The Business of Brewing
Faubourg Brewing Co. brings jobs and economic development to Eastern New Orleans
When Valentine Merz opened Dixie Brewing in 1907, he could not have known that what started as an infant brewery on the corner of Tulane Avenue and Tonti Street would become an 85,000-square-foot, 100-barrel brewhouse with a taproom and kitchen, an outdoor beer park and beer garden, and a local beer museum in Eastern New Orleans.
But more than a century later, after surviving two World Wars and 13 years of Prohibition, Dixie Brewing found its way back to New Orleans. Fresh off the heels of a revitalization and rebranding as Faubourg Brewing Co., the company remains the oldest operating brewery in New Orleans and brings continued promise to the region.
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the original brewery in 2005, Dixie Brewing moved out of state and survived by contract brewing. Then, 12 years later, Tom and Gayle Benson, owners of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, purchased a majority stake in the brand. Their goal was to bring the brewing operations back home to create jobs and spur local economic growth. The new state-of-the-art brewery in Eastern New Orleans was completed and began production in late 2019. The overall investment totals more than $40 million in the physical plant, property, staff and equipment.
The man in charge of overseeing operations is Jim Birch, general manager of Faubourg Brewing Co. He started with the company in January 2019 after relocating to New Orleans from Charlotte, N.C., with his wife, Tanya. He oversees all elements of the brewery’s wholesale and retail operations—a job that continues to evolve as contracting and private-label business opportunities are added to the mix.
“Our decision to build the brewery on Jourdan Road in Eastern New Orleans was driven by two factors: Mr. and Mrs. Benson were seeking a manufacturing location that would benefit the community it was in, as much as it would benefit the business at retail, via jobs; and the Jourdan Road corridor along the industrial canal is absolutely perfect for a manufacturing business like ours that relies upon close proximity to rail and highway access,” Birch says. “We might even make use of the canal in some fashion one day.”
In addition to the new location, the new name—which symbolizes a unified front in New Orleans—is a major milestone for the company. “Our brand is meant to represent a product that brings us together, whether at a crawfish boil, a local neighborhood bar, a football game, or while relaxing in the pool or fishing in the Gulf,” Birch says. “Faubourg is a name that represents the wonderful diversity of New Orleans with over 73 distinct neighborhoods. We love our new name, and the feedback from our customers and the general public has been extremely positive.”
Since moving back to New Orleans, Faubourg Brewing Co. has hired and trained more than 40 employees, with the goal of continuing to hire throughout 2021 as retail and wholesale sales allow.
“There has been a great engagement with the community—especially recently—to ensure that our hiring goals look first at the talent that is near us,” Birch says. “We are actively working with several organizations to ensure we are developing training programs that will enable us to truly be an organization that can attract, train and retain a local workforce.”
In fact, the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility mission is a key element of the Faubourg Brewing Co. brand promise. According to Birch, the company realized that it wasn’t reaching people who are representative of the community through
traditional channels. “We looked at what we could do from a job-training perspective in order to attract and find candidates that have the ability to learn and to be trained to be a package operator or bartender or seller operator, for example,” he says. “So that informed the whole mission of what we are doing.”
Part of the Corporate Social Responsibility mission includes setting aside a fixed amount of money from every pour of Faubourg Lager in the taproom to fund job training. “It allows us to take a risk and find non-traditional candidates that may not have packing skills previously, but we think it’s worth the investment,” Birch says. “The other part of the CSR mission is working with local groups that we think have taken leadership roles, such as the Made in New Orleans Foundation and Turning Tables, which is focused on developing skill sets for young folks who want to work in the service industry.”
The two-year cohort includes a front-of-house and back-of-house plan. “We are exchanging ideas and are talking about how to create a training program for someone who may not have a perfect candidate resume, but this is what we can do from a soft skills and from a hard skills perspective to bring them up to speed,” Birch says. “We can make multilevel and multiyear investments that will truly be reflective of the employee base here.”
Delivering products of the highest quality and consistency is the brewery’s main goal, and Faubourg Brewing Co. does it with a refreshing blend of tradition and innovation. Every time a batch of beer is brewed on the 100-barrel production system, the brewery turns out approximately 25,000 pints of beer. Meanwhile, the high-speed canning line can produce 166 12-ounce cans of Faubourg Beer per minute. All of this equals several tons of two-row malt and hops per year.
The brewing process, overseen by head brewmaster Kevin Stuart (who has been with the company since the 1980s), is designed to lift every ingredient to its full potential. For example, Faubourg Lager is fermented at a warmer temperature than other lagers, which develops a unique and complex flavor profile with pleasant, fruity notes. At the brewery, tradition meets technology thanks to computerized controls that cover each step of production, from the filtered water coming in, to the flow of cans and bottles going out. And in the cutting-edge lab, staff members analyze samples throughout the brewing process, checking for uniform color, alcohol content and product consistency. Finally, there is the taste-test.
In just 2021 alone, Faubourg Brewing Co. expects to produce between 10,000 to 15,000 barrels of beer, plus some additional volume due to contract beers. Currently, the beer is distributed in eight states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, the Florida panhandle, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Maine. It also is on tap with 200 handles of draught Faubourg beer in New Orleans. A rollout with packaged products (bottles and cans) began in early May.
Best-selling products include the Faubourg Lager, Golden Cypress Wheat Ale (both are new releases) and DAT’SUMA. “The recipes for Faubourg Lager is different than Dixie Lager in that Faubourg is an all-malt authentic Bohemian Pilsner with Saaz hops,” Birch says. “Dixie had rice and registered 4.6 percent ABV, while Faubourg is a touch higher on the ABV scale with 4.8 percent.”
According to Birch, Faubourg Brewing Co. will release Beignet au Lait in August (cans and draught) for the wholesale market, and the taproom will have a constant influx of new beers. “We’ll have monthly can releases under the Crafted by Faubourg program heading as well as one-off small-batch releases of draught-only brewer innovation beers,” he says.
With the current popularity of alcoholic seltzers, it should come as no surprise that Faubourg Brewing Co. has also released its own brand. A clear seltzer, on tap at the brewery, combines fruit flavors in a seltzer cocktail registering at about 7 percent ABV. The Peach Bellini is the best seller so far.
While city and state COVID phase regulations have impacted almost every industry, Birch says that the brewery was not affected aside from a continuing shortage of aluminum cans. “We actually have taken our Dixie branded cans and applied shrink sleeves over them to reuse the aluminum and avoid the extended production delays for new packaging,” Birch says. “At the retail level, the 2020 shutdowns were very difficult, but safety for our employees and customers was always paramount. We offer over eight acres of outside space that is perfect for social distancing, while listening to great local music and sipping a Faubourg beer.”
Of course, Birch is referencing the one-of-a-kind destination that is Faubourg Brewing Co. Designed to create sustainable economic opportunities and a true community atmosphere, the brewery currently offers tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. (The tours will expand as Covid precautions are lessened.) “We are open seven days per week, and our hours are published on social media and Google,” Birch says. “We continue to try to extend hours as service and precautions allow. We have an indoor beer garden as well as a kitchen that is open Friday through Sunday.”
On the community level, Faubourg Brewing Co. strives to bring people together in a way that creates positive change. To accomplish this, the company is committed to investing time, knowledge and mentorship services to up-and-coming service-industry leaders. The brewery also guarantees a fair living-wage compensation plan to both full-time and part-time employees, while ensuring that production operations minimize accident occurrences. In addition, the brewery is designed to minimize water waste, and capture and neutralize solids and liquids prior to releasing them from the property, while minimizing unnecessary electrical usage with state-of-the-art lighting and HVAC units.
Looking to the future, the company is committed to a long-term partnership with community leaders, elected officials, neighbors and fellow business operators. This means developing a talented local workforce, creating jobs to attract additional business investment, and lending leadership support for local infrastructure, security and training programs.
The alignment of these goals, and the brewery’s overall success, signify the tremendous potential that Eastern New Orleans has to become a hub for business and beverages—one sip at a time.