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The Rebirth of Dixie Beer

The Rebirth of Dixie Beer

Dixie Beer was founded in 1907, and the classic New Orleans institution has experienced a multitude of highs and lows throughout its colorful history.

Through out-of-state contract brewing, Dixie Beer returned to New Orleans following the brewery's 2005 destruction due to Hurricane Katrina. Thanks to the late Tom Benson and his wife Gayle, owners of the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans, Dixie now has a sparkling new brewery located just outside of downtown New Orleans. The current owners wish to make the brewery a family-friendly tourist attraction and bring Dixie into the modern age of craft beer.

The brewery's new owners and managers all share a contagious mood of excitement, passion and optimism for the updated brewery. "Dixie Beer survived the last 113 years, including Prohibition, the Great Depression and Hurricane Katrina," notes Tanya Birch, Dixie's Retail Operations Consultant. "It will survive our current pandemic too, and we’re confident Dixie will be able to come back strong."

The Prohibition era saw Dixie Brewery making soft drinks, ice cream and ice – with a little bootleg beer thrown into the mix. During the night of October 3, 1922, federal agents staked out Dixie's Tulane Avenue brewery and busted a truckload of illegal beer that was headed out under the cover of darkness. Officers eventually seized the brewery, and Dixie was auctioned off to Val Merz, the brewery's original President, for $91,000. This move probably wouldn't be legal today.


happy bartender pouring beer from a tap

"Dixie survived the last 113 years, including Prohibition, the Great Depression and Hurricane Katrina," notes Tanya Birch, Dixie's Retail Operations Consultant. "It will survive our current pandemic too, and we’re confident Dixie will be able to come back strong."


Just after Prohibition, New Orleanians couldn't get enough Dixie beer, and delivery trucks sometimes needed armed guards to prevent theft of kegs. In 1951, Dixie hit one of its record highs: 156,867 barrels produced in just one year.

National brewing giants swept into New Orleans in the 1960s, causing many of the city's regional breweries to close down. Then came the infamous "bad batch" of 1975, when a new floor in the brewing area released strong phenol fumes, producing major off-flavors in the beer. Old-time beer drinkers in New Orleans still spin tales of how the tainted brew almost killed Dixie.

By 1979, Dixie was the last brewery remaining in Louisiana. Dixie Beer filed for bankruptcy in 1989, but the release of its specialty Blackened Voodoo beer was a huge hit that year, and the brewery was able to reorganize and hang on. Then Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans in 2005. Dixie Brewery sat under ten feet of water, and looters swept in to steal the copper equipment. The only way to keep Dixie on the shelves was to pay a big out-of-state brewery to make the beer and ship it back to New Orleans.

Tom and Gayle Benson, long-time Dixie Beer fans, purchased the majority share of the business in 2017 with the goal of bringing the brewery back home to New Orleans and locating the building in an area about six miles northeast of the French Quarter. The Bensons wanted the new brewery to serve as an economic catalyst for redevelopment in the area.

Dixie's gorgeous new brewery's grand opening took place on January 25, 2020 with classic and experimental beers on tap, live music, a second line parade and over 4,000 thirsty attendees.

The modern facility includes a taproom and bar area, gift shop, kitchen, dining area, meeting space, brewery museum and observation areas to check out brewhouse operations from an elevated walkway. Dixie's outdoor space offers a beer garden with bocce ball courts, cornhole, comfortable seating and walking areas surrounding a pond. Dixie's food partner, Fete Au Fete, cooks up mouth-watering Louisiana cuisine to pair with an old-school Dixie lager or any of the impressive range of craft-oriented test brews in the taproom.


dixie beer cans in ice

In 2019, Dixie began to convert an 85,000-square-foot warehouse into a state-of-the art brewery, manufacturing facility, museum, beer garden and kitchen.


Tanya's husband Jim Birch serves as Dixie's General Manager, and the couple got their start in the beer world by homebrewing and working for Catawba Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina for three years. Jim recalls, "I joined Dixie on January 2, 2019, right as we broke ground to convert an 85,000-square-foot warehouse into a state-of-the art brewery, manufacturing facility, museum, beer garden and kitchen. We never looked back!"

Tanya and Jim Birch are excited to make the brewery a tourist destination. "Dixie brings lots of first-time visitors to the New Orleans East community, branching out from the French Quarter and Bourbon Street," says Tanya. "We’ve had over 2,000 people take tours since we opened in late January, and we can't wait to get back into full gear after the current virus scare. Everyone has a story and a memory about Dixie, and that’s so special."

Jim's main challenge in running Dixie Beer will be figuring out how to promote the brewery's long history while bringing Dixie into the creative, modern world of craft beer. He explains, "Dixie fell into a coma in 2005 after Katrina, and we came out of the coma in 2017 in a completely different landscape of beer. We’ve established the framework for bringing Dixie back to the Gulf Coast region with a bifurcated portfolio of domestic premium beer like Dixie and Dixie Light and premium craft brands in our Dixie Voodoo series that include Crimson, Queen, Doll and Midnight."

Stephen Borutta, Dixie's Director of Brewery Operations, has a background in chemistry and engineering and a brewing diploma from UC Davis. "Dixie's return to New Orleans is a great opportunity for us to establish ourselves in the craft beer culture," Stephen points out. "We have a long history of making beer, and now we will use that knowledge and experience to create innovative, drinkable beers, while continuing to make our highest-quality lager. I'm most excited to experiment with ales, hops, fruits and more to make Dixie not only a great local's spot but a place for tourists seeking out local craft beer."

With its complex history, colorful personality and remarkable endurance, Dixie Beer remains a New Orleans icon to this day. In 1977, New Orleans journalist Richard Hart wrote, "70 years after its creation, Dixie Beer has become a local stand-by, like poor boys, red beans and rice and prickly summer heat. It's an easy reference, a symbol that somehow reflects the city and its people – slightly quirky and fiercely proud."


dixie beer fountain glassware

Photos Courtesy Dixie Beer

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