Parish Brewing Canebrake debuts in Baton Rouge

Parish Brewing Company is an up and coming craft brewery located in Broussard, Louisiana, just outside of Lafayette. Over the past year, their Canebrake beer has garnered an almost cult following in Lafayette, with word of how good it is spreading all over south Louisiana. Canebrake is a crisp American wheat ale made with Steen’s sugarcane syrup, giving it a sweet taste and a citrusy finish.

Earlier this year, Parish built and moved into their brand new brewery with the hopes of expanding distribution and brewing more great beer. Once the Lafayette market had enough Canebrake, they set their sights on expanding into New Orleans and made it their just in time for American Craft Beer Week in mid-May. In a matter of weeks, Parish was able to gain close to 40 new accounts and have been able to supply all of them with Canebrake.

Now a month later, Parish will enter the Baton Rouge market and Canebrake should be available at local restaurants and watering holes as soon as Monday, June 25th.

I recently caught up with Parish founder and brewer, Andrew Godley, who talked about how Parish Brewing came to be, what he’s doing now and where he envisions Parish in the future.

When did you get into homebrewing and how long have you been brewing your own beer?

I’ve been brewing for about 7 years now. I started with the intent of opening a commercial brewery. My first batch in my garage was an all-out, “all-grain” beer. I wanted to do it like a commercial brewery from the get-go. I was sitting at a restaurant and my only options were Abita amber and Heineken and I was getting tired of those and decided there was an opportunity for another local brew. This was before any Louisiana brewery other than Abita was available. So I saved some money, started learning and reading a lot. I spent most of my free cash on brewing equipment and ingredients and brewed at least 2 beers every week for a few years before deciding to take Canebrake commercial.

Tell me about the decision to brew your beer commercially and what went into it that the average beer drinker might not know?

I think lots of homebrewers want to start a commercial brewery. The hard part for me was building a larger commercial brewery when you’re not filthy rich. I’m sure most face the same issue. I like to pass on advice that the first step in brewing commercially is figuring out how to finance a sustainable enterprise. You need lots of money, and if you haven’t figured out how to get enough, there is no point in going any further. I almost turned back after operating the nano-brewery for 2.5 years. It was harder on me and my family than I ever imagined. I was working a day job as an engineer at a plant plus putting in another 30 to 40 hours at the brewery on evenings and weekends. After two years of burning the candle from both ends I almost called it quits, because every path I went down to finance a larger brewery turned into a dead end. I kept going because I figured this was my only shot to do something like this in my life and eventually put a deal together. It took longer than I imagined and the lesson I learned is that financing a business is a task not to be taken lightly. Brewing beer was the easy part.

Canebrake is the first beer we’ve seen from Parish, but you have a couple others in the pipeline. Tell me about them.

Of course Canebrake will be the beer we enter all new markets with, but we have a lot of other stuff coming out throughout this year that we are very excited about. In the next week or two, we will be brewing our first commercial batch of South Coast, an awesome session amber. Really great biscuit and cracker malt character in this one balanced by noble hops. Only about 5% ABV and a dry, crisp profile. I personally hate amber ales that are too sweet. Think of South Coast like a Fat Tire. Very similar profile. Not a traditional amber. We wouldn’t release it if it wasn’t a great brew. There are a lot of ambers out there that are just a sugary mess of caramel and dark malts and have no harmony or balance. We did a lot of side-by-side tasting of commercial amber beers and I was surprised by what we really discovered about most amber ales that are available here compared to better examples from out of state. Most “amber” ales available here are underattenuated, oxidized, and too sweet and they almost all have too much dark, caramel malt with not enough hop nose to balance. If I’m tasting dark things like tobacco and burnt brown sugar without appropriate hop or yeast treble to match, I am kind of turned off and can’t finish the brew. It just isn’t refreshing or tasty, which is the whole point of beer. I am optimistic South Coast will change a lot of perceptions of local amber brews. The first batch of South Coast will probably be distributed to all distribution areas including Baton Rouge. Same with our Pale Ale, Envie, which we will release a couple of weeks after the South Coast. It’s a solid, big, real pale ale. Some breweries would call it their IPA if they produce beer for the masses. It’s very hoppy and rich. We brew Envie to be a bit sweet to balance the heavy citrusy hop load. I just bought a filling machine for 750ml bottles that we plan to use to bottle condition limited release stuff a few times each year. We will be brewing Grand Reserve in a few weeks and then cellaring it at the brewery until release much later in the year, maybe even 2013.

You’re new system brewed more beer in the first batch than your old one brewed all of last year. Did that present any challenges?

There have been several small issues, but honestly we have had a pretty smooth transition to the new brewery. I’d like to think my experience as the chief engineer at a large chemical plant helped in the planning process. We bought brand new equipment so everything worked as soon as we got it all installed and we brewed the next day. Some small issues that we have had to deal with include moving hot brewery effluent and wastewater to the sewer and getting consistent water for brewing nearly 1,000 gallon batches. We installed a fancy water filter to make our beers even smoother with precise control of salt content in the water, for example. Honestly I’m just happy to be brewing at our own brewery during normal hours like a normal human being. It’s a dream come true and there aren’t any big issues that are worth complaining about. We are brewing badass beer, we are independent and free to brew what we want, and we go to work at a brewery every day. Doesn’t get any better than that!

I know you hate to try to nail down dates, but do you have any idea when we can expect to see Canebrake (as well as South Coast and Envie) bottles on grocery store shelves in south Louisiana? Canebrake sure seems like a great tailgating beer if you get my drift.

We are actually trying to get Canebrake bottles out ASAP. We are bottling some today as a matter of fact. Any delay is due to quality control, ensuring the bottles are filled properly and they still taste excellent after a week in the package. Getting beer in the bottle without oxidation isn’t easy and many beers out there don’t taste as good as they do on draft because it is a challenging process. We are using a used bottling line, so we have had to make adjustments and repairs to get it going properly. We think we are going to be making great bottled product this week, so Lafayette may get some as soon as next week. I don’t know if we will be able to make enough for Baton Rouge and other markets this year, but I am sure going to try.

To let you know how serious I am about not releasing anything until its perfect, we are actually dumping a bunch of bottles we packaged 2 weeks ago. In short, we had a small issue with our filler that caused very minor taste differences in our brew. Most people would never even taste the difference, but we could, and I decided that if it wasn’t perfect we wouldn’t sell it. I could probably have sold these bottles and had lots of “hey, this is good” responses, but we are going for the “this is the most awesome local beer I’ve ever had” response. Our goal is to be a great brewery, not just OK.

I know you’re a proponent of using local ingredients in your beer. Tell me more about that.

It’s as simple as trying to differentiate our products while using what we’re familiar with. I was using lots of local herbs and fruits in other beers before deciding we would make a wheat beer with sugarcane syrup as our first beer. Where we live is literally flush with sugarcane. It’s everywhere. Honestly it would be kind of silly if we didn’t use it in some way. At our new brewery, literally 20 feet behind the brewhouse is a huge sugarcane field. I would like to say that Canebrake is the only beer in the world that uses sugarcane in any substantial quantity. We buy it several drums at a time directly from the Steen’s factory down the road from our brewery. We replace a huge portion of grain with it. As far as flavor impact, it’s just like Belgian brewers using candied sugar in their brews. It adds alcohol with minor flavor components of sweet brown sugar. As we grow we will try to use as many local ingredients as possible, but only if it makes the beer better. Some things don’t work in beer and I will never use something just because it’s local to help sell beer.

What does the future hold for Parish? Any ideas on future beers or the direction you’d like to go?

Well we will be selling Canebrake, South Coast, and Envie by the end of the summer. I hope to get our first bottle conditioned, artisan beer out there by the holidays in Grand Reserve. After that we have plans for a Black IPA, a tripel IPA, a true Czech pils, 2 saisons, and an imperial stout. Obviously it will take a while to get all of this out there, but these are what we intend on brewing. Many will be seasonals or one-time, small batch, annual releases. Once we are selling enough Canebrake and other brews to pay the bills, we will be able to do more experimental and interesting stuff. We have plans for a barrel aging cellar as well in the future for small batch sours and brettanomyces beers. In short, the beers that we are releasing now are as plain as it will get for Parish. I have told people before that my goal is to be one of the highest regarded breweries in the South. We will keep working toward that goal one brew at a time and we have a long way to go.

It sounds like Parish Brewing is a fantastic addition to the craft beer scene, not only in south Louisiana, but the South in general. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them. It will be great to have some really top notch craft beers made just down the road, and I look forward to watching them grow. Be sure to get over to the brewery one Friday afternoon from 4:00 until 6:00 for a tour, free tasting, and merchandise available for sale.