A New Orleans native, Kirk Coco had scant brewing experience when he started NOLA Brewing (3001 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-613-7727; www.nolabrewing.com), but he was frustrated that a city with such a rich history of beer making was left with no commercial brewer after Hurricane Katrina. He teamed up with Peter Caddoo, a former brewmaster at Dixie Brewing Co., and they launched their venture in 2009, making 750 kegs that first year. This year they'll produce the equivalent of 7,500 kegs, and their selection has grown to 10 beers, including a recently released seasonal Irish Channel stout. The company is now working on a plan to open a taproom to serve beers at its Uptown brewery.
Do you find brewing more culinary or industrial?
Coco: It's a mixture of the two. I relate it to baking. You have to be artisanal and know your ingredients and the processes you're using. But at the same time, it's a very industrial setting with lots of equipment. Once we put out a beer, we have to keep it to that style, that consistency. There's different skills in making something the same way over and over again and just making a good beer. The science is different. Really, it's 90 percent about cleaning your equipment.
Why are you brewing so many different beers?
C: That's the creative side. If we just made blonde and brown (ales), we'd be bored. We're still able to vent our creative side. You lose the fun of brewing if you don't. We're not making sprockets here. You're making a product that everyone loves.
Has the market for craft beer changed since NOLA Brewing started?
C: I'm surprised how quickly the beer consumer has switched over to a strong beer. Our Mechahopzilla is 8.8 percent (alcohol). I didn't think anyone would buy it, but they're buying it like crazy. We can't keep it stocked. The palates of beer drinkers have changed quickly. I like to think it's because [we] and other brewers are putting out great beer and educating the market. The distributors are a big part of that now too, and part of it is New Orleans people going out and exploring new flavors, which is what we've been doing with food for generations. But we are still fighting the 90 percent market share of the Bud, Miller, Coors products. — IAN MCNULTY