Food & Drink

Tom, Gayle Benson finalize deal to buy majority of Dixie Brewing Co., build new brewery

New Orleans Saints owners Tom and Gayle Benson take part in a press conference announcing the naming rights of the Saints and Pelicans training facilities to the Ochsner Sports Performance Center in Metairie. The Bensons also have acquired Dixie Brewing Co.
New Orleans Saints owners Tom and Gayle Benson take part in a press conference announcing the naming rights of the Saints and Pelicans training facilities to the Ochsner Sports Performance Center in Metairie. The Bensons also have acquired Dixie Brewing Co. Advocate staff photo

Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle Benson, have finalized an agreement to buy a majority share of Dixie Brewing Co., the century-old New Orleans beer brand that has had a low profile since Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters forced it out of its Tulane Avenue brewery, a Benson spokesman announced Wednesday.

The price wasn’t disclosed, but the deal involves a commitment by the Bensons to build a new brewery in the city in the next couple of years, possibly in New Orleans East and with the goal of adding a number of job opportunities to the local economy.

The Bensons’ first batch of Dixie beer was delivered to New Orleans-area bars and stores on Thursday. They will then seek to expand to other states in the Southeast, the Benson spokesman said.

New Orleanians will also be able to see Dixie being sold and advertised relatively soon at Saints and Pelicans games, Benson team members said. But Benson’s team insisted Dixie would not enjoy a monopoly and simply be sold and promoted alongside the other brands that have been traditionally available at the games, citing a number of state and league regulations as well as pre-existing business partnerships.

Dixie’s longtime owners, Joseph and Kendra Bruno, will maintain a minority share in the company.

For much of the time since the 1907 brewery’s red-brick building was flooded after the 2005 storm, a facility in Wisconsin has been contracted to brew Dixie.

It would be impossible to reopen the Tulane Avenue brewery, only the front wall of which is being preserved as part of a research center in the new $1 billion Veteran Affairs Medical Center.

For now, Dixie’s own brewmaster will oversee the beer’s production at a brewery in Memphis, Tennessee. Benson’s team said production will involve a return to the brewery’s original recipe as well as the founding philosophy of using top-quality ingredients, which in post-Katrina years had to be sacrificed in order to keep costs down and the business in existence.

In a statement, Benson said, “We look forward to bringing Dixie Beer back to where it was born. It’s everything a New Orleans beer should be: It is iconic and it is truly New Orleans.

“Gayle and I could not be more excited. Dixie Beer was lost to time, storms and even economic changes, but it is part of the social fabric of our city, and needs to be back home.”

Moving forward, three products — Dixie, new Dixie Light and Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager, catering to the burgeoning craft-beer market — initially will be available in kegs and 12-ounce long-neck bottles. Dixie and Dixie Light also will be available in 12-ounce cans.

There will additionally be variety 12-packs of the three brews, officials said.

Dixie’s New Orleans-area distributor will be Crescent Crown, and its general manager will be Ken Caldcleugh, a local alcohol industry veteran.

The Advocate reported in March that talk of a Dixie sale to Benson, 90, had swirled for months and that a deal was potentially weeks away from being announced. The deal was actually finalized in December, Benson’s team said.

Benson’s team said it hoped to be able to launch products under its control in time for the Carnival season earlier this year. But they said their products weren’t ready for distribution and consumption until this week, explaining the timing of the announcement.

Read more about this story at TheAdvocate.com.

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