Irbin Pailet started Jefferson Brewing Company in 1920 with a horse and wagon, and grew it into a thriving company. By 1927, Jefferson Beverages offered drinks in flavors including root beer, sweet mandarin, cider and grape, and with the purchase of the Orange Crush bottling company in 1928, started producing 4,000 cans daily.
But it was in 1935 with the creation of the Big Shot brand that they really made their place in New Orleans history.
By 1938, Big Shot Root Beer was a hit. Heavy promotions involving cash prizes and exchanging bottle caps for sliver-plated spoons helped drive sales up.
Over the next 50 years, Big Shot added more flavors: cola, pineapple, strawberry, fruit punch, orange, grape, black cherry and crème soda. Most ingredients, including cane sugar, were sourced from Louisiana.
In 1982, a group of local businessmen bought Big Shot to keep it in business. Through various marketing pushes, one of which included owner Robert Cory making in-store appearances dressed in a bowler and tuxedo with a cigar like the Big Shot logo, they were able to double production. They also brought back the previously retired black cherry flavor, based on public request.
In 1987, Big Shot was sold to Affiliated Food Stores of Little Rock, Arkansas, but retained the Jefferson Bottling name. Bottling operations were moved to Winnsboro, Louisiana.
In 1993, it was sold to Florida-based National Beverage Corp. The label was updated with the words “New Orleans’ Own” added to the logo. Big Shot branded vending machines were placed to give it more visibility, and new flavors – peach and lemon-line – were introduced.
The majority of Big Shot sales happen in New Orleans, primarily in corner groceries, although it’s marketed regionally as well. But it’s also showing up in new ways: as ingredients in high-end restaurants which pride themselves on using local products – and in Lil Wayne rap lyrics.