Dixie Beer: The Story Behind NOLA’s Iconic Brew 

On television, investigative journalists are never shown wasting most of their time on leads that go absolutely nowhere — but it happens. A lot. Back in 2015, I was in New Orleans chasing down what appeared to be an insurance fraud case of near-biblical proportions when I found myself in the back of a car driven by the owners of the iconic Dixie Brewery. I'd been a fan since college, and this was an angle to the story that was just too weird not to follow.

Dixie Beer was started in 1907 and bopped along swimmingly until the big nationals drove most of the locals out of business in the 1950s and 1960s. Then, in the 1970s, there was that infamous "bad batch": 45,000 cases of epically skunky Dixie Beer. Smelling a bargain, Joe and Kendra Bruno bought the brand in 1985. They filed for bankruptcy in 1989, apparently deciding that being technically a microbrewery offering a single beer that tasted exactly like Miller Lite was not a great business plan. Dixie then introduced a more substantial Blackened Voodoo lager and by the 1990s had brewed itself back into solvency.

click to enlarge brews_dcb_0136.jpg

Then came Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The brewery on Tulane Avenue took on 10 feet of water and was looted shortly thereafter. Ten years later, the Brunos were in an eminent domain argument with the city and LSU over the abandoned building possibly being expropriated for a VA hospital. It made them paranoid. Which brings it back to where I came in.

Kendra leaned around the front seat and asked how she could be sure I wasn't a shill of the LSU system. The charming Mrs. M leaned forward and said, "Oh, Murff went to Alabama. He hates LSU."

That did the trick.

Without a building, Dixie was then contract brewed in Wisconsin, and later, after Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gail bought the brand in 2017, here in Memphis at the Blues City Brewery. The recipe has remained the same, but it's hard to see how the Memphis water didn't improve on that paragon of unremarkably drinkable beer. We've got artesian wells; the water in NOLA tastes like underwear.

About two months ago, Dixie returned home to East New Orleans, with plans to take the brand national. Which would be nice, because you can't actually get it in Memphis proper — not even when it was made here. You can get it in Southaven.

With Mardi Gras upon us, it may be worth the trip over the state line for a six-pack or two in order to get in the spirit. Especially since the insurance companies have ruled out the baby in the king cake as a choking hazard. Absurd. Of course, it is. In fact, all of New Orleans is a choking hazard. That's where the magic happens.

I understand that Dixie is not using city water and possibly getting it from the artesian wells of Abita Springs — home of Abita Brewing — which, if you need a Mardi Gras beer here, is a great option.

Abita's Mardi Gras Bock is, to me, an obvious marketing gimmick aimed at the sort of people who eschew king cake simply to avoid choking to death. Its amber, on the other hand, is a great Munich-style beer. Hop 99 is a great ale for all you hopheads, and Wrought Iron IPA is just a great beer.

It's Dixie Beer, though, that is my psychic anchor to New Orleans; perhaps it's the memories as much as anything. Their Blackened Voodoo lager is worth trying, especially on Fat Tuesday, not only for the flavor but because it was banned for a time in Texas as being too occultish and witchy. For my money, someone here in town needs to start carrying this stuff on those credentials alone.

As for the insurance fraud story I was chasing, it was deemed too weird to publish. You don't see that on the television either. That's just bad storytelling.

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