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The Dixie Brewing Company was making beer in New Orleans before being demolished by Hurricane Katrina

Darko Nanevski

Founded in 1907, the Dixie Brewing Company has been making and selling high-quality beer for 110 years now. As a regional brewery, it has been one of the most recognizable brands and an integral part of New Orleans’ history and urban culture.

And being in the business for as long as they have, having persevered all sorts of problems and obstacles over the years, it’s safe to say that the Dixie Company has really endured the test of time, both literally and figuratively.

An old Dixie Beer outdoor advertisement revealed during renovation in New Orleans’ Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. Author: Infrogmation CC BY-SA 2.5

An old Dixie Beer outdoor advertisement revealed during renovation in New Orleans’ Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. Author: Infrogmation CC BY-SA 2.5

Dixie Brewery, 2401 Tulane Avenue; post-Katrina photograph

Dixie Brewery, 2401 Tulane Avenue; post-Katrina photograph

They survived the Prohibition era by naming themselves the Dixie Beverage Company and producing soda and other non-alcoholic beverages.

The mid 20th century saw another problem heading in their direction. It was a time when local breweries were considered old fashioned and inferior to their mass producing rivals like Pabst, Miller, and Budweiser. So in 1989, Dixie filed for bankruptcy.

Ruins of the wooden annex of the Dixie Brewery, New Orleans. Author: Bart Everson CC BY 2.0

Ruins of the wooden annex of the Dixie Brewery, New Orleans. Author: Bart Everson CC BY 2.0

 

Interior of the Dixie Brewery, New Orleans. Ruined in the Hurricane Katrina levee failure disaster almost 5 years earlier. Author: Bart Everson CC BY 2.0

Interior of the Dixie Brewery, New Orleans. Ruined in the Hurricane Katrina levee failure disaster almost 5 years earlier. Author: Bart Everson CC BY 2.0

Fortunately, they were lucky enough that New Orleans showed a renewed interest in locally produced beers. And in 1992, Dixie yet again came back on top, when they introduced three new beer products: Red Crimson Voodoo Ale, Blackened Voodoo Lager, and Jazz Amber Light. The business was booming again.

Interior of the Dixie Brewery, New Orleans. Ruined in the Hurricane Katrina levee failure disaster almost 5 years earlier. Author: Bart Everson CC BY 2.0

Interior of the Dixie Brewery, New Orleans. Ruined in the Hurricane Katrina levee failure disaster almost 5 years earlier. Author: Bart Everson CC BY 2.0

However, in 2005, they were faced with a problem like no other before: a problem that would not only change the company’s future but would have an impact on all New Orleans citizens, and with dire consequences.

Dixie Brewery, New Orleans. View out the main gate towards Tulane Avenue. Author: Bart Everson CC BY 2.0

Dixie Brewery, New Orleans. View out the main gate towards Tulane Avenue. Author: Bart Everson CC BY 2.0

Hurricane Katrina is one of the most horrifying, deadly natural disasters that has happened in recent memory. And New Orleans bore the brunt of it. When the hurricane hit, over 50 levees failed and collapsed like paper.

Like a tsunami, the waters flooded the city of New Orleans with a ferocious speed and strength, taking everything in their path. There were massive casualties: many people lost their lives, their homes, and many buildings were destroyed.

The entire city’s infrastructure crumbled in an instant. Today, everyone who has witnessed the disaster firsthand can divide the city’s history into before and after the events of Katrina.

New Orleans: Interior, Dixie Brewery complex, New Orleans, 2008. Author: The Wandering God / Cody Allison CC BY 2.0

New Orleans: Interior, Dixie Brewery complex, New Orleans, 2008. Author: The Wandering God / Cody Allison CC BY 2.0

Detail inside Dixie Brewery Building, New Orleans. Author: Infrogmation CC BY-SA 3.0

Detail inside Dixie Brewery Building, New Orleans. Author: Infrogmation CC BY-SA 3.0

The Dixie brewhouse complex wasn’t spared either. Luckily, the employees were evacuated when the levees broke, but the building suffered enormous and irreparable damage during the flooding.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the events that followed while the area was being dewatered made it even worse. In the ensuing chaos, looters invaded the brewery, stealing most of the equipment and pretty much everything of value.

New Orleans: Office space in the Dixie Brewery complex, New Orleans, 2008. Author: The Wandering God / Cody Allison CC BY 2.0

New Orleans: Office space in the Dixie Brewery complex, New Orleans, 2008. Author: The Wandering God / Cody Allison CC BY 2.0

Author: Infrogmation CC BY-SA 3.0

Author: Infrogmation CC BY-SA 3.0

And with everything that happened to the building, between the sustained damage and the looting, after the waters retreated, the brewery could no longer function properly. With fear of losing the brand looming over their shoulder, the owners, Joe and Kendra Bruno, decided that production had to be contracted to other breweries.

However, while this move was good for the Dixie brand to continue, moving the business out of New Orleans to other breweries cost a number of people their jobs.

Author: Infrogmation CC BY-SA 3.0

Author: Infrogmation CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Author: Infrogmation CC BY-SA 3.0

Author: Infrogmation CC BY-SA 3.0

Nevertheless, the Brunos were still trying to bring the business back to the city. They wanted to reopen the brewery and make it into a fully developed center, with a beer garden and an entire apartment complex.

But the difficulty of finding investors, and all the litigation processes and court battles proved too much for them. Even the public outcry wasn’t enough to save the brewery and the Civil District Judge Paulette Irons approved a motion for the brewery to be turned into a hospital recovery research center. However, this was under one condition: the building’s original design and facade needed to be preserved and repaired.

Mid-City New Orleans. Around the old Dixie Brewery complex, much of which is being demolished for the new medical center complex. Author: Bart Everson CC BY 2.0

Mid-City New Orleans. Around the old Dixie Brewery complex, much of which is being demolished for the new medical center complex. Author: Bart Everson CC BY 2.0

Today, the beer still exists and is brewed under contract. But it will always be an important part of New Orleans pop culture, a bitter reminder and a painful symbol for the aftermath of Katrina and what the people have gone through.