With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. Somehow we’ve stumbled our way to the eighteenth state on the list, The Pelican State, Louisiana. More than any other state thus far, Louisiana appears to have cornered the market on most nicknames a state can have. The Boot is also known as the Creole State, Sportsman’s Paradise, the Sugar State and the Bayou State, among many others.
Louisiana ranks 25th in total population (roughly 4.7 million) and housed 15 craft breweries as of2014 (roughly 25 today – the numbers vary) who are represented by the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild (who only feature 7 members). The state ranks 42nd in total breweries and 49th in breweries per capita as of 2014, according to the Brewers Association.
Most state histories are relatively unclear prior to the industrial boom and/or mining rushes of the late 1800’s, making Louisiana’s brewing history unique in it’s pursuit of liquid manna. With a French foundation that sets itself apart from many German or Bohemian brewing start-ups, Louisiana’s first planation opened by Pierre Dreux in 1732 was called La Brasserie (The Brewery) – the first plantation, industrial center and brewery in New Orleans, now the French Quarter.
The first commercial operation was a brewery founded by Louis and Samuel Fasnacht, emigrees from Switzerland, in 1852. By the end of the 19th century, a large number of Germanic peoples bolstered the population and the brewing chops of the Crescent City, opening many breweries that ultimately merged into the New Orleans Brewing Company in 1890.
The larger breweries who survived Prohibition or capitalized on the weakened nature of the market – Falstaff (out of St. Louis), Regal, Dixie and Jackson Brewing (aka JAX), were 80% of the market by the 1950’s.
All these operations closed up shop by the 1980’s, with the exception of Dixie who closed as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, relocating their operation north to Wisconsin.
The first, largest and now oldest operating craft brewer and brewpub in the state is Abita Brewing, in operation since 1986. As of 2014, they’re the 21st largest in the country, brewing in excess of 160,000 barrels annually and now distribute internationally to Germany as of last month. They’re also the only open brewery in the state that’s won medals at GABF (2).
The growth of craft beer in the state over the past 5 years has been significant, enough so that festivals are becoming a more common occurrence. The second annual Louisiana Winter Winter Beer fest, curated by American Craft Beer’s own Nick Villaume, will take place this weekend in Lake Charles and feature well over 100 brewers from across the state and around the nation.
Five More Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Bayou Teche Brewing (Arnaudville) – With a decidedly culinary approach to their craft, Bayou Teche was founded in 2009 with the purpose of complementing their recipes with the cuisine of the Cajun and Creole tradition. Their brewery, a tiny hand built structure resembling an Acadian home, features a tasting porch and a family operation worth investing your taste buds in.
Great Raft Brewing (Shreveport) – Opening in December of 2013, Great Raft has already made their mark in the state by creating “Real Beer” (creative, authentic and passionate) but also packaging their releases in cans within months of opening. What sets them apart are their variety of classic European styles, barrel-aged rarities and collaborations with chefs and brewers alike.
NOLA Brewing (New Orleans) – New Orleans Lager and Ale Brewing Company (get it?) is New Orleans first commercial brewery to open in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, officially opening in 2008. With an awesome collection of canned flagships, seasonals and small batch brews, NOLA covers the whole spectrum and then some. That and we’re (still?) on good speaking terms with owner Kirk Coco, one of the coolest guys in the industry.
Parish Brewing (Broussard) – Another brewer straight out of Bayou Country is this unconventional upstart, small batch brewing since 2008. While they have a limited distribution in Southern Louisiana, they produce 3 regular flagships, 3 seasonal offerings and a few annual treats. If you’re able to get a hold of their liquid gold, you’ll be sampling 3 of the state’s 10 best reviewed beers (BeerAdvocate).
Rikenjaks Brewing (Lake Charles) – Originally founded in Jackson in 1992, the operation relocated to Lake Charles in 1999 and unfortunately shut down in 2006. The rebirth of the brewpub started just last year and is now up and running again, with the new location just getting back up to speed with 5 of their own beers on tap. They will be one of 12 Louisiana brewers on hand this weekend in Lake Charles for the aforementioned festival.
Huge thanks to gonola.com for historical context & Constant Rambler’s take on the LA Brewery Trail.