Great Raft’s new 318 Golden Ale is distributed exclusively in the 318 area code. (Photos by Evan Falbaum)

Great Raft Brewing has introduced a new flagship to its year-round lineup of craft beers, this one exclusive to the area.

Great Raft’s 318 Honey Gold will be distributed only in the 318 area code. The beer is brewed with orange peel and local honey from Hummer & Son. Andrew Nations, co-founder and president of Great Raft, said this local offering was the next step in the evolution of Great Raft.

“Our model was always slow and steady growth,” he said. “We’ve have looked, over the course of our first four years, at new markets, growing organically out to neighboring states and cities. New Orleans came first, and we started working our way back up. Then it was Arkansas, Texas, and most recently Mississippi. Always on the horizon was ‘What’s next?’ For this, we wanted to say, ‘Why don’t we focus more on our own backyard and do something exclusive for the 318 area code?’”

The process started two years ago, when Great Raft files for the trademark on the name. No one knew any specifics about the new beer at that point, Nations said. Things got serious about 10 months ago when the staff began to examine what was missing from the brewery’s portfolio.

“We’ve got light, or fairly light, stuff that’s still kind of a Pilsner with Southern Drawl,” he said. “And then we have the hoppy with Commotion. Se we were like, ‘What’s going to get a new consumer to drink craft beer?’”

The 318 Honey Gold is the lightest beer in the portfolio at 4 percent alcohol by volume. Nations described it as a “super clean, easy drinking golden ale.” Early in the development, the staff wanted to find a way to make this beer unique and a part of the local community. Enter Hummer & Son honey.

“We’ve always had the relationship with Hummer and Son,” Nations said. “We’ve done a couple of honey beers. We knew we didn’t want to make it sweet, but if we can support this farm with a flagship beer, that’s even bigger.”

The orange peel adds an undertone of fruit to brighten it up a little bit. The next step, Nations said, was finding the right balance.

“Orange flavor is one thing. Orange peel is another,” he said. “We were looking at where we introduce that into the process. There’s a lot of different ways to do it. we just had to find that balance of how much orange we want to have while still keeping the beer approachable and not necessarily a fruit beer.”

But Nations added that there is more to a balanced beer than getting the orange peel right.

“Something we’ve always tried to do with our beers is the complexity of flavor,” he said. “That’s a lot harder than intensity. And those are two different things. Complex doesn’t have to be intense. Some beers are all of the above. Complexity and subtly of flavors is really tough to do because you’re playing with a lot of variables.”

Nations said “creativity is everywhere” when it comes to developing new concepts for Great Raft beers. He said Ideas come from organic creative conversation among the team at Great Raft. They also talk to regular customers, distributors and retail partners about what types of beers they should produce.

“We encourage ideas,” he said. “We have our Sidelot series, where every employee gets to brew a batch of beer on the small system that is served in the tasting room.”

When an idea like 318 Honey Gold is approved for production, the idea is handed off to Harvey Kenney, chief brewer. He works up a water profile, and they negotiate the percentage of malt versus hops. The recipe will be brewed on a 10-gallon pilot system. The Great Raft staff then tastes the new product, and the recipe is refined until they are satisfied with the flavor. Then it is scaled up for full production.

Nations said there is In one misconception many people hold about craft beer, and they are surprised when they learn the facts.

“In Shreveport, I think people see our success and they are assuming that x amount of beer consumed in all of Shreveport-Bossier is Great Raft,” he said. “Craft beer, in the entire state, is only 2 percent market share.”

He said that’s part of the impetus for 318 Honey Gold. It will be the first Great Raft beer sold in 12 packs at retail outlets. And the price point will be competitive. He is hoping to reach consumers who might be on the fence about trying a craft beer.

“We’ve got to stop making craft beer something you buy on pay day,” he said. “It needs to be a beer you have, if you’re a beer drinker, in your fridge all the time, whether its my beer or another craft beer. It’s got to be that default — it’s local, it’s super fresh and I like the flavor profile. This is what we are trying to do with this beer.”

Great Raft began serving and distributing 318 Honey Gold on March first because Nations “thought it would be cool if we release 318 in the third month of 2018.” Retail distribution began with locations in the Bossier City-Shreveport area and will expand to the rest of the 318 area code. Tastings, beer pairings and other events also are scheduled. For more information, visit 318beer. com.

By Scott Anderson