Gordon Biersch (200 Poydras St., 504-552-2739; www.gordonbiersch.com) often gets overlooked by beer enthusiasts because it's a national chain and it exclusively serves German-style beers. No hoppy IPAs, no experimental recipes, no barrel aging, no intentional bacteria inoculation — just traditional lagers brewed according to the rules of the Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law of 1516 which permits only four ingredients: water, malted barley, hops, and yeast.
New Orleans, however, retains a bit of its own personality in these strictly dictated beer styles in the form of Gordon Biersch head brewer Tom Conklin. Conklin has been with the Biersch organization for seven years, but began brewing in 1990 at Abita Brewing Company, where he brewed its first batch of root beer and helped develop Purple Haze, Abita's raspberry wheat lager. "It was the double IPA of its day," he says, referencing the unique flavor and new style of the time.
Conklin jokes he was "born in the shadow of Budweiser" in St. Louis, and he has worked at Crescent City Brewhouse, consulted for the Kiln, Miss. brewery Lazy Magnolia and worked in a variety of non-beer jobs, including shooting photographers for The Times-Picayune and working in quality assurance for Coca-Cola.
Conklin says his favorite thing about working at Gordon Biersch is that he "can keep it running like a small brewery," adding it's important to him to have exclusive influence over the beer until it is poured and served to the customer. Conklin has issues with what he terms the "indignities of the distribution chain" and believes that this direct contact with the consumer ensures the highest quality.
An eight-year Great American Beer Festival (GABF) judge, Conklin won a GABF silver medal for his Gordon Biersch Pilsner in 2009. He also serves his own recipe at Mardi Gras called "Heaven or Helles Bock." — NORA MCGUNNIGLE