Locally Brewed: The breweries large, medium, & pint-sized
Exploring the craft breweries that make up the fast growing beer scene in Southeast Louisiana
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The breweries in Southeast Louisiana are beginning to pour over, from large-scale production facilities to the more pint-sized shops, it’s a bustling scene of brews.
But a little more than 15 years ago, nearly all the breweries on the scene today didn’t exist.
“There were just no operating breweries after Katrina and this is very much a market that needed an influx of beer,” Patrick Brown, owner of 504 Craft Beer Reserve, said.
Very quickly though, in the past decade, that need is filled. Almost across the board, the new breweries got their start right at home.
“He totally was obsessed with home brewing,” Cari Caramonta, who co-owns Gnarly Barley Brewing in Hammond with her husband Zac, said. “Every weekend, any chance he got and then one day, I’ll never forget this moment because you know you looked at me and you said, ‘I was put on Earth to brew beer,’ and I said, ‘dude go for it!’”
Zac and Cari turned a passion for home brewing into a major business, canning the stuff they love to drink to share with others.
It’s a similar story over at Chafunkta Brewing Company in Mandeville, where the husband and wife team, Josh and Jamie Erickson, saw a niche that was ready to explode.
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“We saw the need for it here in Louisiana,” Josh Erickson said. “We were actually the 7th craft brewery to open in the state and now they’re in the forties.”
One of the biggest operations, Abita Brewing Company, started the craft brew scene back in the 1980′s, laying groundwork well before a production-style brewery was really attainable for most.
“Better equipment has gotten smaller and more affordable, and it makes it easier for more people to can,” David Blossman, the president of Abita Brewing, said. “[It] makes it more feasible and they’ve seen success, so banks are willing to lend, and investors are willing to invest.”
In reality, those investments began outside of Louisiana, but as craft breweries bubbled up around the country, beer makers in Louisiana seized the moment.
“We kind of saw an explosion of available beer from outside this market kind of pop up which probably helped play a part in people wanting more local options,” Mitch Grittman, the brewer at Zony Mash Beer Project, said.
Grittman and his partners bought an old theater, turned brewery, and started spinning out cans and kegs in the heart of New Orleans, creating that local option the market was craving.
“People care about knowing where the things they consume come from and people love local products,” Grittman said.
“I think people really appreciate that and they know what goes into them, a lot of times a small operation, so you feel more part of it, it’s not some big box company,” Josh Erickson, the owner of Chafunkta Brewing Company, said.
“It’s kind of what drives us every day is to be unique put out special beers and really challenge ourselves to take flavors that aren’t commonly found together and bring them together in some form or fashion,” Alex Flores, the head brewer at Urban South Brewery, said.
Over at Urban South on Tchoupitoulas, the crew has stretched beyond just making local brews, into the experimental, crafting creations you’d never expect.
“We’re using things like white chocolate, peach gummy rings that we’ll actually immersion blend and add it to the beer. It’s just really fun,” Flores said.
Many of those fun ideas often come from other breweries.
“I think that it’s camaraderie and openness in the industry,” Scott Wood, owner of The Courtyard Brewery, said.
The Courtyard Brewery might be one of the smallest shops in town, but with big flavors, tempting drinkers from all over and winning them over with their brews.
“Once you’ve tried something better you are naturally disinclined towards going back to what doesn’t taste as good,” Wood said.
It’s a focus on great beer and the community that extends from a small Courtyard all the way to Faubourg in the East.
“We are able to take and make all the beer on-site to all of the quality in-house and package everything here as well,” Stephen Borutta, with Faubourg Brewing Company, said. “It’s just nice to be able to bring production back to New Orleans and have local New Orleans employees and to really help drive community through a local product all made here on site.”
While Faubourg is filing cans by the thousands, others are just getting juiced up, creating a community that’s thrilled for each brewer’s success.
“All the manufacturers know each other, we all drink each other’s beers, we all support each other, so it’s been over the last six years blossoming quickly,” Zac Caramonta said.
“We don’t look at it that way at all competition, we don’t look at it like that,” Jamie Erickson, with Chafunkta Brewing, said.
“If you look at the aisle still today, Budweiser, Coors Light, and all those beers take up a huge section still today,” Josh Erickson said. “There’s plenty of room for growth.”
“Each of our paths to success is completely different because it’s based on what we personally want I’m not really interested in having my beer sit on shelves,” Wood said. “I’m most interested in serving someone directly, having them taste my beer in a way that I feel like best represents the care that we put into it.”
Those paths to success are quickly coming to a head, but in a market with a real taste for good beer, there’s no limit for what’s next.
“Folks mentioned, ‘Oh we must be oversaturated,’ I don’t think we’re close. There are 9,000 breweries in the country, and they’ve been thriving for decades and we’re only kind of getting ramped up,” Brown said.
You can find the breweries near you on the map below:
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