Cary Koch wasn’t always a beer enthusiast. But these days, that’s the best way to describe his job.
Last year, the Baton Rouge native started working as the executive director of the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild, a group of active state breweries and corporate allies that had existed since 2011 without that leadership position.
Louisiana’s craft beer segment continues to grow. However, regulatory red tape is holding brewers back. That’s where Koch comes in. Working with the guild, he advocates for those small breweries.
It’s a job that has its difficulties, but Koch, a former NFL and CFL wide receiver, is ready to make the big play and tackle those challenges.
“(The craft beer industry in Louisiana is) blossoming, but when you look at us compared to other states, we’re still behind the curve in a lot of ways,” he said. “We’re looking to make some changes to continue to help this industry.”
In 2016, small craft brewers saw a 6 percent rise in volume and accounted for more than 12 percent of the U.S. market, according to the Brewers Association.
In Louisiana, local breweries fight national brands for shelf and cooler space. The craft breweries also compete against other state’s breweries that offer government incentives.
According to those same Brewers Association statistics from 2016, Louisiana ranked 25th (out of 50) in economic impact, bringing in around $740 million. At the same time, the state ranked 48th in number of breweries per capita.
For every announcement of a new brewery such as the upcoming Rally Cap Brewing Co., there is another for one like Noble Wave, which is now planning a move to Oregon. Noble Wave cited “Louisiana's uncompetitive legal and regulatory landscape for craft breweries,” specifically the ban on distributing beer directly to retailers.
“That was two Baton Rouge boys that grew up here, went to school in Baton Rouge and came back to start the brewery,” Koch said. “Now they’re gone, and we probably won’t get them back.”
But there has been recent progress. Koch said he’s sees it at places like Tin Roof’s tap room, which functions much like a bar and hosts events nearly every night. Such a space would not have been allowed in Louisiana before 2015.
More progress for the industry is on the way. Koch said about 15 more Louisiana breweries are in the planning stages. He wants the growth to continue and hopes some of the industry’s issues can be resolved with regulators without going to the Legislature.
“We don’t want to lose anything that we do have,” Koch said. “But we also want to keep pushing the envelope.”
CARY KOCH'S FAVORITE BREWS
So what does the executive director of the state brewer's guild drink? Cary Koch is an “IPA guy” primarily. However, he likes other beers, too. Here are some of the beers he’s been into lately:
Cinco de Bayou (Bayou Teche Brewing). A Mexican-style lager that Koch thinks will be a big hit.
Ghost in the Machine (Parish Brewing Co.). This double IPA can be hard to track down, Koch said, but well worthwhile.
Jucifer (Gnarly Barley). A juicy IPA that also isn’t always easy to find.
Parade Ground Coffee Porter (Tin Roof Brewing). “They just reworked the recipe a little bit,” Koch said. “It’s a great winter beer.”
Holy Roller (Urban South Brewery). One of the nation’s fastest-growing new breweries recently tweaked the formula for this popular IPA, Koch said.