New Orleans brewing dates back to the earliest German families in the city.
ED note: This article originally appeared at GoNOLA.com in 2012. Updated with different images and some additional history.
New Orleans Brewing
The German celebration of Oktoberfest is defined by beer. New Orleans has enjoyed a long love affair with beer, chiefly in part because New Orleans has had a strong German community since the 1700s. Those German families built up a strong local beer industry, laying the foundation for today’s excellent local New Orleans brewpubs and craft beers resulting in serious Oktoberfestivities.
Germans have lived in New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana since the 1720s, since the days of John Law’s Mississippi Company. The biggest influx of Germans into New Orleans took place in the 1850s, the result of the turmoil of the mid-late 1840s in Continental Europe. By the late 1850s, the Germans were a strong force in the community, with their own church in the Irish Channel that rivaled the one the Irish built across the street.
The first commercial brewery in New Orleans was opened in 1852 by Louis Fasnacht. Fasnacht and his brother, Samuel, came to New Orleans from Switzerland in 1846. They bought the Poeyfarre’ family home, located at Constance and Poeyfarre’ streets, and built their brewery next to it. The Fasnacht brewery did not survive the Southern Rebellion’s tight economic times. The brothers sold the brewery in 1869. The location became Erath and Company Brewery. The Fasnachts re-acquired the brewery in 1872. They closed for good in 1875. The site became the A. A. Maginnis Cotton Mill in 1882. The building is now the Cotton Mill Apartments.
The re-opening of the port after the rebels surrendered the city encouraged others to open breweries, most notably George Merz, in 1869. Merz brewed lager beer. Lagers require cooling. Purchasing ice from Maine boosted the price of Merz’s beer. He operated the Old Canal Brewery in the block bounded by Villere, Toulouse, Robertson & St. Louis. (“Old Canal” refers to the Carondelet Canal, built in 1795.)
Brewing lager made Merz an innovator as well as a brewmeister. He acquired an air compression system built by a Frenchman, Charles Tellier, to improve cooling in his plant. Merz hired a local engineer, F. V. De Coppet, to install it. The Merz brewery became the first with air-conditioning with this installation. Tellier’s system ultimately did not work out as A/C, but De Coppet modified it as an ice-making machine, acquiring several patents for his work.
Brewing continued to grow in the 1870s, and by 1880s, New Orleans became the largest beer-making city in the South. Merz’s Old Canal Brewery, Southern Brewing Company, Crescent City Brewing, Weckerling Brewery, Pelican Brewery, Lafayette Brewing, and Louisiana Brewery all distributed their beverages regionally. Steamboats heading up the Mississippi River and sailing ships connecting ports along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts spread the popularity of New Orleans beer. As part of the cycle of business growth, the industry eventually grew to the point where it was ripe for acquisition. To avoid acquisition by a syndicate of Englishmen, the German brewers merged their operations into the New Orleans Brewing Company, basing their operations at the Louisiana Brewery plant at Jackson Avenue and Tchoupitoulas Street, Uptown, and the Weckerling plant, located at what is now the Louisiana Pavillion of the National World War II Museum, in the Warehouse District.
The American Brewing Company opened in 1891. American acquired an old winery on Bourbon Street, between Bienville and Conti Streets. They brewed “Regal” beer. The name is “Lager” backwards! American brewed Regal until 1962.
In 1891, a group of investors opened a brewery across from Jackson Square in the French Quarter. They named their company after the famous general whose statue dominated the square. By the late 1890s, restaurateur Lawrence Fabacher acquired the Jackson Brewing Company. The company purchased the “JAX” beer name from a company in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1956. The facility closed in 1974, to be resurrected as a specialty shopping center in 1984.
In 1907, Merz’ son, Valentine, built the brewery at 2401 Tulane Avenue, and the family began to brand their product “Dixie Beer.” Dixie grew in popularity, becoming a top-seller prior to Prohibition. The beer regained its position as one of the city’s popular brands when the 18th Amendment was repealed. In 1982, Coy International acquired the brewery. They sold it to Joe and Kendra Elliot Bruno in 1985. The Brunos filed for Chapter 11 protection in 1989, coming out of reorganization in 1992. Dixie added other beers, including Blackened Voodoo and Crimson Voodoo. The plant was severely damaged during the Federal Flooding of 2005. The Tulane Avenue location never re-opened, and the Dixie brand was farmed out to a Wisconsin producer.
The iconic Tulane Avenue location merged into the new Veterans Administration hospital, in Mid-City’s medical complex. In 2017, Tom and Gayle Benson acquired the Dixie brand from the Brunos. Tom Benson died in 2017. Gayle Benson opened a new brewery for Dixie in 2018. On 26-June-2020, Benson announced re-branding of her beer. The brewery will drop the “Dixie” name.
The German community recognized the need to control the distribution and retail aspects of the beer business, so they opened up a number of restaurants and bars across the city, outlets that would in turn sell their beer. This synergy of manufacturing and retail continued to grow through the end of the 19th Century and into the 20th, but hit a brick wall with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. Most of the small breweries were unable to survive Prohibition, so the industry was quite changed until it could resume legal production in 1933. St. Louis-based Falstaff moved into the New Orleans market with its acquisition of National Brewing in 1936.
By the 1950s, the incredible diversity of the industry prior to Prohibition was reduced to four brands: Falstaff, Regal, Dixie, and JAX, controlling 80% of the New Orleans market. As the Interstate Highway system expanded, it became easier for national companies to distribute their products, making it more and more difficult for local companies to compete. JAX, Falstaff, and Regal all closed their plants, leaving Dixie as the only old-line brewery left in town. Hurricane Katrina did Dixie in, the owners moving production of the beer to Wisconsin, since the storm did such horrendous damage to the Tulane Avenue plant.
Micro/Craft brewing came to metro New Orleans in 1986, with the opening of Abita Brewing Company on the Northshore. The last 25 years have seen incredible growth of this industry, including new breweries and several brewpubs in town. Like many industries, extreme consolidation opens up opportunities for small operators, who continue the tradition of the Germans of New Orleans.
(Thanks and a raise of my NOLA Brewery tulip glass to www.thebeerbudda.com for great background info!)
Twelfth Night Reveling!
Twelfth Night Reveling!
It’s Carnival Time! We’re starting off the season talking about Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany, King’s Day. There are three segments to this week’s pod. In the first segment, we discuss the history of Twelfth Night, from its pre-Christian origins to how we celebrate Epiphany in the modern world.
Our second segment is about the part of King’s Day that matters most, King Cake. The tradition of the king cake goes back centuries. Celtic peoples practiced the notion of the “sacred king”. The village or tribe would choose one of their own, a man, to be the sacred king. He would be sacrificed. The sacred king’s blood would flow into the land, an offering to the gods to ensure a good harvest.
When Christianity came to Europe, the concept of human sacrifice as stopped. The “sacred king” became a “Lord of Misrule” who led the celebrations. The selection process for both roles was basically the same. The women of the village would bake bread or a cake, and put a bean into the cake. When the cake was cut up and served, the man who got the bean became the sacred king. In Christian times, the tale was changed, so that the bean represented the Christ child. That’s where the modern concept of “getting the baby” originated.
The modern, commercial king cake came about in the 1930s. Haydel’s Bakery began to include a porcelain “baby” in each cake in the 1960s. The baby became plastic not soon after that.
Buying King Cakes
Twelfth Night Reveling in New Orleans
Our third segment walks through Carnival celebrations in early New Orleans, to the first parade, Comus, in 1857. Parading on January 6th began in 1870, with the Twelfth Night Revelers. The krewe paraded in the streets until 1878. After that, they limited their celebration to just a bal masque. Tonight, there will be three parades: The Phunny Phorty Phellows, the Société Des Champs Elysée, and the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc.
Finding photos in unlikely places
(this article is cross-posted from ArcadiaCoach.com)
Finding photos in unlikely places – it’s fun!
Checking our Facebook group, “Ain’t There No More” (the title is an homage to a popular New Orleans song) this morning, I saw Todd Price of NOLA.com posted another of his “lost restaurant” articles. Todd’s one of the food-and-drink writers for the Times-Picayune newspaper. You’ll see me refer to the T-P as “Da Paper” occasionally. Da Paper has an extensive photo database. Todd makes wonderful use of it. Not really sure how he gets his job done, some days. One day, I’ll get Da Paper to hire me in some capacity. Then, access to all those images and articles is mine! 🙂
Most of Todd’s old restaurant photos engage readers, However, today’s article had a neat find. The photo up top is Carver House Terrace Restaurant. This was the “nice” place at Lincoln Beach, the old Jim Crow amusement park. Here’s Todd’s caption:
CARVER HOUSE TERRACE
The restaurant was part of Lincoln Beach, the lakefront amusement for black New Orleanians. When the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, the previously whites-only amusement park Pontchartrain Beach was integrated. Lincoln Beach closed that same year. (1956 photo)
This is a particularly nice find, because it’s hard to come up with good photos of Lincoln Beach. Since it was the segregated park. Therefore, you didn’t have photo-bug white folks with disposable income walking around, like one would see at Pontchartrain Beach, the whites-only amusement park. Newspaper reporters didn’t go out there as much for slice-of-life segments, or people-having-fun stories. Most of the photos that are easily viewed are from after it closed, or of musicians and other entertainment acts that played to the African-American audience.
Be creative when you search
That doesn’t mean photos of Lincoln Beach don’t exist. It’s a question of refining search fields and digging in the right offline collections. In this case, Todd found Carver House in Da Paper’s restaurant files. It’s likely that the photo wasn’t tagged with a keyword for the park.
Jim Crow-era research is problematic in general, because so many of the “separate but equal” facilities were anything but. So, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, those facilities were rendered redundant. White-only facilities were far better, so black folks integrated into those. The other big problem is that Jim Crow-style segregation was outlawed 53 years ago. This photo of Carver House is from 1956. It’s over 60 years old. While archivists will save everything they get their hands on, government agencies were quick to box up segregation and put it on the shelf. Sometimes the “shelf” was the dumpster out back.
Finding photos on African-American subjects
Researching Jim Crow-era subjects? Your best bet for finding photos is family photo collections. Maybe grandpa and grandma saw Fats Domino out there. Possibly they ate at Carver House. So, ask around. Somebody’s got a box of old photos in the attic.
Go dig around!
Maison Blanche Department Stores
by Edward J. Branley
On October 30, 1897, S.J. Shwartz, Gus Schullhoefer, and Hartwig D. Newman with financial backing from banker Isidore Newman opened the Maison Blanche at the corner of Canal Street and Rue Dauphine in New Orleans. Converting Shwartz’s dry goods store into the city’s first department store, the trio created a retail brand whose name lasted over a century. In 1908, Shwartz tore his store down and built what was the city’s largest building 13 stories, with his Maison Blanche occupying the first five floors.
The MB Building became, and still is, a New Orleans icon, and Maison Blanche was a retail leader in the city, attracting some of the best and brightest people in the business. One of those employees, display manager Emile Alline, created the store’s second icon, the Christmas character Mr. Bingle, in 1947. Mr. Bingle continues to spark the imagination of New Orleans children of all ages. Even though Maison Blanche has become part of New Orleans’s past, the landmark Canal Street store lives on as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
New Orleans History books make great gifts!
New Orleans History Books for Christmas – Part 3
Three more books you can run out to local stores or the usual online suspects to get before Christmas.
Catchers and pitchers in The Show report on February 13, 2018. Know your New Orleans baseball history before it warms up! From the description:
In 1887, local businessmen and promoters secured a minor league franchise for the city of New Orleans in the newly formed Southern League, beginning the city’s 73-year love affair with the New Orleans Pelicans. From Shoeless Joe Jackson, to Hall of Famers Dazzy Vance, Joe Sewell, Bob Lemon, and Earl Weaver, to today’s stars such as Jeff Cirillo and Lance Berkman, the road to the majors brought many notable players through New Orleans. From these early beginnings to the present-day New Orleans Zephyrs of the AAA Pacific Coast League, local fans have continued the tradition of baseball in New Orleans.
Yeah, the “Babycakes” is an awful name, but it’s still baseball.
Crescent City Snow: The Ultimate Guide to New Orleans Snowball Stands (Paperback) by Megan Braden-Perry
It’s chilly enough outside that you’re likely not thinking about snowballs right now. It’s still a great time to give this book to someone, to be prepared for the summer! From the description:
Crescent City Snow is part guidebook, part diary, and part biography of fifty snowball stands and their customers in the greater New Orleans area. Keep a copy of Crescent City Snow in the car for when you want to try a new place, and use the table in the back to record your own observations.
I was at a pop-up with Mz Megan last weekend. She’s looking really good, in spite of becoming a snowball expert! 🙂
My first history book! I wrote this book in 2003-2004, and it marked the return of streetcars to Canal Street. From the description:
New Orleans was one of the first cities to embrace street railways, and the city’s love affair with streetcars has never ceased. New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line showcases photographs, diagrams, and maps that detail the rail line from its origin and golden years, its decline and disappearance for almost 40 years, and its return to operation. From the French Quarter to the cemeteries, the Canal Line ran through the heart of the city and linked the Creole Faubourgs with the new neighborhoods that stretched to Lake Pontchartrain.
So much fun to write, and it’s a great introduction to the city’s Main Street.
Links are to Octavia Books on Laurel and Octavia, uptown. You can find these books at all the usual suspects.
by Edward J. Branley
For almost one hundred years, generations of New Orleans shoppers flocked to Krauss. The Canal Street store was hailed for its vast merchandise selection and quality customer service. In its early days, it sold lace and fabric to the ladies of the notorious red-light district of Storyville. The store’s renowned lunch counter, Eddie’s at Krauss, served Eddie Baquet’s authentic New Orleans cuisine to customers and celebrities such as Julia Child. Although the beloved store finally closed its doors in 1997, Krauss is still fondly remembered as a retail haven. With vintage photographs, interviews with store insiders and a wealth of research, historian Edward J. Branley brings the story of New Orleans’ Creole department store back to life.
The craziest day at West End was always Good Friday! After the solemn aspects of Good Friday were observed, many New Orleans families headed out to West End for seafood. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t exactly as solemn as perhaps the Church wanted, but the food was good. Two of the popular restaurants were Brunings (top) and Fitzgerald’s. Both of these photos are from 1995. My family always preferred Brunings; their whole stuffed flounder is still the standard by which that dish is judged.
We would come from the Metairie side of West End, crossing the old Bucktown Bridge, which, alas, ATNM, between storms and the enhanced flood protection/controls on the 17th Street Canal.
Hurricanes during the 1990s all but obliterated the restaurants, bars, and nightclubs at West End. Even before Katrina, it was impossible for the property owners to re-build, because of wind and flood issues. No insurance company would underwrite reconstruction or new development.
West End for dining and entertainment is a thing of the past, but many folks still have fond memories of fun evenings looking out on the water.