Craft beer industry on the rise
Andrew Godley quit his stable job as a chemical engineer in January, despite months of economic woes and a harsh hiring landscape across the country.
But Godley didn't look to another employer for his next paycheck. He turned to beer. Godley, 31, founded and owns the Broussard-based Parish Brewing Co., and since January he's worked to get a new brewery up and running. He began brewing beer recreationally about six years ago, and by July 2010, he was selling beer in small quantities to a handful of Lafayette bars.
See how Parish Brewing Co. has grown since April 2011
Godley, however, couldn't meet the demand for his beers, as he previously split his time between the engineering job and a 1,000-square-foot warehouse he used to make two 40-gallon batches of beer each week, or enough to fill about eight kegs. He sold his beers only in kegs then, and fans of the Parish Brewing Co. could only find his signature Canebrake, which is made with sugar cane syrup from the Abbeville-based company Steen's, inside Lafayette Parish.
Now, Godley makes 1,000 gallons of beer in a single batch. His new 8,000-square-foot brewery allows him to not only increase the volume of beer he makes, but also allows him to sell more styles of beer, package the drinks in bottles and expand into different markets, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
"The craft brewing industry in Louisiana is still very young, but the potential for the future is huge," Godley said during an interview at his brewery Thursday. "There is a huge tide right now of craft beer fans and consumers that's driving the culture here and moving toward more, and better, craft beer that's made here in Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast."
More than ever before, the craft beer industry in Louisiana is expanding as drinkers flock to stores and bars to imbibe local brews like Parish Brewing Co.'s Canebrake. Though craft beers, which are typically made by small breweries, account for only a small portion of the beer industry's overall economic output in the state, the demand for Louisiana beers is increasing, and several experts predicted the craft beer industry will continue to grow during the next decad
The big business of beer
In Louisiana, the beer industry contributes a total economic output of more than $1.8 billion each year and accounts for a direct economic value of $868 million, according to the Beer Industry League of Louisiana, a non-profit organization representing Louisiana's independent beer distributors.
With more than 12,000 retail establishments across the state selling beer, the industry employs more than 20,000 people. The Beer Industry League of Louisiana also reports that the beer industry contributes more than $171 million in taxes to the state each year and generates another $210 million in business and personal taxes.
"We're starting to see a new trend and demand for craft beer in Louisiana, and those craft breweries that are already operating in Louisiana have been very successful thus far," John Williams, executive director of the Beer Industry League of Louisiana, said during a phone interview Friday. "In the next 10 years, I would expect that we'll see some more craft breweries established in Louisiana, and those already operating will grow."
Goldey's Parish Brewing Co. is only one of at least seven commercial craft breweries in south Louisiana — Abita in Abita Springs, Bayou Teche Brewing in Arnaudville, Heiner Brau in Covington, NOLA Brewing in New Orleans, Parish Brewing Co. in Broussard, Tin Roof Brewing Co. in Baton Rouge and Dixie, the beloved New Orleans brand that's been brewed in Monroe, Wis., since
Hurricane Katrina and subsequent looters wrecked the business's brewery in 2005.
"All of the craft breweries in Louisiana have probably had nearly 50 percent growth each year for the past two to three years, and there is plenty of more room to grow," Karlos Knott, brew master and co-owner of Bayou Teche Brewing, said during a phone interview Thursday.
In Lafayette alone, beer lovers have the opportunity to sample hundreds of craft brews at festivals, including Saturday's Gulf Brew, Top of the Hops and soon, the Louisiana Beer Festival. Hundreds of people flocked to Parc International on Saturday to try to an array of craft beer made across the state, country and globe.
"Our local beers outsell everything in this bar except for Bud Light, and if it were up to me, that wouldn't be the case," Kailen Fenerty, manager of The Green Room bar in downtown Lafayette, said during a phone interview Thursday. The Green Room offers patrons 12 Louisiana beers on tap and another eight in bottles.
La. left behind?
The Pacific Northwest and the West Coast are both well-known for craft breweries, and single cities, like Portland and San
Diego, are home to far more micro and nano breweries than the entire state of
Louisiana. The Colorado Brewers Guild reported this year that craft beer alone pumps nearly $450 million into the state's economy annually.
"I think Louisiana and a lot of the Gulf Coast has been left behind in the craft-beer movement," Knott said. "Our contention always has been that people haven't been presented a choice here. There is a tremendous burden and business regulations on Southern breweries that's not placed on other breweries."
Charles Caldwell, co-founder of Tin Roof Brewing Co. in Baton Rouge, said he expects Louisiana's craft business industry to gain a lot of steam in the next 10 years, perhaps making Louisiana a tourism destination for beer lovers across the world.
"It's really inspiring to look at Louisiana as a state and where it's gone even just from 2010," Caldwell said during a phone interview Thursday. "The major areas now have great breweries, and a number of smaller breweries are popping up elsewhere. It's a good thing — Louisiana will be on the map in the brewing industry very soon. We're a little behind now, but the South in general was the last area to catch onto craft brewing."
Next to Godley's brewery in Broussard, tall rows of sugar cane crowd an empty lot. Godley bought that land too, and he hopes to someday build a tasting room there. He'd like to let patrons sample and buy his brews directly from his business, but Louisiana's laws won't allow him to do so. Loosening some regulations, he said, will encourage other craft brewers to open shop.
Godley estimated that selling 15 percent of his production directly to consumers at full retail prices would increase his revenues by 50 percent and potentially contribute 60 percent of his overall business. Under Louisiana law, Godley currently must sell his beer to distributors, who then bring the products to retailers, which sell the alcohol to consumers.
"We really need to loosen up what we're allowed to do here," Godley said. "I think most legislators would be on board if they just realized the huge economic benefit."
Louisiana's craft breweries, however, tend to work together and see the business competition as friendly rather than cutthroat.
"What's good for one craft brewer is good for all of us," David Blossman, President of Abita Brewing Company, said in an email. "As craft brewers, we need to work together to promote and grow craft beer as a category. Sure, we all keep an eye on what the other guy is doing, but in the end, giving consumers more choices and more variety in the craft category is a good thing for all."
The business owners and brewers also meet several times a year as part of the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild.
"There is a certain level of competition, but everybody is working towards spreading the craft-beer gospel," Caldwell said.
All about flavors
For craft beer drinkers and brewers, it's all about the flavor. The creators and consumers all want creative, exotic and surprising flavors that span beyond the water-like taste of many traditional light beers.
"The Louisiana beers have great tastes and flavors," Fenerty said. "Not only is it being brewed locally, but the brewers are also using local ingredients. I haven't given anyone a local beer and then heard something negative about them. Craft beer is an art, and there is a lot more love going into craft beer than into the typical domestics."
Paul Wilson, a professor in LSU's Food Science Department, teaches students how to make beer as part of a lesson on enzymes in his Food Preservation course. Wilson, an avid home brewer, also keeps tabs on the beer industry in Louisiana. He said the craft beer industry "ebbs and flows" as some breweries close and others open. Louisiana's craft brewing, he said, is on the upswing now, and for craft beer drinkers, flavor is the top priority.
"It's definitely picked up," Wilson said. "Most of the big commercial breweries have gone to relatively bland types of beer because they want the broadest appeal, but a small brewery can have a market and sustain sales for people who want more interesting flavors, from more hops to a bitter taste."
Knott said craft beer is a natural fit for Louisiana because the bold flavors often pair perfectly with Cajun and Creole foods.
"People in Louisiana like having choices," Knott said. "With so many different foods within our cuisine, people will want to drink a different beer with their etouffee, gumbo or crawfish. It's easier to pair Louisiana's foods with beer than with wine."
Changing of the guard
Dixie and Abita are Louisiana's two most iconic beers.
Dixie, founded in 1907, is immortalized as the drink of choice of Ignatius Reilly's mother in the Pulitzer Prize winning novel "A Confederacy of Dunces." Abita, founded in 1986, is now sold in more than 40 states and Puerto Rico, and its brand is captured in an array of movies and TV shows like HBO's hit "True Blood."
Dixie, however, hasn't been brewed in the state since Hurricane Katrina wrecked the business's brewery at the intersection of Tulane Avenue and Tonti Street. Looters stole many cooper and metal pieces of beer brewing equipment to sell as scrap, according to Dave Britt, a Dixie spokesman.
Dixie's current owners, Joe and Kendra Bruno, who is the granddaughter of the creator Barq's Root Beer, bought Dixie in 1986. The couple hopes to reopen the brewery in New Orleans. For now, the beer is made in Wisconsin. Dixie's head brew master still travels from Louisiana to Monroe, Wis., to ensure the beer's quality is on par with the brand's standard.
The state took control of Dixie's abandoned brewery several years after Katrina. The Brunos are using the court system to fight plans to turn the building
into parking lot for the new Veterans Memorial Hospital, Britt said.
"It's a definite goal to move back into Louisiana, and we'd love to get back into that building, but it seems to be an uphill battle," Britt said. "The Dixie brand has been part of Louisiana and New Orleans culture for more than 100 years and has really been a piece of the locals' lives — they've basically been reared on it. The image, brand and beer represent what
America is all about: preserving through hard times and not taking anything for granted."
During its first year of production, Abita brewed 1,500 barrels of beer. This year, Abita will make about 150,000 barrels of beer, including more than 1,500 barrels which will be donated to charities, Blossman said.
"Louisiana people are proud of their culture and their heritage," Blossman said. "They like to support their own local favorites, and they love sharing that knowledge with the rest of the country. Both nationally and locally, the growth of craft beers has outpaced the major brands. In a tough economy, our company is growing, and that's a good thing for us and for our community."
Brewing at home
The craft beer movement isn't gaining steam only at small-scale commercial breweries. The number of Louisianans experimenting with beer recipes at home also appears to be on the rise.
James Lutgring, vice president of Lafayette's non-profit, educational home brewing group the Dead Yeast Society, said Louisiana's beer scene "has really evolved in the past five to 10 years." He said the increase in local craft breweries has raised drinkers' awareness of what exists beyond the major light beers and piqued interest in home brewing.
"Why would you want to go to a Red Lobster when you're in Lafayette and can get much better seafood at a local restaurant?," Lutgring said Thursday. "It's the same thing with beer — why drink a Coors Light when you can have a quality craft beer made in Louisiana?"
Knott said home brewing is a popular hobby for adult males, and home brewers tend to be some of the biggest supporters of Louisiana's craft beers.
"It's our observation that most craft beers coming from commercial and home breweries are an emotional extension of the owners and brewers," Knott said. "It's kind of like the guy who was reading Batman comic books as a kid and wanted to be a super hero when he grows up. We've all been drinking beer and decided and it was something we wanted to make."
Lutgring said the modern-day desire to "buy local" has partly fueled the craft beer industry and even home brewing. He said home brewers in Lafayette often have to buy some equipment and ingredients online, but a handful of stores, like Marcello's Wine Market Café, are able to sell home brewers a bulk of what's needed to make beer at home.
"The more good beer people drink,"Lutgring said, "the more good beer we're going to have here."
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