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 kept a low profile in recent years.

The sale price wasn't disclosed, but a Benson spokesman said 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, to add jobs to the local economy. 

The Bensons' first batch of Dixie beer was delivered to New Orleans-area bars and restaurants on Thursday in kegs. Cans and bottles will follow soon.

Dixie will be advertised and sold at Saints and Pelicans games, but the brand will not be given a monopoly, according to Dennis Lauscha, president of both sports franchises. State and league regulations as well as existing business partnerships would rule out an exclusive arrangement, he said.  

Along with the defunct local breweries Jax and Falstaff, Dixie was once a key player in the city's thriving beer industry. At one time it commanded nearly a third of the local market. 

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Dixie's longtime owners, Joseph and Kendra Bruno, will maintain a minority share in the company. The company plans to soon expand to other states in the Southeast, according to Benson spokesman Greg Bensel.

For much of the time since the brewery's century-old red brick building was flooded during Hurricane Katrina, a facility in Wisconsin has been contracted to brew Dixie.

Even if the Bensons wanted to, it would be impossible to reopen the Tulane Avenue brewery. Only the front wall remains as the site was incorporated into a 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.

Bensel 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 past years were sacrificed to help keep costs down and the business viable. 

In a statement, Tom Benson said: "We look forward to bringing Dixie Beer back to where it was born. 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." 

Three initial products — Dixie, new Dixie Light and Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager (catering to the burgeoning craft-beer market) — 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 also be variety 12-packs of the three brews. 

Dixie's New Orleans-area distributor will be Crescent Crown. The general manager will be Ken Caldcleugh, a veteran of the local alcohol industry. 

The New Orleans Advocate reported in March that talk of a 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, according to Lauscha. 

Lauscha said Benson's team had hoped to be able to launch products under their control in time for the 2017 Carnival season. But he said the products weren't ready for distribution and consumption until this week.  

People familiar with the deal between the Brunos and the Bensons said the sale was a way to revive a brand that still carries a large measure of nostalgia in New Orleans.

The Brunos, who had owned Dixie since 1985, said they had turned down countless offers to buy the brewery over the years. However, they said that changed when they were approached by Benson and his team, the stewards of a $2 billion business empire anchored by New Orleans' two pro sports franchises. 

"We know (the Bensons) will invest the resources and love necessary to bring the brewery home, make great beer and give the community another New Orleans business to be proud of," the Brunos said in a statement. "We so look forward to being part of Dixie’s rebirth." 

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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