Welcome to the latest in my Brewing Bigshot Interview Series! Today's subject is Andrew Godley, Founder and Brewmaster of Parish Brewing in Broussard, LA (in Lafayette Parish). Parish has gone through an ENORMOUS transition in size of facility and staff this year, and tomorrow it will be debuting Andrew's baby, the Inaugural Grand Reserve Barleywine at the Avenue Pub, so I thought the time was right to see what's going on here!
Andrew has also moved from a staff of one (himself) to a staff of six - he’s brought on Will Gallaspy as lead brewer (Andrew says Will’s primary responsibility is to “work the brewhouse and produce the finest wort this side of the Mississippi”, heh.), who’s been working in breweries all over the country since 2006, most recently at Bosco’s Restaurant and Brewery in Little Rock and Nashville. He left Bosco’s early this year to return to his hometown in Lafayette Parish, and work with Andrew at Parish Brewing. Andrew, who now works full time (no more “day job”!) as Founder, Brewmaster, and Head of Brewing Operations, works very closely with Will to brew every batch of beer, and the brewery also employs an additional 2 assistant brewers, a packaging lead, and a cellarman. But even with folks in specific roles now, everyone still pitches in to get everything done, as is often the case with small operations, and breweries especially, I’ve come to discover. Parish will soon be shifting to a 2-shift day, one early and one late. That means that he’ll be hiring at least two more people in the next six months, so if you know a talented, experienced brewer, let Andrew know!
Parish Brewing currently devotes most of its time and resources to fulfilling demand for Canebrake in Lafayette (which was previously its only market, pretty much), Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and the Northshore. Andrew says that the demand for Canebrake has limited them in expanding their market and diversifying their beer lineup, but they are working with an eye to the future to be able to expand while keeping up with current demand. He hopes that adding fermenters and employees will permit his team to move forward with the great recipes and ideas he’s had in his head for a while now, although expanding the distribution market may take a while longer than that, even with increased capacity. (Although one of Andrew’s goals in 2013 is to start distributing bottled Canebrake outside of Lafayette to the current Louisiana Canebrake keg market.)
The Inaugural Grand Reserve Barleywine that’s being released tomorrow night at the Avenue Pub (on cask and keg) is the result of four years of work - brewing, changing, aging, testing, brewing again, and so forth. The first big batch (what will be released this week) was brewed back in April and has been cellaring since then, as Andrew says, “softening, rounding, and improving.” He promises that it’s a very balanced and smooth beer, yet “monstrous.” The Grand Reserve uses eight times the amount of hops used in Canebrake and has dark Belgian and German malts to create what he calls “serious maltiness to match.” He says he’s most proud of the balance that they’ve achieved through the brewing and aging process. The idea, he says, is to do a vintage of the Grand Reserve Barleywine every year, to age and compare through vertical tastings and the like. Although the recipe may be tweaked year to year, the plan is for it to stay consistent.
Although the Grand Reserve will remain a barleywine, Andrew has plans for more big beers down the line. Parish’s bottle-conditioning room at the brewery is almost finished, and will have the capacity to condition up to 60bbls of 750ml bottles at a time, enabling the brewery to produce and sell beers like Belgian Farmhouse IPA, Saison, and L’autre Femme Double IPA in 2013 and beyond. Andrew hopes to eventually have a permanent line of big-bottle beers that solidifies its reputation as a high quality brewery.
When I asked Andrew about beer events and festivals, he said that although he loves meeting people at these events and getting direct feedback, their small staff and tendency to obsess over brewing can limit them in their exposure at such events. The most important events, he says, are the ones where he and the team can talk to their customers, as opposed to industry marketing and promotion. When you have a small and very busy staff, you need to identify priorities and make choices.
Since I’m pretty interested in the challenges that Louisiana (and New Orleans) brewers face, I asked about that as well. Andrew admitted that there were many along the road. In addition to financing (something he strongly advises any budding brewer have well in hand before doing anything else), the beer distribution laws in Louisiana make it very difficult to nurture small breweries like Parish. Since breweries cannot self-distribute, all breweries regardless of size are forced to sell all their beer at wholesale prices so that the distributor middleman can make a profit. This makes it incredibly difficult for any artisan business to succeed; the only way that a business can is if they are large enough to have the economy of scale working for them, like Abita. The wholesale prices that breweries get for their beer are usually less than a quarter of what the beer costs retail. Only $1 of a $5 pint goes to the brewery, which needs to pay for hops, grains, salary, and brewery upkeep. While Andrew is telling me this, I can see that he’s frustrated. However, he adds, there is still incredible potential in the market. He believes that the demand and sales are out there (spending years desperately trying to keep up with the demand for Canebrake certainly informs this opinion, I imagine) and that if all these new breweries can stabilize financially, there is a market for growth. However, this growth is difficult when wholesale pricing keeps new small breweries on financial shaky ground.
Hey, if you want to buy Andrew a non-Parish Brewing beer, get him a Saison DuPont, or Tripel Karmeliet or St. Arnold’s Endeavor if they don’t have the DuPont. Turns out those are some of his current favorite beers. I like asking brewers this question because it says a lot about their personal tastes that is somehow more pure than just about the beer they brew.
I’m looking forward to buying Andrew a beer myself on Friday, when the Grand Reserve is released at the Avenue Pub upstairs on the Balcony Bar, starting at 5pm. Both Andrew and his head brewer Will will be there. So should you!