Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Welcoming back a Big Easy icon

New Orleans has so many iconic elements, the word begins to lose its meaning. The architecture, people, culture, history, geography and, of course, food are the definative elements that make Crescent City the unique place that it is.
When I think about New Orleans, I think about the black iron balconies of the French Quarter and the street cars that have carried me up and down St. Charles. I think about Jackson Square and the Asian women who served me chicory-laced coffee and French doughnuts across the street.
I think of gumbo and Katrina.
If such thoughts fail to occur to you, then we’re talking about different places.
Hurricane Katrina did her very best to wash away New Orleans and its icons. And while she wasn’t completely successful, the thousands of displaced residents who may never return will agree the storm gave them all they could handle.
Although I grew up with a keen appreciation for New Orleans cuisine, it wasn’t until I reached legal drinking age (OK, that’s not quite true) that I got the chance to appreciate the local beverages as well.
One of the first was Dixie Blackened Voodoo.
Of all places, I tried it in God-forsaken Orlando. The details of the event – and the fact that I was underage at the time – are neither here nor there. I was having lunch with friends in a tiny restaurant run by a family that could cook Cajun. We washed down our bowls of spicy gumbo and jambalaya with cold bottles of Blackened Voodoo.
It’s a good beer (that afternoon, it was the greatest beer). A tasty black lager (Schwarzbier) with a spooky label, Blackened Voodoo was at one time sold up and down the East Coast. When I moved from Tampa to Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s, I never struggled to find a bottle or two.
On Aug. 28, 2005, Katrina changed that.
Like most every other building in New Orleans, Dixie Brewing Company’s downtown brewery was flooded and looted. The plant had 11 feet of water in it, which ruined 10,000 cases of beer.
Fortunately, brewery owners Joe and Kendra Bruno are beginning to brew again with the help of the Huber Brewery in Monroe, Wis.
I heard about this some time ago, but I wasn’t sure if it I’d ever have another Dixie beer. Faced with rebuilding their New Orleans facility, while brewing their line of beers thousands of miles north, it seemed like the Brunos faced too many obstacles to get their business back in order.
And then I found a sixer of Blackened Voodoo.
There it was, sitting on a shelf at the Lost Dog Cafe in Arlington, Va., next to a six pack of Dixie Lager. It was like running into an old friend, someone you weren’t sure you’d see again.
Dixie Blackened Voodoo is the same beer it was before, though it seems to taste better. But seeing it for the first time since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast was one more indication that New Orleans and its icons might just be alright.
(Want to help New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana get back on it's feet? Check out the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and consider making a donation. Hurricane Katrina might be a memory, but the damage she left behind is not.)

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