Monday, November 19, 2007

Dixie floats, and lessons for us

"Do you have any New Orleans beer," I heard a shopper ask at a beer store over the weekend. "Well, we have Abita - it's close. But Dixie? No, it's underwater."

Not exactly.

The brewery buildings themselves may have been heavily damaged by a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina, but the brewery is alive, if struggling to stay afloat. From an Associated Press (AP) story, published on 30 October 2007:

By the time Katrina hit in 2005, Dixie was producing 50,000 barrels of beer a year. [Blackened Voodoo Lager, Jazz Amber Light, White Moose- white chocolate flavored - were three of the most well-known.]

The flood waters that followed Katrina took almost three weeks to recede. When they did, the bottling and packaging equipment was ruined, the carefully collected memorabilia was destroyed and the building was left with gaping holes in it. Looters used that access to haul out everything from the wiring and the giant copper vat where the beer was brewed, to the 100-year old cypress barrels where it was stored. <...>

a deal was worked out with the Huber Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin, to produce Dixie. <...>

they plan to begin rebuilding the building. "We want to put in a smaller, state-of-the-art brewery in the building," Joe Bruno said. They also plan to add an "Old World Bier Garten," on the rooftop and specialty shops.

There were other points in the article also worth looking at.

The beer business is much more competitive than it was pre-Katrina (29 August 2005). Thus in just two years,

Micro breweries are now major factors in markets, [Steve] Hindy [of Brooklyn Brewing] said."They are the fastest growing product these days," Hindy said. "They are growing faster than wine or liquor."

That is, of course, a good thing. But now the chance to fail is greater, and the loss from failure, greater.
the major brewers are aggressively getting into the craft beer category as well.

The mainstream beer corporations no longer see craft beer as a niche. Craft beer can longer hide behind its quirkiness and smallness as protection.
"Distributors will take your beer, the hard part is at retail," [Hindy] said. "There is limited shelf space and it's hard to get."

When I first began working on the distribution side of beer (after having been on the production side), Patrick Casey, owner of importer/distributor Legends, Ltd. offered me this advice:
Tom, the beer business is a real-estate business: it's about the acquisition of real space on the shop shelves, the acquisition of real placements behind the beer bars.

The article also mentions an earlier not-quite-disaster at the brewery, accidentally self-inflicted:
Once the most popular of the 13 beers brewed in New Orleans, demand fell in 1975 when fumes from a chemical being used to clean the floors tainted the beer's flavor. That was the first step on its steep slide.

That's a parable whose lesson all breweries large and small need to take to heart. Be proactive with quality control, with quality assurance. But when your brewery does develop a problem (and that's when, not if: read here), take aggressive, appropriate, and immediate steps.

Meant sincerely: good luck to Kendra and Joe Bruno, and good wishes for the return of Dixie.

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