New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Company: Growing with the Community

From the Source by | Jun 2015 | Issue #101

Photo by Taylor Seidler

Most sixth birthdays involve cake and ice cream. Maybe a pizza or two. NOLA Brewing celebrated in March with 6th Anniversary Ale, a beer fermented with Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces on apricots in wine barrels, and the first release from its new sour room. After six years, NOLA Brewing heralds a new chapter for beer in New Orleans. Its stewardship of the craft scene, focus on high-quality beer and investment in the community has led to explosive growth in a city that had all but abandoned its historical designation as the Brewery Capital of the South.

Bringing Beer Back to NoLa
After the devastation wrought by the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina forced Dixie Brewing Company to close in 2005, there were no commercial breweries in New Orleans. And it was the back of a Dixie beer bottle that inspired Kirk Coco, a retired Navy veteran, to change that reality.

“I read on the bottle that it was brewed and bottled in Wisconsin, and I was furious. I couldn’t believe our once-great brewing city did not have a brewery anymore. I decided that someone had to open a brewery,” says Coco. “After a few more beers—not Dixie this time—I decided that I should open that brewery. By the end of the night I had the name and the tap handle design, all on a napkin. The next morning I woke up and decided it still was a good idea.”

He reached out to ex-Dixie brewer, CIA-trained chef and fellow Navy vet Peter Caddoo to be brewmaster. NOLA Brewing was incorporated in 2007 and sold its first beer in March 2009. COO Dylan Lintern came on board next as a volunteer, “until they could finally afford to pay me,” he says. His brother Derek joined the team in 2012. “I decided that brewing was more exciting than banking,” Derek laughs. “They were expanding and needed another brewer, and before that I’d been a pretty avid homebrewer for over a decade.”

Exploring New Flavors
Derek oversees the brewery’s new sour program, located in the neighboring warehouse purchased for NOLA’s new taproom. At first, he says, “we thought the sours would be a taproom-only thing. But then we got really good responses to the beer, so we knew we wanted to step up production, but we didn’t want to risk contaminating the rest of the facilities.” Acquiring the building next door provided the space to make the fully fleshed sour program a reality.

Dylan adds, “It was like a bonus room. We didn’t take that building over for that reason, but it had this extra great space. It was just the right place at the right time.”

The sour program is a reflection of the growth in NOLA’s offerings. “We started with really approachable beers. Six years later, our newest projects are sour beer and barrel-aged beer programs, which is so far off from what I would have imagined we would get to in this time,” says Coco. “I’m so proud of the drinkers in this city. I never would have guessed that the beer scene could have changed so quickly.”

For a market as underdeveloped as Louisiana’s, it was a gamble that NOLA’s customers would take to sour flavor profiles. But they weren’t foreign to Louisianans. “Most of them have experienced flavors like these in something, so all you’re doing is making them realize that beer can do that,” Coco explains.

Growing with the Community
NOLA Brewing’s first taproom opened in 2013, and serves as a small beer bar, an informal market research facility and a private event space. The taproom’s popularity as both a place to hang out and hold events grew quickly, which occasionally created conflicts.

That’s why NOLA purchased the neighboring space. “It’s really an extension of our current taproom,” Coco says, “but making it more accessible, so people can have food with the beer, which is huge, because most people come in, have a beer or two, and then want to go somewhere else to eat.”

Local barbecue pitmaster Neil McClure is moving his smokers over to the brewery and will be running the kitchen at the new taproom in addition to his uptown restaurant. “We thought the food fit well, and we liked him as a person. In New Orleans, we do business personally first, and if we like you, we’ll see how the finances work out,” Coco says with a laugh.

The new taproom will also allow for more brewery tours, which have historically only been held on Friday afternoons. “Those first couple of years, it would be between four and 12 people, and sometimes none,” Dylan remembers. “Now it’s 200–400 people on a regular basis.”

Blazing a Trail
Today, New Orleans has regained some of its former brewing glory. The number of breweries has grown since 2009, developing a distinct beer culture in the city. Polly Watts, owner of The Avenue Pub, credits NOLA Brewing with blazing a trail for others to follow. “The beer scene here is the fruition of walking the path that NOLA helped build,” she says. “What our market needed was someone new, someone local and someone brewing high-quality beer. None of this could have happened without NOLA.”

The brewery’s rapid growth wasn’t anticipated by anyone, including its president. “We are already past my 10-year goals,” Coco says. “After six years, we’re already rolling into the 20-year projection plan we had when we started the company.”

Some of those plans include making mead and wine, as well as a line of craft sodas, which would necessitate a bottling line—currently all NOLA beers are canned due to the lack of glass recycling in New Orleans. Coco also plans to open a distillery by the end of the year.

Despite the rapid growth, NOLA maintains a focus on quality. “I really strongly believe, and always have believed, that the quality of our beers is the reason we’re growing very quickly,” Dylan says. “The consumer base here is growing, but people wouldn’t come back if we didn’t produce the best beer we possibly could.”

20-barrel brewhouse
– 6 60-bbl fermentors
– 6 120-bbl fermentors
– 3 60-bbl bright tanks
– 1 120-bbl bright tank
– 2 15-bbl sour/wild yeast fermentors

On Tap
NOLA Blonde Ale: A medium-bodied traditional American Blonde Ale with floral and citrus hop aromas. 4.9% ABV
NOLA Brown Ale: A light-bodied, full-flavored English Dark Mild Ale with notes of chocolate, coffee, caramel and nuts. 4.0% ABV
Irish Channel Stout: An American-style stout with sweet malt flavors of caramel and chocolate, complemented by a crisp bitterness produced by roasted barley and American hops. 6.8% ABV
Rebirth Pale Ale: Named for New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band, this Pale Ale is brewed with five malt varieties and Cascade, Simcoe and Citra hops. 5.0% ABV
Lowerline: Part of the new Funk series, Lowerline is fermented completely with Lactobacillus and has a spicy, funky nose, followed by mouth-puckering sourness and a funky, fruity finish. 4.0% ABV
Piety: Sour and funky, Piety was fermented with Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces and finished on tart cherries in red wine barrels. 4.0% ABV
Sauvage: Rebirth Pale Ale was fermented with Brett entirely in French oak barrels and two encores of dry hopping to create Sauvage. 5.0% ABV