I couldn’t have pinpointed Shreveport on a map and suspect most other non-Shreveporters could either. This, from a guy who not only has been to nearly every American state, but one who goes to New Orleans every year (for Jazz Fest) and, while not a Southerner by birth, choice or even in spirit, perceives these annual trips as a sort of pilgrimage. So while I’ve driven every mile of I-10 from west of Lafayette clear through to Gulfport and love Louisiana with all my soul, southern Louisiana was the only Louisiana I’d ever known. Turns out there is another half, north of there. Guess that’s why the Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau uses the marketing slogan, “Louisiana’s Other Side.”
Now I can pinpoint it on a map. It’s just southeast of the Tex-Ark-Ana tri-state intersection. And I went for a beercation.
Think NOLA, and you’re not inclined to think beer. There are precious few breweries in southern Louisiana, but there are a few, and they are growing (both in terms of their size and number). Louisiana’s other side has zero. None. Not-a-one. Closest ones are over 180 miles away in Dallas. The horror. In an America where the Brewers Association proclaims that the majority of folks live within 10 miles of a brewery, the good people of Shreveport-Bossier (the cities are divided by the Red River, but I gather that residents claim one city or the other, despite the hyphenation) have been living high and dry.
Not dry, just devoid of fresh, local, commercially-brewed beer. There’s plenty to drink. NOLA has its hurricanes and Jello-shots vended from doorways along Bourbon Street, but Shreveport has more drive-thru daiquiri huts than you can shake a gater at. Beer-wise, the choices range from beers with an eagle emblem, the iconic Rocky Mountains, or one that misspells the word light. But scratch the surface and there’s a craft beer culture germinating. There are a couple homebrew clubs—East Texas Brewes Guild, the Malt Munching Mash Monsters (MMMM) and Shreveport Urban Diastatic Spargers (SUDS)—the latter of which member Jeff Pieper just earned World Cup of Beer best-in-show honors. At The Real Pickle, an unassuming deli from the outside, they’ve instituted a passport program to encourage beer-trotters to undertake their own beer odyssey. (Drink twenty different beers, and get a rad shirt; down 100, and earn a radder one.)
There are a few southern Louisiana beers on draft such as Tin Roof Voodoo Bengal Pale Ale, though they need to dispense with the frosted shaker glasses (even if locals may think that’s preferable). Strange Brew stocks all the usuals for those shooting pool or checking out the nightly band on stage, but those offerings are dwarfed in the chillers by intriguing bottles from as-close-as-it-gets St. Arnold’s (Houston) and Lazy Magnolia (Kiln, MS), alongside BrewDog (Scotland) and those Hitachino Nest “owl” beers (Japan). Of course, pop into Lucky Liquor (Blues & BBQ), the bar that fans of True Blood recognize instantly from the show’s opening, and the only “big” beers you’ll find are 40s of High Life.
Best of all, Shreveport’s readying for its first brewery. Attendees at BREW, an honest-to-goodness beer festival which just celebrated its fourth annual celebration ($50 for unlimited beer and food prepared by local restaurants), were introduced to homebrewed versions of beers from the Great Raft Brewing Co., (taking its name from a great bit of local lore about a hundred-mile log jam on the Red River) now in planning. Founded by Shreveporters Andrew and Lindsay Nations, the couple moved back home after being turned onto craft beer in Washington, DC, where they published the DC Beer blog. They realized it was time to bring their friends and neighbors fresh, flavorful beer, and they hope to open late next summer. I just hope they keep making their cleverly named Depeche Mode, a peach saison.
Fingers crossed that by the sixth annual BREW fest, maybe Shreveporters will have more than one craft brewery to call their own, and folks in Magnolia, AR, will await the day they don’t have to drive eighty miles to the nearest breweries in Bossier.