in the dish, you need something crisp and refreshing,” he says. “One will make you want to go back to the other.”
Abita’s Andygator is an 8% ABV, intense doppelbock – basically a boozier, slightly sweeter, darker version of a German lager. Chef Akhtar Nowab, who just opened Mexican hotspot Otrez Vez in the South Market area of the Warehouse District, compares it to a big, rich, red wine that you’d want to pair with a steak. He’s pairing it with a flavorful duck sausage made with meat that has been marinaded with duck stock, garlic, orange, and epazote, served with black beans (made with sofrita – an aromatic mix of vegetables and herbs similar to the Creole trinity, but with red pepper, onions, garlic, oregano, and chile de arbol) and a salsa cruda. “This is a hearty dish,” Chef Nowab says, “and I wanted it to have a comfort food beer pairing.” There are lots of different Mexican flavors involved in the small dish that will eventually end up in front of you, but Chef Nowab has planned everything to work harmoniously together on the plate, and I have a feeling he’ll be just as successful incorporating the Andygator in the mix.
#4 Old Fashioned Pale Ale
Now this was a beer I wasn’t expecting to see on any chef’s list – it’s a bourbon barrel aged pale ale created to honor the classic cocktail, so it’s brewed with not just barley but rye and aged for eight weeks, after which orange peel, maraschino cherries, and bitters are added to it. It’s a beer with a lot of moving parts, which is why I was surprised and thrilled to learn that chef Kris Padalino, who’s stepped up to helm Brennan’s Restaurant, decided to pair it with her dessert dish – a banana, bourbon, and pork fat Moon Pie.
Chef Padalino notes that when testing the recipe, she and her crew stuffed themselves with the rich delight, that she gleefully reported looks just like a “real” Moon Pie. The pork fat is whipped into the filling along with bacon bits, banana and bourbon, and it’s sandwiched between two soft chocolate cookies. When I asked her what inspired the choice to pair the Old Fashioned Pale Ale with the dessert, she said that since it was aged in bourbon barrels, the beer would have notes of pecans and caramel. “You can’t go wrong with that,” she declared.
#5 Abita Light
Now these whippersnapper chefs and their fancy interpretations of boudin dishes are fine and dandy, but never forget it’s the sausage that inspired this entire festival – straight up boudin sausage, made with pork meat, rice, and Cajun spices. Sometimes it’s smoked, sometimes it’s loose, sometimes it’s cased into a link. Don’t worry about forgetting though, because Mark “Aubrey” Cole will be at Boudin, Bourbon & Beer with about 220 pounds of boudin links from his shop, Don’s Specialty Meats, in Scott, La., also known as the “Boudin Capital of the World.”
“A lot of people don’t actually know what boudin is,” chef Cole says, noting that some of the more “farfetched” concepts available at the event don’t really help educate folks about that. “In New Orleans, though,” he adds, “people really like to be challenged to be creative.” He chose Abita Light as a no-brainer, because the super light (it’s in the name) beer is an American light lager style, albeit brewed with all malt instead of adjunct ingredients like rice or corn. It goes really well with highly seasoned foods, (see also: crawfish boils) and boudin is spicy. The Abita Light lager will effortlessly wash down the spicy, hearty boudin, providing some relief from the heat while ensuring the flavor isn’t washed away or dominated by the beer. This guy knows what he’s talking about with boudin, so I’d listen closely to his beer recommendations.
What You Need to Know
Boudin, Bourbon and Beer takes place at Champion Square (just outside the Superdome) on Friday, Nov. 8, from 6-10:30 p.m. You can get more info on the chefs and music lineup along with tickets at the event’s website. There will be three trailers of Abita beers, and cans available at all the bars, but try to make your way to the Abita Beer Garden. It will have all the flagship beers plus a couple of experimental beers still to be determined, and others you can only find at the fest, like the Christmas Ale, Maison Blanc, Strawgator, and Pecan Ale.