Taste for Craft Beer Grows in Louisiana

Andrew Godley loaded 16 kegs of beer into the back of his pickup truck Tuesday to take to a local distributor who would then deliver them to Lafayette bars and restaurants. Godley is Parish Brewing Co.’s only employee, and he does, well, everything.

“We started about six months ago, and it was just a pilot brewery,” Godley, 30, said recently. “I say, ‘we,’ but it’s really just me.”

Godley describes Parish Brewing as a “nano-brewery” — the baby brother to the more commonly known “micro-brewery” — producing about 10 kegs a week.

“We’re the only brewery that actually brews beer in Lafayette,” Godley added.

Godley is a chemical engineer by day. Parish Brewery is in Broussard, a virtual suburb of Lafayette. Parish brews are in about 20 Acadiana establishments and represent a growing local beer phenomenon sweeping not only the country, but Louisiana as well.

Industry guides say overall beer consumption has been on the decline.

However, craft brewers sold 7.2 percent more volume in 2009 than they did in 2008, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group in Boulder, Colo., representing more than 1,000 small breweries. Louisiana has five local craft breweries where the beer is made onsite. They are: Abita Brewing Co. in Abita Springs, Parish Brewing Co. in Broussard, Heiner Brau Microbrewery in Covington, NOLA Brewing in New Orleans and Tin Roof Brewing Co. in Baton Rouge, the state’s newest. Bayou Teche Brewing in Arnaudeville has much of its beer brewed by Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. in Kiln, Miss., until its expanded brewery is fully operational, which is likely about a year away, said Karlos Knott, brewmaster for Bayou Teche Brewing.

In 2008 Louisiana ranked 50th in the nation in the number of craft breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Association.

That’s not to say this state is particularly skimpy when it comes to drinking beer. Louisiana residents drink more than 50.2 million cases of beer annually, according to the Beer Industry League of Louisiana, a trade group. With more than 200 malt beverage brands sold in Louisiana, the industry has paid over $171 million in consumption taxes and has generated $210 million in business and personal taxes, the league reports.

Desire for local beer is not unlike the increasing affinity for local food and the idea that shopping locally means money stays in the local economy, said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association.

“It is an easy connection to make that more of the purchase price stays in a community and helps the local economy when the brewery is nearby, employing neighbors who then take their pay and spend it in the area,” Gatza said.

Perhaps just as powerful is the changing American beer palate and a willingness to try bolder more sophisticated brews, he added.

“Consumer tastes have changed and more beer drinkers are seeking more challenging flavors, which they find in craft brewed beers,” Gatza said. “They are also interested in new and seasonal beers, so we are in an age of discovery for the beer drinker.”

Louisiana has been slower than the rest of the country when it comes to finding its inner ale, stout, lager and the other brewing particulars, say industry observers. But that seems to be changing.

“I think there is a perception, gradually dwindling, that people in the area are only looking for beers that offer refreshment rather than flavor,” Gatza said of the local market.

“I think it may just be that people in Louisiana were never asked,” Knott remarked. “Now, we see a huge demand for local beers.”