Classic Column: DIXIE - NOLA BORN 1907, BACK HOME 2020!
This story first appeared in our most recent Gala holiday Issue. Let's check it out agin today because DIXIE opens once again in New Orleans tomorrow, January 25, 2020!
Dixie Beer was born in New Orleans on Halloween of 1907. Up until August 29, 2005, it was America’s second oldest continuously operating brewery. It survived prohibition by producing other beverages like sodas and near beer (think non-alcoholic beer). After the repeal – on December 5, 1933, Dixie became the “neighborhood beer” with a local market share as high as 30%. Facing troubles and strong competition from mass-produced beer in the 1980s, the brewery was purchased by Joseph and Kendra Bruno in 1985. They worked hard to keep Dixie afloat until the catastrophic levee failures in 2005 that brought ten feet of water into the historic brewery at 2401 Tulane. As soon as possible, Dixie started production again with contract brewers in a different part of the country. In 2016, Tom and Gayle Benson became majority owners of the Dixie Brewing Company. Ms. Gayle, with her passion for restoring things to New Orleans that make this city unique, helped bring Dixie home.
To find out more about this fascinating story, I met Jim Birch, Dixie’s general manager, at the new facility being constructed in New Orleans East. He and his wife moved to town last January from North Carolina where he had worked at the Catawba Brewery. He got into the beer business after working as a bond trader in New York City; however, he had been a homebrewer for twenty years, “I decided to follow my passion and try to make a career out of it. It’s turning out pretty well right now.” Jim was recruited into the Dixie job and he could not be happier, “New Orleans is a city that my wife and I have always liked visiting and the opportunity to work here is kind of perfect.”
Jim is excited about the new facility and rightly so. Not only will Dixie be made in New Orleans again, but the 85,00 square foot space in the East will provide jobs as well as a space for a beer museum, private event space, and a 100,000 square-foot beer garden and family-friendly park outside. Beer will be ready to ship from here in December and Dixie will open to the public in time for Mardi Gras. The future is bright in Dixie land. Right now, beer is available in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. When the new facility opens, there is a plan to grow the distribution back to the 22 states in which it was available prior to Katrina.
It is not only important for the brewery to make beer in the city, but also to make a contribution to the city, “One of the decisions to locate Dixie in New Orleans East was about where can we make a big economic impact and be a catalyst for change, whether it be through jobs or community organizations and activities.” One thing not as positive about the location is that it is in an industrial area, difficult to access and away from the tourist zone. However, that is being addressed as well, “We’re working with lots of tour groups in the city that have reached out to us, and some that we have reached out to as well.” Jim also pointed out that it is only five miles to the French Quarter.
When it comes to the beer, continuity is provided by the brew master, Kevin Stewart, who started with Dixie about thirty years ago. Currently the three available varieties are classic Dixie, Dixie Light, and Blackened Voodoo. The flagship brew is an American Lager made using pale malt, rice, and Cascade and Cluster hops to deliver a crisp yet flavorful beer. The Light is made from similar ingredients but with a lower alcohol percent (3.8 compared to 4.6 for regular Dixie) and only 91 calories per serving. Voodoo is also a lager beer that was inspired by the German Dunkel style. It uses roasted malts with Mt. Hood and Cascade hops to create a rich, malty, and smooth character. The new facility will have the space to create some other styles too, and Jim plans to have five new offerings in the beer garden come January.
I asked Jim what he thought was the most important thing to Ms. Gayle and the Dixie team, “I honestly think that it’s a heritage brand that most people in New Orleans, or that have been to New Orleans, have some kind of affinity for, or story, or remember someone that told them a story about Dixie. So, I think this is just so part of the culture, and now it’s back. And it’s back in a way that will make a significant impact in the community.”
Thank you, Booze Lovers, for spending 2019 at the bar with us at Louisiana Kitchen & Culture. Now, it is the time to drink and be merry with family and friends this holiday season and a cold 6-pack of Dixie!
TRIVIA ALERT: What is America’s oldest brewery? [Yuengling, it opened in Pottsville, PA in 1829]
INFO BOX: Holiday songs about “Coming Home” 4-pack
I’ll be Home for Christmas – This standard was written in 1943 by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon to honor soldiers serving overseas who longed to be home for the holiday. The original version was recorded this same year by Bing Crosby. This really popular tune has been recorded by many artists ranging from Frank Sinatra and Elvis to the Beach Boys and Demi Lovato.
(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays – This tune was composed by Robert Allen and Al Stillman in 1954 and originally recorded by Perry Como. Allen and Stillman also wrote the Johnny Mathis hit Chances Are. What is, probably, the second most popular version of this tune was released by the Carpenters in 1984.
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – This 1963 composition by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich has become a holiday classic for Darlene Love. However, it was off to a very unfortunate start being released on the same day President Kennedy was assassinated. You may recognize the names of this writing team from our Wedding Tunes column earlier this year as the composers of the Dixie Cups’ hit Chapel of Love.
Celebrate Me Home – This 1977 hit by Kenny Loggins appeared on his first album after splitting with Jimmy Messina. It was written by Loggins and jazz piano legend Bob James. You are probably more familiar with Kenny’s hits as “King of the 80’s Soundtrack.” A few of them included I’m Alright from Caddyshack (1980), Footloose (1984), and Danger Zone from Top Gun (1986).