Friday, March 30, 2012

LA 31 Oddessy, Part 1

Slightly across from our home’s side door is a small grove of bald cypress trees that we planted about thirteen years ago. Along with the live oak trees, crepe myrtles, and Southern Magnolias we transplanted, and a few very old native pecans, our yard is taking on the appearance of a Louisiana themed arboretum. In that small stand of cypress is a single tree whose leaves sprout long before any others even try to. I’ve always taken the arrival of that particular tree’s leaves as a sign of the end of winter.
It also signals the start of pleasant motorcycling weather.
Since our first frost last year, I have squandered away several hours studying that tree for any evidence of the neon-bright green needles that only the earliest-sprouting of springtime cypress trees have. I know the old Cajun folks around Arnaudville had their ways to tell if winter was truly over, my grandparents waited for the pecan tree leaves sprouted before they planted any spring vegetables, and I know some folks wait until they saw their first springtime robin.
But for me and the very non-agrarian pursuits I have intended for my old Harley Springer, the sign I’ve been waiting for is that lone cypress tree’s leaves.
Guess what appeared Monday.
I pulled the cover off of my bike and removed the battery tender – I won’t need that for about nine more months. I replaced the black leather saddle and tightened the nuts that hold it down - checked the oil and air, and then pushed her out onto our gravel driveway.
The sky was that distinctive springtime blue romanticized on the ceilings of countless Southern porches. I fired up the V-twin engine and let her warm. Then after swinging my legs and beer belly over the saddle, I raced down the driveway and made the left turn left towards Opelousas.
Opelousas is one of the oldest towns in Louisiana. During her earliest days of French and then later, Spanish colonial rule, Opelousas was the headquarters of the Poste des Opélousas. During the War Between the States, after Les Americains captured Baton Rouge, Opelousas briefly became the Confederate capitol of the state (before the Yankees chased the state government up to Shreveport). It is because of her significant role in Louisiana’s history that Opelousas has so many significant homes, churches and buildings – and also many great old restaurants serving some of the finest Cajun and Creole food in Acadiana.
However it is not the historic scenery or fine restaurants that lured me to Opelousas on my first ride of year. Opelousas is where the Louisiana State Highway known as LA-31 begins.
Beginning just west of Interstate 49 is the short Opelousas stretch of the highway. A longstanding white metal sign with a reflective green silhouette of Louisiana welcomes me to what here is called the LA-31 Spur. The state highway department is unhurriedly swapping these old green and white signs with more contemporary looking black and white ones. I hope they are not too competent in their efforts; I will miss seeing the occasional old ones.
Opelousas’ LA-31 spur is pretty much the unsurprising in-town stretch of highway strewn with the McDonald’s/Wendy’s/Burger King/Taco Bell/Texaco/Chevron and Shell signs familiar to small towns this close to a major interstate exit. Sputtering east, my old Harley only has to endure three red lights worth of fast food anti-nirvana, a quick duck under I-49, and scooting past a Wal-Mart Supercenter, and she is where she wants to be – in fifth gear on a rural Cajun Highway.
After about a mile I hang a left towards Evangeline Downs. Twisting on the throttle, I roll down the boulevard that leads to the racetrack. Though it is pretty early in the morning there already are a few jockeys leisurely riding their horses. While parking close to the track I wonder who is being warmed up, the jockeys or the quarter-horses.
I walked across the large black-topped parking lot and enter the casino. I buy myself an incredible cup of very dark roasted coffee and am then offered real cream to add to it. Since it is my first cup of what is usually a multi-cup day I drink it very leisurely. I feel obliged to top it off (it is that good) and make my second cup of the day. Though there are slot machine lights flashing and bells continuously dinging, I find the din somewhat relaxing. In the beer business you are often on the road and drinking bad coffee out of a Styrofoam cups is something you have to endure. I sometimes forget how good honest coffee in a cup made of porcelain is.
I lazily meander back across the parking lot watching the riders on their playfully trotting horses. I’ve really got a lot of things to get caught up on at the still-under-construction new and larger brewery, but I decide to watch the jockeys a little while longer. I know I’m the one goofing off, but leaning against the saddle of my iron steed and watching the hard working jockeys seems at the time to be a very productive way to waste much of my morning.
Getting back on the 31, I roll east about another mile or so and then have make a right turn. From now on the highway pretty much follows the Bayou Teche on one bank or another all the way to New Iberia. The Teche was named after the Chitimacha word for snake – their oral tradition is that their warriors had slayed a giant snake whose tail began at from what is now Port Barre and zigzagged all the way to his head in Morgan City. In its death throes the snake wiggled and died – carving out the Bayou now known as the Teche.
For motorcyclists this is interesting story, because that dying snake’s bayou makes for a winding curvy road following her banks. Also, this northern stretch of the LA-31 may be one of the best built highways in Louisiana. She is paved almost as smoothly as the German autobahns – something that is unheard of on the pothole afflicted and patched-up roads of South Louisiana.
I pass farmhouses with Redbud trees and azaleas just starting their springtime bloom, and there are still a few camellias dropping the last of their winter flowers. The lawns of the farmhouses have grass that is that shade of St. Augustine green you only see in early March.
Rolling through Prairie Laurent I pass the first home whose yard has a statue of the Virgin Mary in front. At one time nearly every home in Cajun Louisiana would have had such an outdoor shrine to the Blessed Virgin. Though the area is still devoutly Catholic, we are not as much so as when I was a kid. I will see many more statues of her as I roll south.
The tale is that the Ursuline nuns in New Orleans prayed to the Virgin to deliver us a victory over the British during their invasion of New Orleans during the War of 1812. In their prayers they offered to put up statues of her if we were able to keep the British out. After the ragtag and vastly outnumbered army led by Andrew Jackson defeated the British, statues of the Blessed Mother were erected all over French Louisiana.
Just after Prairie Laurent I have to slow down behind a rusty old Dodge pickup truck pulling an even rustier old-time steel horse trailer with two cows inside. Not even a minute later, the cows spray me with flying urine – I figure they must be headed to a slaughterhouse and are just trying to get back at me for not being a vegetarian. Most folks at this point would worry about possible health consequences or how the dousing of urine affected their personal aroma - Harley riders are more worried about what the urine does to finish of their motorcycles.
Passing the truck and trailer, I watch farmers preparing their fields for the milo and soybeans they will be planting in a few weeks. Milo and soybeans are what most of the farmers plant on the fields that surround this northernmost stretch of the highway - those crops and (unfortunately for the paint on my Harley) cattle ranches. This is still a very agrarian part of Acadiana.
I pass a few signs warning me to slow to 50, then 45, and finally down to 25 and another that welcomes me to the old town of Leonville. The highway crosses over the Bayou Teche on a small, low cement bridge and right there near her east bank is Champagne’s grocery. In this part of Louisiana Champagne’s is pronounced Shom – pines, and the boudin there is one of the best in Acadiana. I walk back to the rear of the store, near their meat counter and order link of jalapeño boudin. I pay and head out to the bike in the parking lot. Leaning on the saddle and propped up against my still warm bike, I devour my breakfast link and wash it down with a very cold Coca Cola. I stuff the wax paper into the outdoor trashcan near the gas pumps and notice that it is filled with pork fat stained wax paper – It appears I’m not the only one eating boudin in Leonville this morning.
I wipe my hands on my jeans and fire up the Springer. I turn back onto the LA-31 and head south. There are a lot of old homes here in Leonville. I was told once you can tell the approximate age of homes in French Louisiana by counting the front doors. The old Creoles fell out of political prominence in the State government sometimes after the First World War. After that the French language was outlawed in our schools and all things Creole fell out of favor in much of the state – that included architecture. The old Cajun and Creole homes had two doors placed side by side on the front porch. After the French style fell out of favor, homes were built here in a more American style, with a single front door. Some homes were of course renovated later with a single door, but most were not. So as you ride on LA-31 you can spot the approximate age of these homes - two doors is usually a home built prior to World War Two.
I notice beaucoup homes with two front doors today.
I pass through many miles of farmland and the occasional rural business or country home. This is a beautiful and relaxing chunk of the highway. The roadwork itself is not as pristine as the most northern part of the LA-31, but it is not near as bad compared to most of Louisiana’s other highways. I enter Arnaudville and a sign enlightens me that the city’s sister cities are Jausiers, France and Jumelage Belgium. You overhear a lot of Cajun French still spoken in Arnaudville, I’d guess more in public than most anywhere else in Louisiana. The highway tees right over one bride, and then jogs immediately left over another – one bridge crosses the Teche and the other the Bayou Fusilier. Right after the second bridge you are back on the west bank of the Teche. I pull into Myran’s Masion de Manger. Whenever one of the multitudes of natural disasters strikes South Louisiana (hurricane, flood, tornado or Saint’s loss) folks call the brewery to see if Myran and his restaurant are OK. His small restaurant is famous for its boiled crawfish and that is what I am here for today.
I order a platter and drink a pint of our LA-31 beer. The crawfish are awesome (Myran offers a seasoning mix for you to make any last minute adjustments to your crawfish – I don’t think anyone has ever needed to) and the beer compliments the spicy crustaceans. It is easy to waste away an afternoon at Myron’s, eating perfectly seasoned crawfish, drinking craft beer and looking at the Teche lazily roll through the restaurant’s back windows – but if I don’t get back to work I’ll have a spouse and two brothers pretty upset with me. I ride back to our brewery, just on the other side of the Bayou from Myran’s. On the ride back home I’m already planning the second leg of my LA-31 odyssey – I think I can squeeze in a road trip soon from Arnaudville to Lake Martin.
If my wife or brothers don’t hide my Harley’s keys to keep me at work.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Update, Rambling Edition

You know I’d have to say that the biggest blessing for my family since we started Bayou Teche Brewing is all of the cool new friends we have made in the last two years. Though many of these new friends are in the beer industry, most are involved in wonderful things that have very little to do with hawking beer.
Last Saturday, our very good friend (who also apparently knows everyone else in Louisiana), evil genius, party animal and well-connected impresario, Todd Mouton put together one of the finest soirées I have ever attended. Dubbed the Saint Street Carnival: Revelry de Rio (Todd always comes up with the most ingenious names) the happening was on the night of the Lafayette’s Krewe de Rio Parade- always held on the Saturday that falls a week prior to Mardi Gras proper. Held at the Saint Street Inn – there was a fantastic menu of Brazilian Barbeque and a way cool Tikki Bar out front, and the last three cases in Lafayette of our Courir de Mardi Gras beer, plus our Mello Dubbel coffee beer on tap inside. Valcour Records provided the live music. Before the Parade the Pine Leaf Boys Trio played some addictively foot-stomping traditional Cajun music. After the Parade Corey Lil Pop Ledet Zydecoed the night away, protected from the bitter wind by strategically placed sheets of visqueen, which decorated the front porch of the restaurant until the food and beer were gone. Saint Street Inn was packed until closing time – even though the temperature dipped down to near 28 degrees. Oh yea, the Krewe of Rio Parade was fantastic – the marching bands were awesome.
The Saint Street Inn in Lafayette is the kind of a place that you wish you would have thought to open. Nathan Stubbs and Mary Tutwiler have wholly embraced the farm to table movement and are serving up ingenious takes on our South Louisiana foods and locally sourced ingredients – with hip--folky and art-filled decor. Their sausage po-boy is my unsurpassed favorite, the sausages are sliced into rounds, and then browned, maximizing the surface area for those dark caramel, maillard reaction flavors Cajuns crave on cuts of meat. There are a lot of marvelous things on the menu – the BLT sliders (boudin lettuce and tomato) are awesome, and I hear they are working on Cajun s’mores made with graham cracker, marshmallow, chocolate and a graton (pork crackling) – umm, I don’t know if I am the inspiration or the target market for the Cajun s’more, I just know I’ll be eating the rumored treats when Saint Street releases them!
Our noble yet incredibly hip friends at Valcour Records have just released The Best of Valcour Records Volume One. It is mind-boggling that in only five years, Joel Savoy, Lucius Fontenot, and Phillip LaFargue have created not only the finest label recording Louisiana artists, but a label that these musicians actually aspire to record for. The Best of Valcour Records Volume One is a collection from their varied stable of artist, from the Pine Leaf Boys to Cedric Watson. There are toe-tapping cuts by Courtbouilion, Corey Ledet, Bonsoir Catin, Red Stick Ramblers, Feufollet, Joel Savoy and Linzay Young, and also The Cajun Country Revival.
In short, this CD is a breathtaking collection of the bands that Acadiana locals go dance to every weekend – though it is not a collection of your Grandfather’s Cajun songs. It is a wonderful CD. I don’t envy the undertaking, selecting which song’s made Volume One of the greatest hits – I trust the remarkable trio is already working on Volume Two.
One of our partners in crime, shaking up the establishment and sticking it to the man, is the Louisiana French Rock (Rock Francais Louisianais) band Isle Derniere. These are the guys that dared to bring Go- Go dancers to their performance at Festival Acadiens last year. They are also the band that did a Cajun French version of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man on our En Francais CD.
I know many powerful and influential members of the Louisiana French Rock scene (a scene which totals about five members). I recently got in the mail a surprise package from Rocky McKeon, who is the Head Guru, High Priest and lead singer for Isle Derniere. In it was a pre-release mix of their upcoming CD, and a stylish, yet rebellious black T-shirt plastered with an extra-large logo of the band.
Provide me a nice T-shirt and I’ll be your biggest devotee – I really do work that cheap. Free T-shirts and sandals are important elements of my personal fashion statement.
Anyhow, if you see me walking around with my head slanted to one side or the other due to a seriously debilitating crick in my neck, you can blame Rocky. I’ve been head banging to his Cajun French fueled Metal for several weeks now.
I’d stay off of the highways around Arnaudville – Air drumming to this rocking CD has me swerving off the road quite a bit as of late.
A few weeks ago, Annie Flanagan of St James Cheese in New Orleans had a pretty good idea for a fundraiser – get some local breweries to donate some of their beers, which would be paired with several courses of cheese donated by St. James, sell tickets and donate one hundred percent of the proceeds to charity. And you know what, it was a huge success! All the money raised from the sold out evening was donated to New Incentives, an organization raising money to help young orphans and vulnerable children. With their partner COPE (Care of Nigeria’s Poor), the money raised that night will allow 92 children to be enrolled and continue to attend school, have regular visits to the doctor, eat a nourishing diet, get their birth certificates and receive vocational training. As always the folks at St. James Cheese were incredible and passionate with everything they did and everyone attending the event was awesome. For more information or to help out, check out
Our good friend and gifted journalist Christian DeBenedetti, has an impressive new book out, The Great American Ale Trail – The Craft Beer Lover’s Guide to the Best Watering Holes in the Nation. Great American Ale Trail is an essential and tremendously informative travel guide for beer aficionados, thus I’m sure Chris reveled in every minute of his ale and lager-imbibing research. In the book Chris says that there is a genuine revolution happening in America when it comes to beer, and he spent a full year traveling around America documenting it. I just got a copy and quickly flipped to page 307- there it was, a full page and a half devoted to Bayou Teche Brewing Company.
Oh, yeah there’s about 400 or so other breweries, and some really cool beer hangouts and bars included in the book too. I’ve got my copy packed in my suitcase – ready for referring to on my next road trip. And check out Chris’ fresh new website –
OK, not to name drop, but we got to hang out for almost two days with the Beer Chicks. Their first book, The Naked Pint is fantastically informative, humorously written and sold a butt-load of copies. Hallie Beaune and Christina Perozzi also have a splendid Facebook page and killer website, and novel TV special coming up on the Cooking Channel. They know and love everything beer – and they can out-drink any self-respecting Cajun.
Plus they are super-model hot.
I know, every man’s dream girl, right.
Their new and innovative TV special is named Eat This, Drink That. The first of what I’m sure will be countless episodes (and no doubt an Emmy award or two) premiers on the Cooking Channel – March 4th, at 8 pm. The Cooking channel website says a lot of well-deserved nice things about our good friends and their show. The one hour special takes the Beer Chicks on the road where they meet individuals creating new rules for pairing food with drink. One of the Chicks’ stop is at my favorite South Louisiana brewery where they “explore unexpected concoctions with passion fruit and coffee.”
It was a lot of fun filming the show and hanging out with the Chicks. My family and I got to introduce them to our beers, as well as Boudin, Beignets, and a giant Cajun brunch. Watch the show, though the way these thing usually go for me, you’ll probably only get a glimpse of the back of my very unattractive head.
And really, who wants a glimpse of the back of my head messing up their view of the Beer Chicks anyway?
Shameless Beer Dinners alert – Mes Frères et moi are invited to three extraordinary beer dinners in the next few weeks. We have been in training, stretching out our stomachs while simultaneously abusing our livers in anticipation of abuse and punishment these organs will have to soon endure. The first beer dinner will be at Sal and Mookie’s New York Pizza and Ice Cream Joint on Lundi Gras (February 20th) in Jackson Mississippi at seven PM. Check out our Facebook page for the awesome gourmet menu! A few weeks later, on March 5th in downtown Jackson Mississippi -the legendary and renowned Parlor Market will be laying on a full-four course dinner, pairing one of our beers with each of the amazing courses. Finally, on March 17 we will be finishing this Food and Beer Triathlon at a St. Patrick’s Day Beer Brunch at Jolie’s Bistro in Lafayette. We will be putting the menu for that event on the Facebook page soon – they are going to be doing some amazing cocktails with our beers.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Before Lent

Stephanie and I had been working all morning inseparate rooms in our house. She was cloistered upstairs in our office toiling on some year-end reportsgoing to the numerous officials in the states we are distributed in. I was downstairs answering the one hundred and seven emails I had let pile up during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
Everyone’s been busier than the proverbial one legged man in a butt-kicking contest at our petite farmhouse brewery. Along with our friends at Valcour records, my family just released our first seasonal/collaboration project. Our side of the collaboration was of course a beer - one that we have christened Courir de Mardi Gras. Courir is crafted in the style of a Biere de Mars, a centuries old style of French farmhouse ale.In France this style of beers is brewed in pretty-small batches on farms, thus insuring that not many of them are imported to the states. While we brewed multiple small batches of the beer to refine the recipe, designed the packaging, and labored to get everything approved by the Feds and States we distribute to, the guys at Valcour were busy working on the companion cd, the Best of Valcour Records, Volume I. It was a lot of work, getting the CD and Biere out before Mardi Gras, but I think everyone’s gonna dig it -the CD and the beer are both a lot of fun, and tastefully perfect for Mardi Gras get-togethers.
Just before Christmas we also released the last of our LA-31 series of beers. At New Orleans’ famous Rock and Bowl we helped put on a fantastic evening to raise money with (and for) our good friends at Louisiana Folk roots – they do so much in the preservation and promotion of our Cajun culture. At that party (fabulous music guests Corey Ledet and the Lost Bayou Ramblers) we released our newest beer - Mello Dubbel. In collaboration with Mello Joy Coffee we are crafting a Belgian Dubbel style beer that is spiked with their signature, dark French-roasted, and very Cajun coffee.
Umm, not to brag, but both beers are pretty freaking good.
We’ve also been working on the new brewery; currently framing in and sheet rocking the tasting room and production offices, and also a lab. We are likewise are doing all of the planning and wiring and plumbing to get ready for the brewery equipment coming later this year.
And working on some other, top-secret beer projects. Arnaudville is fast becoming the Area 51 of beer.
So, Stephanie and I had been laboring all morning, separated like we each were in solitary. If we absolutely had to communicate, it was by shouting at each other up and down the stairwell.
We had not shouted a kind word to each other all morning.
Dorsey was on the road working with our distributor in Biloxi for the Top of the Hops festival coming up on the 28th of February. Byron was draping theneck hangers on bottles of our Courir de Mardi Gras beer. These hangers allow for the free download of two songs from the Valcour website. Cory had been working away on some new packaging changes for some of our core brands, plus starting work on the next – way too cool, and top-secret seasonal.
Stephanie and I had skipped breakfast – opting for a couple of tall mugs of Dark Roast Mello Joy coffee. Nearing noon, my beer belly started to announce that it was empty – but I still had about seventy emails to answer – and new ones coming in.
“Damn, I’m hungry,” I said out loud.
Stephanie still clicked away at the computerupstairs
I shoved enough of the piles of papers and old mail, samples of barley and marketing products, and the accumulated reminders of everything we had to get caught up on that covered our kitchen table aside -just enough room for two place settings.
Then I went into our ice box.
I emerged with a couple of Honey Crisp apples (worth all of the hype), and a too-large stick of home-made venison sausage. I sliced both, and then washed some bon-bon sweet grape tomatoes dressed with nothing but a little sea salt, and set them on a very nice platter of mixedolives, Brie cheese,and some very nice crackers. Even with the backdrop of unfinished work, the platters piled high with food started to calm me and my increasingly impatient stomach.
I called up to my overworked and severely underpaid partner – it was past time for her to take a little break. While I waited for her to get to a stopping point, I pulled out two bottles of Courir de Mardi Gras beer from the back of the fridge, and poured them into a couple of fancy-pants Belgian beer glasses.
Being a French style of beer, of course it appreciated being on the same table with the casually arranged platters of food. When working out the recipe, I did not foresee how well this francophone ale would pair with all of the disparate flavors of a cobbled together lunch - not only did it pair with each unique food, it united them. I was in foodie heaven, wearing a little black beret and stereotypically laughing like one of the French cartoon characters in Ratatouille.
Freshly sliced straight from the garden tomato is tough to pair with many beers, near impossible with wine – but the Biere de Mars laughed at the tomato pairing throw-down. I’m bummed that this beer is only going to be available until Lent – just before we start harvesting the really great tasting tomatoes from our little springgarden.
Stephanie and I enjoyed our respite – we mocked the ever-increasing size of our inboxes while eating and drinking leisurely. I tried to convince her that a second Courir de Mardi Gras Biere would maximize our afternoon’s efficiency.
She didn’t buy that, but she didn’t argue too much either.