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Thirsty Thursday: NOLA Brewing Company’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake

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Photo by Ed Miller

Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.

It’s kind of a weird time for beer, as we usher in a new year and a new decade to boot.  The new releases have slowed down just a little and will soon be ramping up towards the end of the month, which means that the aisles at your local beer store might look a little barren.  That’s what I ran into when hoping to grab some top notch brews last week but I was able to find a few that piqued my interest – one of which was Pineapple Upside Down Cake from NOLA Brewing Company.

I was in New Orleans a little less than two years ago and while Abita Brewing Company is king of that city, with very good reason, I noticed a lot of stuff from NOLA scattered around the French Quarter.  I hadn’t thought much about the brewery recently but then, all of a sudden, it must have spread it’s distribution radius, because I now see a couple of NOLA’s beer at my store. Brewed “in a warehouse on the lake side of a street tourists can’t pronounce,” NOLA opened in 2008 and was the first commercial brewery to produce suds in the Crescent City since Hurricane Katrina devastated the area back in 2005 and forced Dixie Brewing Company’s facility to close. It all started because founder Kirk Coco noticed Dixie beer’s label said it was “brewed in Wisconsin.” That just didn’t sit well with the New Orleans native.

As of 2018, NOLA produces about 14,000 barrels per year and now features nine year-round efforts including Revivalists, an American Pale Ale inspired by the New Orleans-based band of the same name.  The brewery also produces a number of seasonal and limited releases, one of which is Pineapple Upside Down Cake. This 7.6 percent ABV Double India Pale Ale is double dry hopped with Galaxy, Citra and Mosaic hops and features pineapple, vanilla and lactose – and while it’s often a limited release in NOLA’s taproom, it’s not seen a whole lot of distribution.

I certainly wasn’t drawn to this beer because of the packaging, since I found it to be a little on the amateur side, looking more like something from a well-experienced homebrewer.  That was a little bizarre because many of their other efforts feature colorful and sleek looks. This particular can features a yellow label and the name of the beer, fittingly, in upside down print, along with the alcohol content and an explanation of what drinkers are about to enjoy, which I always appreciate.  It also has the French phrase Laissez la bonne biere verser which translates to Let the beer pour, a motto of NOLA, basically advising the drinker to robustly pour their effort to bring out the flavor.

When I cracked this can open, I noticed the sweet aroma of tropical fruits brought on by the hops.  It was complimented wonderfully by hints of vanilla, brought on by the lactose. And then there was the pour, which I thought was a thing of beauty!  Pineapple Upside Down Cake poured with a golden color and a thin resonating head which would then lace perfectly on the glass. It was very hazy and there was even just a little sediment I had to finish on the very last sip, which never bothers me.

I was worried this beer wouldn’t live up to similar efforts I’ve had recently because this particular style of beer feels like a dime a dozen these days, that hazy double IPA or milkshake IPA, but by the end I wished I had purchased another can.  It had a medium-bodied mouthfeel with great carbonation, I thought, for a beer I was almost certain was brewed before the holidays. The taste was in direct correlation with the smell, offering a noticeable flavor from the Citra hops, thanks to a fruit taste on the front-end, and a blend of floral and sweet notes on the back-end, thanks to both the lactose and the Galaxy hops – which I’ve now concluded are my favorite hop.  It might’ve lacked a smidge of bitterness at the end which I’m used to but that was no big deal.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake was an incredibly drinkable beer and one I would pick up again if I saw it sitting on my beer store’s shelf.  While it wasn’t quite at that level of the top echelon of beers in this category, it was right underneath it and proved NOLA knows what it takes to make a complex, trendy beer.  I took a slight risk having never had any of NOLA’s efforts and it paid off. This 16-ounce single, I believe, was just a little over $4 which is almost a steal at that point. It has a score of 89 on BeerAdvocate, with an average drinker rating of 4.00 based on 17 ratings and I think that’s pretty well on point here, as I would give Pineapple Upside Down Cake an 8.1 (out of 10).  Some better packaging could help here and maybe a little more bitterness but I’m kind of knit-picking. Now I want to try some of NOLA’s other limited stuff – I’m certainly intrigued.

Stay tuned for next week, because I might just try something from your favorite brewery.