Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Beer Buddha Interviews: Polly Watts from Avenue Pub

When you think craft beer bars in New Orleans images of Cooter Browns and The Bulldog was what immediately popped in your head. Not anymore. Like a craft beer juggernaut Avenue Pub has gone from seedy dive bar to one of the top beer bars in the entire South in little over a year. Owner Polly Watts unwavering dedication and unique ability in convincing distributors to bring in better beer has made Avenue Pub a hub for beer geeks everywhere.

I couldn't imagine anyone better to represent the bar side of craft beer then Polly. Here is my interview with her. Enjoy!

1) What are you personal goals for craft beer and the craft beer culture in New Orleans?

My personal goal is for the Pub to continue to be THE place to look for high end craft beer, new craft releases & allocated beers. I'd like to see us have better access to special releases like Stone Cali-Belgique and Harpoon 100 barrel series beers. We have made a lot of progress in this area but we still don't get the allocated collaborations like SN(Sierra Nevada) Life and Limb. I'd like to see the state have access to quite a few breweries that aren't currently in our market. DFH(Dogfish Head), Boulevard, Deschutes...just to name a few. We aren't ready...as a beer culture yet...to support all those beers so I'd like to see it grow organically rather than all at once.

Another big gap in our market is really good European beers. Unfortunately a bunch of the really great European beers we have access to in bottles are brought in by a distributor that doesn't take care of his beer and ships unrefrigerated product. With unpasteurized beer that's a big NO NO. Beers like Weihenstephaner( great beer and great price point) which should be fairly common draft offerings in bars all over the city aren't available because the distributor that brings them in isn't really a functioning beer distributor.

2)What is your favorite macro beer?

I don't drink macros. I don't have anything against other people drinking them but I have never liked them. For years and years I would have told you that I didn't drink beer at all because all I had ever been exposed to was macros and macro imports. Everybody drinks beer for different reasons...or combination of reasons. I drink for taste alone. The getting drunk side is really kind of a bad side effect for me. The result is that I don't drink anything just to relax. I get why people drink macros and some of that is that the person wants to drink 5 or 6 beers and not get hammered but that's not my personality. Unlike a lot of beer geeks I can see why someone would drink BMC(Bud, Miller, Coors) and still be a serious beer aficionado. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive.

3) What do you see for the future of craft beer in Louisiana?

I see great things! Our market has opened up tremendously in the last 18 months. Over 300 people came to my American Craft Beer tasting...that's over double last year. Breweries like Abita have started bringing cask ale to all sorts of places that didn't have it before. Bars throughout the city are starting to take their line cleaning seriously, replacing lines and experimenting with beers they wouldn't have given a second look to before.

4) Are there any future or upcoming plans with Avenue Pub which craft beer drinkers in New Orleans would like to hear about?

WOW...it's a long list. Obviously the August 28th Rare beer fundraiser. My Octoberfest kegs will be even better than last year and we will be getting some more German gravity kegs for the month. I have just started work on a cask festival...looking to November or early February. Moylans will be entering the market on draft in the next 30 days...there is lots to look forward to this year!

5) Which member of the original Charlie's Angels TV show was your favorite and why?

Jaclyn Smith...I liked her hair!

6) If you were stranded on a deserted island and had one beer available to you which beer would it be?

On a hot desert island? That would have to be Mahr's Ungespundet-hefetrüb.

7) Louisiana tends to get skipped over by a lot of craft breweries when it comes to distribution, They'll be available in Florida and Texas but not Louisiana. Why do you think this happens and what can we do to fix it?

Florida gets the beers because they have one or two major markets. Texas...the same reason. They get those beers because of the volume that Dallas, Austin & Houston sell. LA really only has New Orleans at this point. Baton Rouge has huge potential but isn't there yet...the same with Lafayette. The ONLY thing that will really fix it is for more people in the state to buy more craft beer. There are lots of reasons we don't sell as much as we should in LA...and some of those obstacles are dissolving but that's what it all comes down to...sales.

To give you an example...Stone came in almost a year ago and everybody thought the world as we know it would change. Still, a year later The Pub is responsible for 50% of their draft sales. That's pretty impressive in our little "pond" but on the large framework that's not where we need to be as a state to get beers like DFH.
At this point...and I really, really believe this....everybody who cares about craft beer in LA needs to work their asses off to get people in LA to buy the craft beer that's already here. People complain about a lack of choice but really we have some great options now that people AREN'T drinking. Drink the stuff we have...like Stone, Harpoon, Brooklyn and the others will come. DFH or Deschutes entering this market at this moment would not expand the beer culture...it would just cannibalize the existing brands. This has already happened in Alabama...their new law got passed...everyone got very excited and rushed into the market and I don't think sales have measured up to the expectation. Brooklyn just pulled out of Alabama.

The biggest thing that will change the community in terms of craft beer sales is more high quality local breweries. NOLA has done amazing things for the beer culture here. People will try a beer just because its local and then start investigating. I'll bet NOLA Hopitoulas turned hundreds of people on to a beer style they never thought about trying before. If I had to narrow down to one thing that has made the BIGGEST difference in our state beer culture NOLA Brewing and its success would be the one thing. Bayou Teche is enjoying the same success and my hopes for Parish brewing are just as high.

If you take a close look at the great beer markets in the country they are all markets that have really solid local breweries. I don't think it's the chicken and egg scenario. I think the local breweries expand demand in a way that new beer from out of state...no matter how good....can never do.

Thanks for reading the blog and I hope you enjoyed the interview with Polly. More to come! If you have anyone you'd like to see me interview let me know by emailing me at thebeerbuddha@gmail.com.


The Beer Buddha


stella said...

really like the interviews!

Tanya said...

Great interview! I love Avenue Pub and they DO have an excellent beer selection and they actually do take care of/clean their lines...unlike some other bars I used to go to. I remember when I used to go there only a couple of years ago....totally different :)

Dan Murphy said...

Great stuff from one of New Orleans' great Beer Advocates. Thanks for the interviews, Jeremy.

darkman the potter said...

great interview, it is always a treat to know someone who loves what hey do and has a real passion for it.
the building itself has a lot of character and would like to know more about the history of the bar.
thanks for sharing!

Amy said...

Great interview... keep the great beer coming, Polly! :)