Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Finding LA 31, Our Signature Blend

We are crafting beers that compliment Cajun and Creole cuisine.


It has been hard work, but we have enjoyed the perk of tasting a lot of beer along with a lot of good food.


Cajun cuisine is spicy and complex.  As good cooks in South Louisiana know, you can not just toss a bunch of spices and seasoning into a black iron pot and expect something good – you have to build a foundation and then layer the flavors on.  Remember how your grandmother did it?  She would first brown the meat to give her dish a sweet, caramel-like foundation, and then she added thick, rich and mysterious dark roux.  She then smothered beaucoup onions, bell peppers and garlic until “limp-limp,” and then seasoned with black and cayenne pepper.  She threw in some thyme and a few bay leaves, covered and braised the meat and simmered the gravy for most of the morning.  Finally she cooked some rice and just before serving she would top the whole thing off with the final layer, fresh and crunchy parsley and green onions.


A mural of flavor!  It is hard for a beverage to compete, let alone compliment such a complex and spicy meal.


A beverage has to be able to cut through these complex flavors, lift the richness from and clear the palate.  It not only has to extinguish the heat of cayenne pepper, it also has to be highly aromatic, refreshing and flavorful on its own.  I asked the owner of the finest wine store in the Hub City what wine he recommended to serve with a special seafood gumbo I had prepared for Christmas Eve.  He said “You don’t drink wine with gumbo, you drink beer!”  You see if even a very knowledgeable and experienced wine connoisseur has a tough time paring wine with Cajun food, what chance do we mere mortals have.  By the way cola, lemonade, sweet tea, a wine cooler, or even a margarita does not stand a chance against the rich symphony of flavors and textures of Cajun cooking.


I think our flagship ale, LA 31 Bière Pâle, is evolving into the gotta drink beverage with gumbo, and almost everything else we eat down here.


We are committed to steeping a very generous amount of 15° lovibond crystal malt for ale that has a deep gold color, satisfying sweet grain aroma and full body.  However, we are still experimenting with the hop additions as we want this beer to have tons of hop flavor yet retain a smooth bitterness.  


We may be getting close to this goal with a relatively new technique known as late hopping.


Traditionally, bittering hops are added very early, and boiled in the wort for about an hour.  This extracts the maximum hop bitterness, but leaves very little of the highly aromatic qualities of the hop.  Towards the end of the boil, a small amount of hops are then added in for some aroma and flavor.


In late hopping, no hops are added early, but much larger, multiple additions of hops are added very late in the boil, preserving all of the hop’s aromatics.  Our current practice is for three late additions and so far our experiments have given us a beer with less harsh bitterness but with a huge infusion of hop aroma and flavor.  We have really had spectacular results using Glacier and Liberty hops, but are toying with replacing some of the Glacier with Northern Brewer, a German varietals.


Looking back on LA 31 Bière Pâle’s evolution what intrigues us is that the process which we craft the beer is much like the one our grandmother used as she cooked.  We lay down a base, a foundation of crystal malt for the rich and sweet grain flavor that it imparts.  Then we start layering on three separate late additions of unique hops for an intensely pleasant onslaught of hop flavor.  And our beer is like Cajun food in another way – It’s good enough for a special occasion, but can also be enjoyed everyday.


I look forward to sharing a pint of LA 31 with you very soon.


À votre santé.