New Orleans Brewing – a brief history of a long NOLA tradition

New Orleans Brewing – a brief history of a long NOLA tradition

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

JAX Brewery, Decatur Street, 2013, Ed Johnson photo.

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.

Early breweries

new orleans brewing

Maginnis Cotton Mills, originally the Fasnacht Brewery. Illustration in New Orleans, the Crescent City, as it Appears in the Year 1895.

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.

Reconstruction Brewing

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.

Regal Beer

new orleans brewing

American Brewing Co. truck, featuring Regal Beer ads, 29-Oct-1954. Franck Studios photo via HNOC.

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.

JAX

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.

Dixie

New Orleans brewing

Dixie Brewery. Unnamed illustration for the article, “New Brewery Opens: Magnificent Plant on Tulane Avenue Receives Guests.” The Daily Picayune 1 November 1907, p. 6

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.

Modern Dixie

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.

Prohibition

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.

Mid-Century

new orleans brewing

Falstaff Brewery, 2600 Gravier St, ca 1949-1950. Franck Studios photo via HNOC

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!

new orleans brewing

Maskers prepare to board a streetcar in the Phunny Phorty Phellows parade, 6-Jan-2012, dressed as mugs of Abita Beer. Infrogmation photo.

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.

Happy Oktoberfest!

(Thanks and a raise of my NOLA Brewery tulip glass to www.thebeerbudda.com for great background info!)

 

NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-June-2020 – Katy Morlas Shannon Part 2

NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-June-2020 – Katy Morlas Shannon Part 2

NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-June-2020 is part two of our interview with Katy Morlas Shannon

Katy Morlas Shannon (Zooming!)

NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-June-2020

Just one segment this week, which is part two of our talk with historian and author Katy Morlas Shannon. We had such a good time talking, and I don’t want to edit any of it!

Buy Katy’s Book!

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020

The New Orleans Bee was a French-language newspaper that began in 1827. L’Abeille (its French name) offered New Orleans’ Creole community the news for over a century. So, we spoke with author and historian Katy Morlas Shannon about her background, The Bee, and how she came to curate the selection of articles from the paper’s first year.

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020

The New Orleans Bee: Dispatches from the first year of Louisiana’s longest-running French-language newspaper – Kindle Edition

The Plantations

These are the places we talked with Katy about during our chat.

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020

The Big House at Whitney Plantation

Whitney Plantation

nola history guy podcast 16-May-2020

Laura Plantation

Laura Plantation

nola history guy podcast 16-May-2020

Evergreen Plantation

Evergreen Plantation

Fleurty Girl on NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-June-2020

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020

Crown baseball tee from Fleurty GirlWe did our interview via Zoom, but only used the audio for the podcast. Katy had a really cool t-shirt from Fleurty Girl on!

Katy M. Shannon on Facebook.

I promise, we’ll get back to the Riverfront Streetcar Line in a few weeks! While we’ll be talking to folks, research continues. Therefore, the Riverfront segments offer lots of details.

NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-June-2020 – Katy Morlas Shannon Part 2

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020 – Katy Shannon Part I

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020 is part one of our interview with Katy Morlas Shannon

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020

Original location of the International Trade Mart, Camp and Common Streets.

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020

Two segments on a longer edition of NOLA History Guy Podcast this week. First is our pick of the week from Today in New Orleans History. Additionally, part one of our interview with Katy Morlas Shannon.

May 13, 1966 – City agrees with International Trade Mart on a new building

nola history guy podcast 16-May-2020

Architectural rendering of the World Trade Center Building as the Four Seasons Hotel (courtesy DDD)

Our Pick of the Week from NewOrleansPast.com is May 13th. On that date in 1966, the city finalized an agreement with the International Trade Mart. The Mart wanted a new headquarters building, So, they acquired property at 2 Canal Street. The organization’s first headquarters was the above building at the corner of Camp and Common Streets. Mayor Vic Schiro continued Chep Morrison’s plans in his administration. The goal was to make New Orleans a gateway to Central and South America. Modernizing the ITM contributed to this. So, the organization built a 33-story office building at the foot of Canal. That building remains a part of the downtown skyline.

nola history guy podcast 16-May-2020

“ITM Building” – watercolor by Jeanette Boutell Woest, 1966. via HNOC

In 1985, the ITM merged with International House to become the World Trade Center. The ITM building housed a number of international companies. That’s how the “Mart” worked. Additionally, the building housed foreign consulate offices. As the city’s economy shifted from port traffic and the oil industry to tourism, things changed. While the ITM building was a good location, newer office towers on Poydras appealed to companies. Hurricane Katrina emptied the building. Even the World Trade Center moved across the street to One Canal Place. In 2012, the organization gave the unoccupied building to the city. So, it will soon become a Four Seasons Hotel.

The New Orleans Bee

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020

The New Orleans Bee was a French-language newspaper that began in 1827. L’Abeille (its French name) offered New Orleans’ Creole community the news for over a century. So, we spoke with author and historian Katy Morlas Shannon about her background, The Bee, and how she came to curate the selection of articles from the paper’s first year.

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020

The New Orleans Bee: Dispatches from the first year of Louisiana’s longest-running French-language newspaper – Kindle Edition

The Plantations

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020

The Big House at Whitney Plantation

Whitney Plantation

nola history guy podcast 16-May-2020

Laura Plantation

Laura Plantation

nola history guy podcast 16-May-2020

Evergreen Plantation

Evergreen Plantation

Katy Morlas Shannon

 

NOLA History Guy Podcast 16-May-2020

Crown baseball tee from Fleurty Girl

We did this interview via Zoom, but only used the audio for the podcast. Katy had a really cool t-shirt from Fleurty Girl on!

Katy M. Shannon on Facebook.

I promise, we’ll get back to the Riverfront Streetcar Line in a few weeks! While we’ll be talking to folks, research continues. Therefore, the Riverfront segments offer lots of details.

Napoleon Avenue at St. Charles 1860 #StreetcarMonday

Napoleon Avenue at St. Charles 1860 #StreetcarMonday

Napoleon Avenue links the river to Broadmoor

Napoleon Avenue

Napoleon Avenue at St. Charles Avenue, 1860 (photographer unknown)

Napoleon Avenue in 1860

The first streetcar service in New Orleans was along St. Charles Avenue. The New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad Company started at Canal Street. They expanded service in stages, as demand and their capital allowed. So, by 1860, the line extended past Napoleon Avenue,

Nayades Street

Napoleon Avenue

Map of Uptown New Orleans, 1850

The street we known know as St. Charles Avenue was called “Nayades Street” for most of the 19th Century. So, architect and surveyor Barthelmy Lafon named this long street after the mythic Green Nymphs who watched over fresh water wetlands. The street ran from the Business District, out to the City of Lafayette. Finally, the line ran to the City of Carrollton. The “Route of the Nayades” connected the neighborhoods. Similarly, it connected the plantations. In 1852, descendants of Spanish planters like Francisco Bouligny continued development. So, they changed the name of the street to honor Charles III. Charles was a Saint and king of Spain. As a result, of naming an uptown-to-downtown street after a Spaniard they needed balance. Bouligny’s descendants named their north-south road after Napoleon Bonaparte. They subdivided the plantation after 1862. Streets on either side of Napoleon Avenue were named to commemorate Bonaparte’s major victories.

Streetcar Operations

The NO&CRR opened its crosstown line in 1835. By the time of this 1860 photo, the company operated “bobtail” streetcars. The Johnson Car Company sold these cars to the New Orleans company. These streetcars, pulled by mules, were a good fit for New Orleans. Therefore, when the New Orleans City Railroad opened their line on Canal Street, they ordered bobtails. The uptown company acquired the property on either side of the tracks at St. Charles an Napoleon. Because the area grew in population, they extended service on Napoleon. So, the Napoleon line ran from St. Charles, going further up the street. NO&CRR opened a mule barn and a streetcar storage barn/maintenance shop at the intersection.

Eventually, the the mule-drawn streetcars were replaced with electrics. The NO&CRR facilities closed. Streetcar operations consolidated closer to the business district.

Smokey Mary – The Pontchartrain Railroad in the 1860s #TrainThursday

Smokey Mary – The Pontchartrain Railroad in the 1860s #TrainThursday

Smokey Mary linked Faubourg Marigny to Milneburg for almost a century

Smokey Mary

The Smokey Mary at Milneburg, 1860s.

Smokey Mary

The Pontchartrain Railroad operated from 1831 to 1930. The trains ran out to the fishing village of Milneburg. A port facility developed along the lakefront at Milneburg. The railroad connected that port to the city. The Pontchartrain Railroad carried freight and passengers. After the Civil War, it ran mostly as a day-trip line. By the end of the 19th Century, it carried almost exclusively passengers.

The railroad purchased two steam engines in 1832. Those engines lasted for about twenty years. The railroad cannibalized one for parts to keep the other going. By the late 1850s, the railroad purchased the larger engine shown in the photo above. This engine operated to the end of the 1800s. The big smokestack inspired most of the stories and memories of the train.

The Smokey Mary ran simply from the Milneburg Pier to a station at Elysian Fields and the river. Eventually, the railroad added a stop at Gentilly Road, but it was only by request. The railroad terminated operations in 1930. The WPA paved Elysian Fields from river to lake in the late 1930s. Pontchartrain Beach opened in Milneburg in 1939.

Milneburg

The village of Milneburg was located at the end of what is now Elysian Fields Avenue. Shipping traffic came in from the Gulf of Mexico, through Lake Borgne, into Lake Pontchartrain. Ships docked at the Milneburg pier. Merchants offloaded their goods and put them on the Pontchartrain Railroad, to bring them down to the city.

Jazz on the Lakefront

By the 1910s, Milneburg’s residents lived mostly in fishing camps. Musicians rode the Smokey Mary out to Milneburg to play some of the small restaurants. They also walked the piers, playing for locals. They busked for tips. This kept them busy during the day. The musicians rode the train back to the city in the late afternoon. They then played gigs at dance halls and saloons in town.