In the high-end beer and beer importing world, the Shelton name is akin to royalty. Shelton Brothers, a small importer based in Western Massachusetts, brought Belgian, German, and British beer to the United States, including Cantillon and Mahr’s Brau. Shelton Brothers also has smaller American breweries in their portfolio like Grimm Artisanal Ales out of Brooklyn and Strange Roots Experimental Ale (formerly Draii Laag) in Pittsburgh.
Zack Shelton, son of one of the founding siblings (although his uncles and aunt now run the company without his dad), arrived in New Orleans in September to become a new manager at the Avenue Pub. He’d never worked at Shelton Brothers, but he has serious beer cred beyond his family name: He spent seven years in the DC beer world working for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group at Churchkey, Birch & Barley, Bluejacket Brewing, and Belgian beer bar and restaurant, The Sovereign.
Shelton was already familiar with Avenue Pub and its owner, Polly Watts. “She does a lot of business with Shelton Brothers,” he says. “Plus, it’s hard not to hear her name when talking about quality beer bars. It’s unlike any other in the country.”
“I think there wouldn’t have been anywhere else I could have worked [in New Orleans] to do what I want to do,” according to Shelton. “Polly’s taking a risk on me, but the best thing she’s told me is, ‘I didn’t hire you because you’re a Shelton.’”
She hired him because of his love for beer and his own connections to breweries all over the world, especially through his work with Greg Engert, the beverage director of Neighborhood Restaurant Group. (Apparently Engert gave a great review of Shelton to Watts.)
Shelton’s been putting his contacts and passion to work, bringing traditional cask conditioned “real ale” from smaller breweries in the United Kingdom, like Fyne Ales and Coniston. (“I really want to start a cask revolution down here,” he confides.)
On March 16, the Avenue Pub is hosting a rare tap takeover by Maine’s Oxbow Beer. The brewery’s founder and head brewer Tim Adams will be on hand to pour a variety of farmhouse ales, which Shelton had championed to Shelton Brothers back in 2012.
Included in that evening’s limited bottle pours is the barrel-aged Farmhouse Pale Ale that Shelton fell in love with a half dozen years ago, along with Sasuga Farmhouse Ale brewed with rice then aged in stainless steel; Liquid Swords 2017 annual Grand Cru blend of barrel-aged biere de gardes and dark farmhouse ales; Punch Brook farmhouse lager with raspberries; Life On, a barrel-aged biere de Mars, blended with fresh and aged ales; Catalyst barrel-aged farmhouse ale brewed with honey, aged in oak, and fermented with mixed cultures; Cletus barrel-aged dark farmhouse ale fermented with mixed cultures and aged in freshly emptied Bourbon barrels; and Momoko barrel-aged farmhouse ale with peaches.
Tap options include Farmhouse Pale Ale exclusively brewed with American-grown hops; Crossfade hoppy saison fermented with Brettanomyces; Moon Rocks, a grisette of mixed fermentation brewed with wheat and spelt; Cavern farmhouse ale aged brewed with Cara Cara orange zest then aged in oak puncheons with Cara Cara orange, mixed yeast cultures, and bacteria; and BOBASA, a blend of 3 vintages of smoked Biere de Garde barrel-aged in white wine barrels.
“The beers [Tim Adams] is sending are some of the best. We are so flattered that they are sending them down.” Shelton says. “I hope Oxbow garners the attention it deserves-the beers are kickass.”
On March 17, the Avenue Pub will be serving beer from two other breweries that aren’t usually available in Louisiana to commemorate and support New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indian culture with the release of Golden Feather, a collaboration between Asheville NC’s Burial Beer Co. and Athens GA’s Creature Comforts Brewing.
In addition to serving the pale ale collaboration itself, the Pub will pour beers from both breweries, including Creature Comforts’ Athena Berliner, Reclaimed Rye amber ale aged in French oak, Koko Buni Milk Porter, and Burial’s The Consequences Of Humanity Citra IIPA, An Exultant Salutation Amaro Dark Ale with herbs, Zodiacal Light saison, and Shadowclock Pils.
Again, the brewers will be on hand to discuss the beers and talk over a pint or two - which is one of the cool things about events at the Avenue Pub, Shelton says. “The beer is almost as wonderful as the brewers themselves.”
In the future, Shelton hopes to keep bringing exciting brewers to visit and share their beer. He thinks a New England IPA roundup of beers and breweries would be fun to compare to the versions popping up in the South. Or maybe a dream visit from Hill Farmstead’s Sean Hill.
“It’s important to offer cool, different beers and experiences,” Shelton says. “In order to get people excited about beer, you have to be excited too.”