Tuesday, May 25, 2010
New Orleans Made, New Orleans Proud: A Brief History of Breweries in New Orleans
The city of New Orleans is known for a lot of things. Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street and the beignet. One thing New Orleans isn't really known for is its breweries. In fact, there is only one brewery in the city of New Orleans, my old employer NOLA Brewing. For a town known for its drinking this is staggering. In fact Louisiana ranks 50th out of 51(they counted D.C.)in breweries per capita according to the Brewers Association in its 2008 census.
It wasn't always that way here in the Crescent City though. At one time New Orleans had over 30 breweries and was known as the beer capital of the entire South. Here is a brief history of the brewing tradition we once had in New Orleans.
New Orleans Brewing: The Beginning
Louis Fasnacht arrived in New Orleans in 1846 from Switzerland and started a catering business. He noticed with the large influx of German immigrants that peoples drinking patterns changed to favoring beer. So in 1852 he partnered with his brother Samuel to produce New Orleans first brewery located on Poeyfarre St. where The Cotton Mill apartments now stands. He sold the Brewery in 1865 to Erath and Company Brewery. I couldn't find any information on Erath and Company Brewery.
George Merz Brewery
In 1869 George Merz imports a small machine from inventor Charles Tellier and erects it in his plant. This machine produces cold dry air and allows the making of ales and lagers without using ice. It is the 1st installation of a refrigerating machine in the US.
Breweries After the Civil War
Goerge Merz Brewery*
Pioneer Merz Brewery*
Southern Brewing Company*
Crescent City Brewing*
New Orleans Brewing Company
George Auer Brewing
* These breweries combined to form New Orleans Brewing Company
Prohibition: The Death of local breweries
Then in 1920 that wonderful "noble experiment" known as Prohibition began and we entered into a 13 year period during which the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption were banned nationally as mandated in the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This destroyed most of the breweries in the country and also in New Orleans. Some got by making "near beer" or malt based products but it signified the end for many especially the smaller, regional breweries. The ones to survive Prohibition here in New Orleans were the most notable and larger breweries like Dixie and Jax. National Brewing Company which was located on Gravier St survived but was purchased by Falstaff in 1936.
Here are some brief facts and time-lines for those 3 breweries:
Everybody knows where Jax Brewery is located. Jax Brewery is no longer a brewery but rather a shopping center. Something cool to note though is if you visit the top floor they still have a section with a beautiful stained glass Jax Brewery window with some cool Jax Brewery memorabilia on display. The name Jax was actually owned by a brewery in Jacksonville, Florida but in 1956 Jackson Brewery bought the copyright to Jax Beer. Here is a brief time-line for Jax:
1890- Jackson Brewery founded and named after Jackson Square and its namesake Andrew Jackson.
It was at one time the largest independent brewery in the South and 10th largest single plant brewery in the country.
1956- Jackson Brewery buys Jax Beer copyright from Jax Brewery in Jacksonvlle, Florida.
1974- another victim of the beer wars Jax is purchased by Pearl Brewing in Texas and closed.
Unless you live in a bubble you know of the Falstaff Brewery here in New Orleans. How could you not see the huge tower on top of the building. That tower was a 125 ft weather forecasting marvel. Added in 1952 it would spell out the word "Falstaff" and the ball on top would change different colors depending on the weather. Even the Falstaff letters could tell you what was going on with the weather. If they lit from bottom to top the temperature was rising. If they lit from top to bottom the temperature was falling. Pretty cool huh? The building is currently apartments but you can still see King Gambrinus on top and they've restored the Falstaff sign as well. As per a source the weather beacon is due to receive a makeover and will be functioning again. Here is a brief time-line for Falstaff:
1936- Falstaff purchases National Brewing Co. for $543,700.
1937- Falstaff sends barges of beer to New Orleans and sells it below cost to create market for Falstaff.
1945- Due to huge sales Falstaff needs to expand. They add a new bottle shop, office, stock house and two new warehouses.
1947- Falstaff cannot keep up with demand so they add an eight story addition which contains two extra bottling lines, storage space and additional cooling filtration and aging equipment.
1978- after lengthy strike Falstaff closes in December. They are one of the many losers in the beer wars of the 50s, 60s and 70s.
Today- The Falstaff Brewery is now being turned into an apartment complex.
1907- Founded by Valentine Merz
During Prohibition they became Dixie Beverage Company
Dixie produced beer for stores such as Fischers, Krewes, K & B, Schwegmanns and Time Saver
1975- demand for Dixie fell when fumes from a chemical being used to clean the floors taints beer.
1990- Blackened Voodoo helps revive Dixie Brewery
2005- Hurricane Katrina hits. Dixie is now being contract brewed by Minhas Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin with plans to return to New Orleans unknown.
Beer Wars 1947-1973
Considered the 2nd wave of beer wars the time period of 1947-1973 saw most regional breweries disappear and the “super” regional breweries and large breweries like Pabst, Schlitz and Budweiser dominated. TV advertising played the biggest part in terms of who “won” the beer wars during this time period. Those with the most money had the most advertising which equaled the most sales. Jax closes in 1974 and
Falstaff closes in 1978. Dixie however remains open until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Beer wars are still going on to this day with the big three Bud, Miller and Coors dominating the landscape. For example Anheuser Busch’s ad budget for 2005 was $370.2 million.
New Orleans Breweries Today
Once a city with a rich brewing tradition New Orleans is now home to one actual brewery, NOLA Brewing Company. Current laws in place here in Louisiana make it very difficult to open a brewery. Dixie is being contract brewed in Wisconsin. As of today there is no date as to when it will return home. New Orleans does have two brewpubs which are only allowed to sell their beer on premise. They are Crescent City Brewhouse and Gordon Biersch which is a chain brewpub.
The Beer Buddha