Beer on the Bayou: Louisiana Craft Breweries

Louisiana craft breweries. Illustration by Jon Sperry.

Illustration by Jon Sperry.

The summer sun is setting in South Louisiana and with it comes the excitement of football season, the return to moderate outdoor temperatures and a new crop of local, seasonal, craft beers. It wasn’t long ago that the only name in the Louisiana beer industry belonged to Abita, particularly when Dixie never came back home after Katrina. However, in the last several years the Pelican State has seen a renaissance of one of man’s oldest beverages. The rebirth of craft beer has come to Louisiana and with it a changing of the tides in our bars and on our liquor shelves.

Just south of Lafayette in the town of Broussard in a warehouse that isn’t much bigger than its garage door is one of the state’s newest beacons of hopped-up beverages. Andrew Godley owns and operates the Parish Brewing Company. Godley began brewing his first batches of signature suds in his garage in June 2010. By July of the same year, they started to hit the taps at a few local watering holes in and around the heart of Acadiana. Parish reached brewing capacity within two weeks and has been sold out of every ounce of beer made ever since. In order to try to keep up with demand of his flagship brew, Parish Canebrake, Godley had to scale back production of everything else. “Demand for Canebrake was stronger than I ever imagined,” he says. “If we brewed anything else, we would run out of Canebrake and there would be rioting across Acadiana.”

Godley found out firsthand how difficult it is to be an entrepreneur, especially in the beer industry. Profits are about volume. Volume comes from capacity. Brewing capacity is expensive, and nearly impossible to get funded before proving that you have a recipe worth brewing on a large scale. Due to the third party distribution system in Louisiana, craft breweries are not allowed to sell directly to the public. With very limited exceptions, all producers of alcohol must sell to a distributor who then delivers the product to a retailer who can then sell it to the public. The middle men take their cuts, leaving the profits for the brewers incredibly thin. The only way to really make it all worthwhile is to brew and sell a whole lot more beer. Fortunately for craft beer drinkers, the Parish Brewing Company is about to take that step.

Parish is currently brewing Canebrake at its limited capacity while overseeing construction of a new brewery. Godley has found enough investors to take his operation to the next level and hopes that by December 2011 he’ll be ready to start brewing in his new home. “When it’s done, we will brew more beer the first day than we did in all of 2010 at our current brewery,” he says.

With the new brewery, Parish will also add some favorite brews back to the production line. “We will re-release our Biere Amber, tweaked a bit, under the new name Parish South Coast and also Parish Envie Pale Ale,” Godley says. “Shortly after that, we will release seasonals and special beers such as Grand Reserve, a 10 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) barleywine brewed with ‘beaucoup’ cane syrup. Over the following next year, we will add several beers to be regular offerings, such as our L’autre Femme IPA, Primeaux Pilsner, and fan-favorite Black IPA.” Up until now, all Parish beer has been sold out of kegs on tap at Lafayette area bars. With the extra capacity and a bottling line, Godley expects to have his beer in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans markets by February 2012.

Also in the heart of Cajun Country, Bayou Teche Biere is receiving plenty of praise these days. Located in Arnaudville, Bayou Teche has been putting out quality beer with their signature LA 31 street sign bottle design for a few years now. Brewmaster Karlos Knott and brothers Byron and Dorsey were selected to attend SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience in Washington, D.C. in June, a distinction from the Brewers Association only awarded to 72 out of the over 1600 craft breweries in the country.

LA 31 Biere Pale can be widely found throughout South Louisiana in its signature green label, but it isn’t the brewery’s only beer. The Grenade, in the purple label, is brewed with Louisiana passion fruit that the Cajun French refer to as grenades. It also brews the Boucanee, a cherry wood-smoked beer, and the Biere Noire, which is brewed with coffee.

 

Across the Atchafalaya Basin in Baton Rouge, the Tin Roof Brewing Company has burst on the scene. Charles Caldwell and William McGehee, who left careers in banking and law to pursue their passions, own the Capitol City brewery. Tin Roof entered the Red Stick market in late 2010 with two brews: the Perfect Tin Amber Ale and the Voodoo Bengal Specialty Pale Ale. While they have been on tap at restaurants and bars for a year now there has been no way to consume Tin Roof outside of those establishments, but soon that will change. This fall, Tin Roof will become Louisiana’s first craft brewery to be available in cans.

“The craft beer industry has seen a dramatic shift towards canning lately,” Caldwell says. For Tin Roof, the comparatively minimal environmental impact affected the decision. He notes that “the average aluminum can is made from 44 percent recycled material, and it is the most recycled package in the world at a 57 percent recycling rate.” Cans also protect beer better from harmful UV exposure, and decreased oxygen pickup during the canning process helps extend shelf life. Finally, cans seem to be the preferred beer- drinking vessel for Louisiana beer enthusiasts at outdoor activities such as fishing, golf, parades and, of course, tailgating.

Tin Roof will soon be expanding capacity in order to keep up with extra beer brewed for canning. It is currently at capacity while trying to keep up with demand for kegs in Baton Rouge, let alone the Northshore and New Orleans, where they can be found at a handful of locations. Caldwell and McGehee are also beginning the production of a third beer with a partnership from LSU. The Bandit Blonde is rumored to be officially licensed by Louisiana State University in a project that will add real world business and brewing opportunities for students while at the same time raising money for the university.

On the Northshore there is a flurry of craft beer activity. While Abita has long laid claim to being the king of Louisiana craft beer, their neck of the woods is getting more crowded. Heiner Brau and the Covington Brewhouse have operated in Covington for a while now with their mix of German-influenced beers from master brewery Henryk Orlik. His Covington Strawberry is a wonderfully light and refreshing cream ale created with Louisiana strawberries. On the way are newcomers in Mandeville, starting with the Pelican Brewing Company, which is slated for an early 2012 entrance into the market. Also in the works is a brewpub called the Old Rail Brewing Company in Mandeville.

 

In the Big Easy, New Orleans Lager and Ale (NOLA) Brewing is creating some great beer of its own. President Kirk Coco and Brewmaster Peter Caddoo began with NOLA Blonde in March 2009. According to Coco, “if you are just getting into drinking craft beer, it’s a perfect way to get your feet wet.” In late May 2011, NOLA announced that a canning line is in its future as well. NOLA beer will soon be available in an aluminum to-go container, which will make it available in retail locations in addition to bars. “All NOLA beers, the year-rounds and the seasonals, will be available in cans,” Coco says. “The year-round brews, NOLA Blonde, NOLA Brown, Hopitoulas, and 7th Street Wheat will be available in six-packs of 12-ounce cans, and our seasonals will be available in four-packs of 16-ounce cans.” Smoky Mary Smoked Ale could be the newest addition to NOLA’s lineup.

Everywhere you turn in South Louisiana you find more and more craft beer these days. Homebrew clubs seem to have record membership and our craft breweries are multiplying. The use of Louisiana ingredients from Steen’s cane syrup to passion fruit and from Pontchatoula strawberries to sweet potatoes adds even more to our emerging craft beer culture. Soon Louisiana will not only be known as a food- lover’s paradise, but we’ll stand out as a craft beer haven as well.

Jay D. Ducote is the author of the food and beverage blog Bite and Booze and host of the Bite and Booze Radio Show. You can find him online at BiteAndBooze.com.