Dixie beer has a new name, and it’s one already ingrained in the neighborhoods of New Orleans.
The city’s oldest beer maker now calls itself Faubourg Brewing Co., the company announced Wednesday.
Owner Gayle Benson, who also owns the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans professional sports franchises, made the decision to “retire” the Dixie brand in June as the United States was convulsed with outcry over racial injustice. Many symbols tied to the era of slavery were toppled.
Company officials say people will begin seeing the Faubourg Brewing name gradually rolled out over the next few months across its operations and marketing. The first beers bearing the new name are set to start flowing from the company’s New Orleans East brewery by February. In the interim, Faubourg Brewing’s beer will be sold under the Dixie name, said brewery manager Jim Birch.
Emblems around the brewery will begin changing, including the Dixie name now painted on its tower, a replica of the original brewery on Tulane Avenue.
“We will be Faubourg through and through,” Birch said.
Neighborhood, New Orleans style
The old brand dates from 1907, when Dixie opened in a city full of breweries. Today it stands as the oldest in New Orleans, where local brewing has been staging a comeback.
The company calls the new name “a tribute to the diverse neighborhoods of New Orleans.”
The name comes from an ancient French term for settled areas outside a city. As colonial New Orleans grew from its historic core in the French Quarter, expanding neighborhoods were called faubourgs and many still carry the term, such as Faubourg Marigny and Faubourg St. John.
Benson and her late husband, Tom Benson, acquired the majority share of Dixie in 2017. She said Wednesday they did so to invest in the local community, and she described the name change as a continuation of that goal.
“When the team embarked upon this journey in June, we understood that our new name must encompass the spirit and diversity of all of New Orleans' unique neighborhoods,” Benson said. " The Faubourg Brewing Co. is a celebration of our city, our people and our commitment to New Orleans. Our investments in New Orleans East will continue, and bringing jobs and economic opportunity to our community will remain at the forefront."
Benson’s announcement in June of the intention to change Dixie’s name came in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police a month earlier, when long-simmering grievances with symbols associated with racism roared up across the country. While the origins of the term Dixie as a nickname for the South reach far back into history, its affiliation with the Confederacy has made it divisive in modern discourse.
The intent behind the Faubourg name is to move the brewing company forward with a brand that all New Orleans can call its own. “This decision was made while our nation continues to have critical conversations about social justice issues that have caused immeasurable pain and oppression of Black and Brown communities,” the company said.
The name Dixie is being shed by others too. In June, the country trio Dixie Chicks changed their band name to the Chicks. And in 2018, Dolly Parton changed the name of the dinner show at her amusement parks from Dixie Stampede to Dolly Parton’s Stampede, explaining, at the time, that “attitudes change.”
Over the past few months, plenty of people have urged Benson not to change the name. Birch has heard from many of them, too, mostly via social media channels, and sometimes in person at the brewery.
He said he wants people to understand that the switch is not a rejection of the past or their connections to the brand. Rather, he described it as recognition that the name is problematic for many people and that continuing to use it is at odds with the company’s values and goals.
“We’ve heard from so many people who appreciate the decision to change, but some who are frustrated by it, too,” Birch said. “What I tell them is that this is not a repudiation of what Dixie was or what you liked about it. When you take a step back and ask does the name represent what you’re doing, and if it’s offensive to a lot of people, why are you keeping it? It comes to a point where it’s not worth holding onto that.”
Selecting the name
The process of selecting a new name took place over the summer and early fall, and Faubourg was a contender early on. When the brewery later invited suggestions from the public, the name kept coming up again in these submissions, which Birch said was a validation.
As part of its selection process, the company convened eight focus groups, including sports fans, craft beer lovers and history buffs.
“We were worried maybe it was a little too New Orleans. Would people understand it?” Birch said. “But we got great feedback on it. It survived every step of the process.”
While the company will do business as Faubourg Brewing, the Dixie name will continue to be part of its brand history, Birch said. For instance, it will remain part of the museum of New Orleans beer history housed on the brewery’s second floor, which the company said it plans to expand.
“You’re still going to see the Dixie name there, presented in a way that we can tell the story,” he said.
Revival, and revamp
Dixie beer was once as much a part of New Orleans food and drink culture as Leidenheimer po-boy bread and Crystal hot sauce. But in more recent decades, Dixie had faded from its heyday, and after Hurricane Katrina it was no longer produced in the city.
When the Bensons acquired the company it was cheered as a revival, and they poured money into the brand to raise its profile and return production to New Orleans. In January, Dixie opened a new brewery off the Industrial Canal, with a large taproom and parklike beer garden.
That brewery was designed to produce a lot of beer, with the initial capacity of about 100,000 barrels a year. It was also designed to expand, with room to grow around its industrial site.
Birch said the company’s goal is to compete with brand giants such as Budweiser, offering an alternative that keeps more of beer drinkers' dollars in the local economy.
With Faubourg, he thinks, the company has a brand that taps into New Orleans heritage in a way that’s welcoming to all.
The company is also tweaking the recipe for its flagship lager, which Birch described as an effort to get it back to the original incarnation that made it a New Orleans staple in the first place.
“If you have Dixie today and a Faubourg tomorrow it will taste the same, but a little better,” he said.
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