When Kirk Coco set out to start a new brewery in New Orleans, he’d never made a beer in his life. Lucky for him, then, that he was introduced early in the project to Peter Caddoo, who hasn’t stopped brewing beer since bottling his first batch 30 years ago.
Together they formed New Orleans Lager & Ale (NOLA) Brewing Co., which has just begun shipping kegs to local bars and restaurants from its newly equipped Irish Channel facility.
The inspiration for the plan came shortly after Hurricane Katrina while Coco, a New Orleans native, was in Seattle finishing his military service as a Navy officer. He was disheartened by the prospect of manufacturers and industrial companies pulling out of New Orleans, and was determined to do his own little part to reverse the trend.
“I decided we had to go back and rebuild, and I wanted to make something in New Orleans,” says Coco. “I’ve never had a tugging in my heart like that before. I had to come back.”
He was soon introduced to Caddoo, who had been a brewmaster at Dixie Brewing Co. from the late 1980s until 2005, and a home-brewer for most of his adult life. With the exception of a few brewpub taverns, their NOLA Brewing Co. is the first commercial brewery to operate within the city limits since Hurricane Katrina wrecked Dixie’s historic Tulane Avenue facility. Dixie is once again on the market, but the beer is brewed under license by a company in Monroe, Wis. Meanwhile, Abita brand beers have always been made in Abita Springs, while the Heiner Brau brewery, formed in 2005, is found in Covington, where it produces its own and other beers under license.
But New Orleans itself once had a robust local brewing industry. The Dixie and Falstaff breweries operated only blocks away from each other in Mid-City, and names including Jax, Regal and Union are etched in the city’s beer history. Except for Dixie, though, all of them are history, casualties to the consolidation that saw a few mega breweries become dominant.
NOLA Brewing’s plans call for a mere trickle of beer compared with the output of any of the city’s bygone breweries or the current capacity of regional brewing leader Abita. But Coco believes the local appeal will help introduce new customers to his beer, and he’s confident they’ll ask for it again once they have a taste.
“I just want the city to have a local beer it can be proud of.”