My Rouses Everyday, September/October 2017
As I recall, my first taste of alcohol was around 1977, when I was age 10 or so.
It was a sip of Tanqueray and tonic stolen from my mother’s unsupervised tumbler while she concentrated on a particularly intense game of gin rummy at the beach. My second taste was most likely a swallow of Dixie Beer on my dad’s sailboat, though this one was not only allowed, but encouraged. Dad was kind of a beer snob way before there was such a thing as a beer snob or people drinking it out of brandy snifters — the only bottles I remember being in our refrigerator had that instantly recognizable, green-and-white Dixie label. In high school, the cool guys (I was most certainly not a cool guy) wore Dixie trucker hats to The Butterfly and whatever bars were lenient enough with their age policy (we called it “getting carded”) to allow 16-year-olds in. And no man of discriminating taste would ever gorge on a Domilise’s shrimp or oyster po-boy without a frozen schooner of Dixie to wash that deliciousness down.
Locals are fiercely passionate about hometown brands. Along with Barq’s root beer, Dixie was the iconic New Orleans beverage. And then Katrina came and literally washed it away. Joseph and Kendra Bruno had owned Dixie since 1985. When the legendary Dixie plant on Tulane Avenue was heavily damaged by the flood, they continued manufacturing, but at a commissary brewery in Wisconsin.
But soon, Dixie will be coming home, with the help of another beloved local institution: the New Orleans Saints. In July, just in time for the 110th anniversary of the company, Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle announced that they had purchased a majority stake in the organization. And although operations are currently based in Memphis, Tennessee, as part of the ownership agreement, the Bensons have committed to building a new Dixie Brewery in Orleans Parish within the next two years. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the original 1907 recipe Dixie, our Dixie, is back and currently available in retail outlets across the area including, of course, your neighborhood Rouses Market. And for sports fans around here (let’s face it — who in South Louisiana isn’t a sports fan?), Dixie will be sold at upcoming Saints and Pelicans games. For the weight-conscious folks and dark beer lovers among us, the new Dixie Light and craft Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager are also part of the refreshed lineup of offerings.
Like many other cities across the country, New Orleans has experienced an explosion of craft breweries over the last 10-15 years, with a new one seemingly popping up every few months. There are lots of witty names and interesting ingredients among them. The Bensons have made it clear that one of their goals in bringing Dixie back to New Orleans is not to saturate the craft beer scene even further, but to help it continue in its growth. With their resources, typically unavailable to the smaller players, they plan to create apprenticeships, educational programs and increased visibility for the industry as a whole so that, in the long run, a supply of knowledgeable and experienced workers will be available to all of the local breweries, a critical element to any business’s sustainability plan.
New Orleans is a city that thrives and survives in large part on nostalgia. For better or worse (mostly for better), we have a hard time letting go of certain things that have defined us for generations. Yet it’s often not until those things are gone that we realize how important they actually were to us, and how they, in some large or small way, helped create our character. For those of us that recognize and appreciate the importance of the old, and how it helps shape the new, the old Dixie is almost home and coming to stay. For that reason alone, go out to Rouses Market and pick up a six-pack — or the next time you go to a ballgame at the Dome or the Smoothie King Center, order up an icy Dixie on draft. You’ll be glad you did.