On the road to Dixie Brewing Company in New Orleans East

“We only paid our lives, our blood, our sweat and tears,” Kendra Bruno once said on what she and her husband Joe paid for Dixie Brewing. “We love the place Dixie has always had in this city.”

New Orleans media and politicos were out in force this morning on Jourdan Road in New Orleans East at the new site of Dixie Brewing Company situated on 14 acres near the Industrial Canal.

Dixie Brewing Company in New Orleans East

I’ve toured the back streets of New Orleans since the 70s, and I saw territory in the 9th Ward this morning that I never knew existed.

As a production brewery I have no doubt that Dixie can be a success at their new location. They make perfectly drinkable light lager beer that fits seamlessly into New Orleans, and Louisiana food culture. If I’m going to smash seven or eight pounds of crawfish on a 95 degree spring day I’m not drinking Dark Lord Imperial Stout.

Gayle Benson is the owner of Dixie Brewing Company in New Orleans East

I’m perfectly content with an ice cold Dixie lager.

As a concert venue, restaurant, and taproom Dixie’s path is going to be considerably more fraught. The roadways near the brewery are typical of New Orleans 9th Ward. They’re heavy with potholes, and narrow with encroaching vegetation threatening to subsume some of the surface streets entirely.

Joe and Kendra Bruno maintain a minority interest in Dixie Brewing Company in New Orleans East

Burned out hulks of cars are not an uncommon sight. Android-based GPS was not able to vector me in on the brewery. I stopped and asked directions from a security guard at a nearby facility.

The City of New Orleans has shown little interest in renovating the streets here, and it will be interesting to see if the Benson financial muscle can change that.

Will modernity find its way to New Orleans East via cold beer?

Dixie Brewing Company in New Orleans East

Prior to 2005, Dixie Brewing was producing 50k barrels of beer each year. That’s roughly equivalent to what Wicked Weed and Karbach are currently manufacturing.

Joe Bruno and his wife, Kendra, had bought the local icon in 1986 from Neal Kaye Jr. as it was veering into insolvency. The company was nearly $14 million in debt.

Dixie Brewing Company in New Orleans East

They had a three year run of success before they had to file for bankruptcy. The company emerged as a successful concern once again in 1992.

Dixie enjoyed over a decade of success for the Brunos before Hurricane Katrina came calling and left the Tulane Avenue production facility under 10 feet of water.

Entrepreneurial looters were soon on the scene, and quickly relieved the business of all the metal machinery it takes to power a production brewhouse.

Brewing equipment sits under the Louisiana sun at Dixie Brewing Company in New Orleans East

The Brunos fought back after the storm, and production of Dixie was outsourced so the beer could remain on grocery store shelves. Breweries on the Northshore followed by Wisconsin and Tennessee have shouldered the load since 2005 but that will change as soon as the build out on the 200k square foot building in New Orleans East is completed over the next 18-24 months.

No word on whether the old-school cypress wood tanks that Dixie famously used in the past will be implemented in beer production. We saw plenty vessels at the facility but they were all stainless steel.

Inside the production facility at Dixie Brewing Company in New Orleans East

Dixie Brewing founder Valentine Merz flung his doors open on Halloween 1907. He had spent the ungodly sum of $85k on construction of the brewhouse.

Dennis Lauscha, president of the Saints and Pelicans, and a key figure in the Benson empire says that $40 million will be spent on the new 9th Ward Dixie Brewing facility.

On the front lawn of Dixie Brewing Company in New Orleans East

notes:

  • The old brewery on Tulane accessed its water from New Orleans’ only deep water well. An aquifer that lies more than 800 feet below the earth’s surface.
  • I-10 at Alvar Street nearby sees 134,542 vehicles pass through each day
  • Louis Lehle was the architect who designed the original Dixie on Tulane Avenue. He also designed both the Pabst and Blatz Breweries in Milwaukee, and the Grain Belt Brewery in Minneapolis.

    Leaving Dixie Brewing in New Orleans East

    RL Reeves Jr

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