Two men are starting a new microbrewery in an Irish Channel warehouse and, they hope, opening a new chapter in the long history of New Orleans beer making.
New Orleans Lager & Ale (NOLA) Brewing Co. expects to begin shipping its first kegs to local bars in January. With the exception of a handful of brewpub operations, NOLA Brewing will be the first company to resume commercial brewing in New Orleans proper since Hurricane Katrina knocked the historic Dixie Brewery out of commission. The Covington-based brewery Heiner Brau initially produced Dixie after Katrina, but the famous New Orleans brand is now made under license in Monroe, Wis., by Minhas Brewing Co.
"I want there to be a New Orleans-made beer people can be proud of," says Kirk Coco, co-founder of NOLA Brewing.
A New Orleans native, Coco has a law degree, a master of business administration degree, experience as chief engineer on a Navy destroyer and zero brewing experience. But he has a sense of history, and he believes New Orleans drinkers will welcome a brand produced in the city where bygone names such as Jax, Regal, Falstaff, Union and Four X, along with Dixie, were once part of a robust and highly competitive local market along with Dixie.
Coco completed his Navy hitch soon after Katrina and beat a path to New Orleans with a desire, he says, "to build something, to actually make something in this city again." A friend soon introduced him to Peter Caddoo, a former brewmaster at Dixie and a compulsive homebrewer. Last year, the two sat down over Belgian ales at Cooter Brown's Tavern to discuss the idea. Coco took out loans against his house, and they created a business plan. The two partners are now finishing assembly of the steel guts for their new brewery in a cavernous warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street. Stevedores from a neighboring maritime firm sometimes help out in exchange for the promise of free beer in the future.
"The NOLA name, the local thing, it might get you the first taste, but it's all you'll get just from that," Coco says. "After drinking the beer, we're confident they'll get it again on taste."
For that job, Caddoo is drawing on 28 years of beer-making experience, including an 18-year career at Dixie that ended when he was laid off by the struggling brewery in the spring before Katrina. But don't expect NOLA Brewing's offerings to resemble Dixie's familiar light-bodied lager. Rather, Caddoo will introduce the new brand with brown ale and blonde ale. The goal, he says, is to give locals beers with more character and flavor than typical domestic brews, and thirst-quenchers suitable to the area's subtropical climate.
"You want to be able to drink this at a crawfish boil in June," Caddoo says.
While assembly of the brewing facility continues, NOLA Brewing has provided homebrewed versions for sampling at fundraisers and other events around town. Coco says the company has a distribution deal with wholesaler Glazer's of Louisiana to get the beer into bars. Tap pulls designed to look like cast-iron fence posts and topped with fleur de lis will mark its presence. NOLA Brewing plans to package the beer in 2-gallon, fridge-friendly dispensers called "Party Pigs" and to bottle it for retail sale.
NOLA Brewing's planned output will be small. For instance, its goal of making the equivalent of 6,000 kegs a year would be less than 4 percent of the annual production at Abita Brewing Co., the region's largest brewer. But the Northshore beer maker provides an apt, homegrown example of how a tiny brewing start-up can grow into a major enterprise. Company president David Blossman says Abita is now available in 40 states. The Brewers Association, an industry group in Boulder, Colo., ranked Abita No. 30 in sales volume last year against all domestic beer producers. Yet when Abita was first formed in 1986 by a core group of homebrew enthusiasts, the Abita Springs company turned out the equivalent of just 3,000 kegs in its first year. It was sold exclusively in New Orleans-area bars, just as NOLA Brewing has planned for its forthcoming suds.