The Foam is Rising Again
A new golden age of golden ale may be upon us.
Driving around our fair city, one might be forgiven for thinking we have a robust base of food and beverage industries. Some of the city’s most visible buildings — Blue Plate, Dixie Brewery, Jax Brewery, Falstaff Brewery — collectively form a Potemkin village of bygone producers. Thankfully, all of the sites have returned to commerce, though not as factories.
A trio of old breweries, in particular, appear designed to capture the tipsy imaginations of their customer base.
Jackson Brewing Co.’s building came first in 1890, with a castle-like structure catty-corner from Jackson Square (600 Decatur St.) and conspicuously visible from the river.
For Dixie Brewery, the powers that be hired a veteran of brewery architecture named Louis Lehle to design a structure that evoked a cathedral or a state capitol; the 2537 Tulane Avenue building was completed in 1907. It was sold in April of last year to a New York developer for $5.6 million to be used as a research office for the Veterans Affairs hospital.
The Falstaff building, now Falstaff Apartments, was built in 1912 at 2600 Gravier St. It is best known for its 1950s-era weather ball tower, but also features a statue of King Gambrinus toasting the world from his perch three stories up.
Various other former brewery buildings around town remain standing, some of them rather imposing, but a century ago, there were more than two dozen breweries in the city. If you’ve ever wondered about that gigantic old factory next to the bridge over the railroad tracks in St. Roch, well, it’s the old Union Brewing Co.
Regal Beer, meanwhile, was produced on a prominent spot in the French Quarter, the corner of Bourbon and Bienville.
In short, beer brewing used to be a very big deal in New Orleans.
But eventually, time and tides took their toll. At one point, the list of local beers you could order with your poor boy was reduced to one: Dixie.
In 1986, a new hope began to gleam: Abita Brewing Co. began barreling beer and grew quickly. In the 1990s, brewpubs opened in New Orleans, including Crescent City Brewhouse and the late Acadian Brewing in Mid-City.
Yet these developments pale in comparison to the explosion of new brews in recent years.
Among the first in this new vanguard was Nola Brewing, founded in 2008.
Down the street, the rapidly rising newcomer Urban South has a brewery-taproom combo too. Courtyard Brewery is also in the neighborhood, on Erato Street.
In 2015, Second Line Brewing opened up in Mid-City, and its beer garden has become popular in the neighborhood. In mid-December of last year, Wayward Owl Brewing Company opened up in the old Gem Theater in Central City. In March, Royal Brewery New Orleans opened up shop in eastern New Orleans, not far from the Bunny Bread factory. In April, Brieux Carre opened up its “nanobrewery” in the Faubourg Marigny.
The Northshore has seen its share of new growth as well. Down the road from Abita is now Covington Brewhouse. Further west, in Hammond, there’s Gnarly Barley Brewing Co.
Even old Dixie may soon get a new lease on life. After the disaster of aught-five flooded the old Dixie cathedral and brewing moved to Wisconsin, the beer has lost its local cache. But as of this writing, there were reports that the man with the deepest pockets in New Orleans was looking to buy the venerable old brand and begin selling it in the Superdome. If anyone has the resources to restore Dixie to its former glory, and bring it back home, it’s Tom Benson.
To Do List:
New Breweries for 2017
Wayward Owl Brewing Company
3940 Thalia St. (previously the Gem Theater)
Royal Brewery New Orleans
7366 Townsend Pl.
Brieux Carre Brewing Company
2115 Decatur St.
Peter Reichard is a native New Orleanian who has written about the life and times of the city for more than 20 years, including as a former newspaper editor and business journalist.