The first two beers from Southern Craft Brewing Co., Baton Rouge’s second microbrewery, should start showing up at local restaurants and bars later this month.
Joseph Picou and Wes Hedges, two local engineers and award-winning homebrewers, founded Southern Craft. For the past few months, they’ve been building a brewery and taproom in the Barringer Foreman Technology Park.
“The rewarding part is seeing it all come together,” Picou said, standing in the brewery one recent Friday afternoon.“We’ve been working on this for several years now, and we have the first batches of beer in the fermenters, and we’re about to put them in kegs. It’s a huge thrill for us to be at that point.”
Southern Craft gets its name from what Picou and Hedges want to do: make craft beers with quality ingredients that come from the South.
Southern Craft made its debut Saturday at the Zapp’s International Beerfest with two brews: Red Stick Rye and Pompous Pelican.
Red Stick Rye is based on the recipe for a rye beer that earned Picou and Hedges a second-place finish at the 2011 National Homebrewing Competition in San Diego.
Scaling up the recipe for Red Stick Rye from a 5-gallon batch to a 15-barrel batch — which equals 465 gallons — was a challenge, Picou said.
“We were fortunate enough to get really, really close with the recipe on our first try,” he said. “But it takes a lot longer to move 465 gallons from one tank to another than it does to move 5 gallons at the house.”
The beer features a malt made in North Carolina that’s heavy on rye. “It lends a good dry, spicy character to the beer,” Picou said.
Pompous Pelican is a double IPA that features raw cane sugar from M.A. Patout & Sons in Jeanerette and hops grown at Kelly Ridge Farms in Virginia. It’s a complex beer with a lot of citrus and malt flavors, along with a touch of white grape, Hedges said.
The brewery has a distribution agreement with Mockler Beverage Co. Both beers will be available later this month at a variety of restaurants and beer bars around Baton Rouge, including The Chimes, The Bulldog, Burgersmith, The Cove and Corporate Brew and Draft.
“We’re focusing on the retail outlets that specialize in craft beers,” Picou said. “We’ve gotten a very good reaction. People like the beers.”
Despite the booming popularity of craft beer and the fondness that Louisiana residents have for locally made products and a good drink, the state has lagged behind development of microbreweries. The only other craft brewer in Baton Rouge is Tin Roof Brewing Co., which was launched in 2010. According to the Brewers Association, a national trade group, Louisiana had 15 craft breweries in 2014, which breaks out to 0.5 breweries per 100,000 adults. That ranked Louisiana 49th in the nation.
But brewery activity has picked up over the past year. The Brewers Association website now says there are 22 breweries in Louisiana and 17 more in the planning stages.
Picou said several factors have kept craft beers from taking off in Louisiana like in other states, such as Vermont where there are 8.6 breweries per 100,000 residents or Oregon, which boasts 7.4 breweries per 100,000 residents.
The first is the difficulties in opening a brewery, including laws that forced smaller brewers to choose between selling their products on-site or through a distributor. While there have been some changes over the past few years that allow brewers to set up on-site tap rooms to sell beer, Louisiana is still ranked as one of the states least friendly to brewers, said Karlos Knott, president of Arnaudville-based Bayou Teche Brewing.
Picou pointed out another possible factor. “Down here in the South and in Louisiana, we’re the last ones to get on board with trends,” he said. The numbers back him up. Mississippi ranks dead last among all states and the District of Columbia in breweries per capita, while Arkansas is 39th, Texas ranks 44th, Georgia 45th and Alabama is 47th.
Picou and Hedges have been homebrewing for a total of 11 years. Picou, who grew up in Gonzales, got his start making beer after a two-week visit to England, Scotland and Ireland. “I got interested in making beer,” he said. “I saw that Sam Adams was sponsoring a homebrew competition, so I started making some beer.”
The next step for Southern Craft is opening a tasting room in May or June that will allow visitors to sample the brewery’s drinks while they tour the facility. Growlers of beer also will be sold out of the tasting room. Eventually, a tap room will open at the brewery, so guests will be able to buy a pint of beer while they watch a football game.
Southern Craft hopes to start selling bottles or cans of its beer in local stores sometime in 2017, Picou said.
Along with expanding the ways of getting its beers out to the market, Picou and Hedges plan to release more beers in the near future, including seasonal offerings. The goal is to produce 750 barrels of beer during the first year of operation.
“We’re excited to put new beers out in the Baton Rouge market,” Picou said. “Right now, a lot of beers in the market come from out of state. We want to offer more local products to consumers.”
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.