- Associated Press - Monday, December 21, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Louisiana has 15 production breweries. Only two, NOLA Brewing and the new Second Line Brewing, are in New Orleans. 40 Arpent sits just across the Parish line in Arabi. The others are spread around the state.

Before Prohibition, New Orleans was the brewing capital of the South. In 1874, according to the book “New Orleans Beer,” the number of breweries in the city peaked at 13.

In the last decade, the craft brewing renaissance has finally taken hold in Louisiana. Almost all those new breweries, however, have opened outside New Orleans, often in rural areas.

Is brewing no longer an urban enterprise? Why do most of the new brews come from beyond New Orleans?

Kirk Coco opened NOLA Brewing in 2009 on an industrial stretch of Tchoupitoulas Street. While Abita Brewing, an early craft beer pioneer founded in 1986, remains the dominant Louisiana alternative to mass market lager, NOLA has grown quickly. The brewery now distributes in four states and employs 30 people.

A production brewery, which makes beer to sell to bars, restaurants and stores, requires a lot of space for brewing equipment, storage and a bottling or canning line. Coco estimates that 10,000 square feet is the minimum needed.

The size of breweries has pushed them into rural and suburban areas across the nation. In New Orleans, the recent run-up in real estate prices has made it particularly hard to open a brewery.

Coco admits that his timing was lucky. When he opened NOLA Brewing, he was able to lease a 20,000-square-foot space that gave him room to grow for only $5,000 a month. This year, Coco also founded a distillery. For that project, he is spending roughly $8,000 a month for an 8,000-square-foot building also on Tchoupitoulas Street.

Cities also impose more regulations. And New Orleans’ bureaucracy can be particularly complicated to navigate.

“New Orleans proper is very difficult and expensive to start a business in,” Coco said. “People are hesitant to do business in the city because of that.”

Michael Naquin, who opened 40 Arpent brewery in 2014, ended up in Arabi for that reason.

“If you’re going to open a production brewery,” Naquin said, “it’s very expensive to do that and very expensive to do it in New Orleans.”

A recent change in state laws, however, might encourage breweries to open in urban areas. In Louisiana, breweries are allowed to run tap rooms, where they can sell their beer directly to the public.

NOLA Brewing makes three times as much money on the beer sold at its tap room as it does the beer sold through its distributor, Coco said. The extra profit can prop up a fledgling brewery. And the tap room, basically a bar that can only sell beer from the brewery, can attract more customers in a city.

Until recently, a brewery could sell only 10 percent of its monthly production from its tap room.

For a larger brewery like NOLA, 10 percent of its production was more beer then it could possibly sell at its tap room. Under those limits, however, small, startup breweries could not make enough beer to keep a tap room open regularly.

Now, thanks to a law passed in the last legislative session, a brewery can sell at its tap room either 10 percent of its monthly production or 250 barrels a month, whichever is greater.

“If you open a production brewery and don’t have a tap room, you’re foolish,” said Mark Logan, who opened Second Line Brewing in Mid-City last summer.

On the first weekend Second Line was open, its tap room sold six barrels, or nearly 200 gallons, of beer.

Urban South, a brewery set to open early next year in the Irish Channel, chose New Orleans over Jefferson Parish so that it could draw more traffic to its tap room.

“We knew that over time we wanted to build out the retail component and that sense of place,” said founder Jacob Landry. “And, on our label, we wanted to say made in New Orleans.”

Despite the boost from the change in tap room laws, many brewery owners think New Orleans will see few additional production breweries but many nano-breweries like Courtyard Brewery, which opened in 2014.

A nano-brewery is a small brewery that can only sell its beer onsite. Unlike a production brewery, it cannot distribute its beer to stores, bars or restaurants. However, while a brewery’s tap room can only pour its own beer, a nano-brewery can serve beer from other breweries, wine and even liquor. (Courtyard only sells beer.)

Legally, a nano-brewery is similar to a brewpub, like the well-established Crescent City Brewhouse in the French Quarter.

“I didn’t think we would do this well this early,” said Scott Wood of Courtyard Brewery. “Our income is tenfold of what we were expecting at this point. It’s insane.”

Wood is eying a second location for Courtyard Brewery. But he does not believe that nano-breweries are the future of New Orleans brewing. Production breweries will continue to be more common, because investors understand their familiar model, he said.

“You’re in one location. You’re not out in 50 bars,” Wood said of nano-breweries. “People don’t think it’s a viable business.”

Coco of NOLA is optimistic about the prospects of brewing in New Orleans. Since opening his brewery, he has seen the city’s thirst increase for complex, flavorful beers.

“When we came in, we made a blonde ale because people wouldn’t drink anything else,” Coco said. “If the market stays as savvy as it is, I think craft brewing will continue to grow strongly in this city.”


Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com

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