• Chris

A History of Dixie Brewery, Part One

Dixie Brewery. Unnamed illustration for the article, “New Brewery Opens: Magnificent Plant on Tulane Avenue Receives Guests.” The Daily Picayune 1 November 1907, p. 6

Dixie Brewery boasts one of the most recognizable names and the most distinctive physical landmark in New Orleans beer. Its 114-year history has been full of twists, turns, near-deaths, and comebacks. As we approach its historic rebranding to Faubourg, I’m offering a two-part history of the storied brewery.

Dixie was founded in 1906 by Valentine Merz and his partners, who built the brick brewery with the distinctive cupola on Tulane Avenue at the site of an old streetcar barn. Merz, the nephew of a brewery owner and president of the New Orleans Brewing Association, already had a background in beer. He diversified branding to increase market share, engendering in the slogan, “One Brewery, 45 Brands.” That’s probably where the “45” in the historic branding originates, though it’s a matter of debate.

Dixie was dominant in New Orleans and the operation grew to fill its entire block. Things were rosy until the rising tide of anti-alcohol sentiment and anti-German animus surrounding World War I resulted in the nationwide prohibition of alcohol in 1920. Like most breweries, Dixie switched production to near beer, soft drinks and malt extract (which thirsty and resourceful consumers could use to make home brew). Federal agents raided the brewery in 1921 and 1922, seizing illegal full-strength beer and equipment. After incurring steep fines and seeing no way forward, the directors decided to liquidate in 1923. The brewery was purchased by none other than Valentine Merz, who came out of retirement to take the helm.

The prohibition on beer ended on April 12, 1933, to scenes of raucous joy in New Orleans. Train and ship whistles sounded, beer-laden trucks rolled out of Dixie, and the police held a keg party. Sadly, Val Merz didn’t live to see the celebration, having succumbed to a heart attack in 1929. The company he founded enjoyed rising sales through the 1940s and 1950s. According to the company website, Dixie sold over 156,800 barrels in 1951. But the future of local breweries wasn’t secure and there would be troubled years ahead.

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