Thursday, December 6, 2012

NOLA Brewing - A Brewery On the Grow

When talking about NOLA Brewing's incredible growth, the key word is "double". Double the staff, from 6 to 13 in the past year. Double the production every year from the year before since they opened. Double the brewery space. Um, Mecha Hopzilla a double IPA, and the first beer in NOLA's high gravity line of beers.

The changes aren't just quantitative; NOLA recently went through a restructuring after head of brewing operations, Melanie Knepp, left New Orleans to become a regional sales manager for Stone about a month ago. Acclaimed home brewer and friend of the brewery Derek Lintern became the newest brewer, alongside brewmaster Peter Caddoo and brewer Indy Grap. Buck Brown has shifted his focus more exclusively to sales, bringing on marketing and events new kid on the block, MacKenzie Oescher. Also, the least sexy but possibly one of the most important upgrades: a MUCH larger and powerful glycol beer chiller system behind the brewery. NOLA Brewing thinks about keeping their fresh, unpasteurized beer cold in the Louisiana heat so you don't have to!

The considerable damage sustained by Hurricane Isaac in late August posed difficulties and challenges in keeping operations up to speed during repairs- as well as serious opportunity to make some amazing upgrades. The office area is fully renovated and the biggest and most exciting change is the beautiful tap room and bar area, which was open to the first brewery tour in 3 months just this past Friday.

Not only is the tap room a great place for folks to hang out during brewery tours on Friday, thanks to a reinterpretation of state law by the new commissioner of the Louisiana ATC (office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control) that deems that selling beer on brewery premises is actually now legal, it will soon (pending city licensing) be open to the public to sell pints on draft and cans to take home straight from the brewery. Once that's up and running, look for openings for a bar manager and bartender(s)!

Buck, Kenzie, and I talked for quite a while about NOLA Brewing's growth, and what that means for craft beer industry growth in New Orleans and Louisiana - in fact, in the entire Southeast region. NOLA Brewing hopes that breweries keep on opening in Louisiana, and is hoping that they have company at some point here in Orleans Parish. It's so crazy, we agreed, that what was once the beer mecca of the South, the City of New Orleans, still has only one commercial brewery within parish limits. With the incredible and non-stop growth of NOLA Brewing, it's clear that there is a market for local craft beer.

We talked a bit about the huge leaps that Alabama and Mississippi have taken legislatively, through grass roots advocacy and education. Raise Your Pints in Mississippi and Free The Hops in Alabama have been working to educate lawmakers of the economic development that craft beer and brewing provides as a small business incubator and job creator, how it leads to increased tourism and greater quality of life. Louisiana, especially New Orleans, has a bit of a schizophrenic relationship with alcohol. On one hand, you have the partying in the streets, the drive through daiquiri stores, the go cup. On the other hand, zoning laws and community support are against craft beer because of the fallout from other kinds of alcoholic excesses and subsequent negative perceptions. The three tier distribution hamstrings profit margins and profitable business plans and creates barriers for brewers to get their beer to the public. Laws are changed by the personal interpretation of the commissioner in charge. 

It would be great to have a Louisiana craft beer advocacy group to not only think about craft beer in terms of consumption and diversity and supply and demand, but frame it in the context of economic development, job creation, and supporting small local business and products. I know Kirk Coco, NOLA Brewing Founder and President, has always been involved in providing support and advice to small business owners, and aspiring small business owners, and not just brewing business. And anyone who's ever asked Kirk a question about running a brewery knows that he will answer any and all questions you have plus a few you didn't even know you had. 

I digress... back to the awesome new tap room! Buck mentioned that they are hoping to have 3 of the taps there dedicated to the brewers' experimental test batches- getting instant feedback from customers about the beer they are playing around with. That sounds amazing! It's a great opportunity for the brewer to connect directly with the beer drinker and over a new and exciting beer that no one outside of the brewery has had. When you think about this in conjunction with NOLA's cask ale program, it's clear that NOLA Brewing values the creativity of its brewers as well as the opinion of its consumers. In fact, NOLA Brewing does very little (if any) paid advertising, and that's a very deliberate choice. It's the company philosophy that the beer speaks for itself and the many events they create and sponsor have spread the word in a much more personal and fun way. 

In other key growth milestones, I asked about the response to the recent cans of Hopitoulous sent out for sale, and apparently they've been selling fantastically. The first weekend of their release, the Metairie Whole Foods saw it as its highest selling beer, straight up. The increasing diversity of the cans available seems to be benefiting all their beer. I also wondered how Mecha Hopzilla has been received, and was told that not only has it been selling well, it was NOLA Brewing's highest placed beer at the GABF this past year.

TONIGHT marks the debut of the third year of Irish Channel Stout, one of my favorite NOLA Brewing beers. Last year the release was at the Irish House, and this year (tonight!) the release is at Finn McCool's in Mid City. ICS Pints are three-fiddy all night long, and every beer you buy also gets you a chance to play "Plinko McDrinko", which sounds kind of insane but awesome. There will also be a cask of ICS Girl Scout Cookie, with mint and cocoa nibs in the cask mix, which I recall was quite well-received last year. Starts at 7pm and goes till 10. 

Also, at the Crown & Anchor on Algiers Point on Friday (tomorrow!) they'll be bringing by a cask of Mecha Hopzilla dryhopped with Simcoe, which sounds just delightful.

I urge everyone to try to get out for one of NOLA Brewing's events this week, and to check out the new and improved brewery tour and tap room. You'll be blown away by how much NOLA Brewing has expanded while staying true to their mission of bringing quality craft brew to the New Orleans market. NOLA Brewing is totally poised to be the Elder Statesman of New Orleans craft brewing- we just need some young whippersnappers up in here to test that theory. YA HEARD.

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