When lifelong Arnaudville resident Floyd Knott tasted his first beer back in the 1940s, Prohibition had already done away with most small breweries in Acadiana. “When I was growing up, it was either Budweiser, Falstaff or Jax,” he says in his Cajun French accent, adding that, to this day, Budweiser remains the beer of choice in southern Louisiana.
Lately, though, Floyd has been enjoying a different brand of beer and, this time, it’s brewed right in his own backyard-literally.
Early this year, Floyd’s sons Karlos, Byron, and Dorsey Knott launched Bayou Teche Brewing on the Knott family property in Arnaudville. Bayou Teche is the newest addition to Louisiana’s vibrant, if late-blooming, craft beer movement, whose recent arrivals include NOLA Brewing Co., the renovated Avenue Pub, and a host of craft beers newly available in the state.
Karlos is the Knott team’s brew master and the eldest brother of the bunch. He learned about beer years ago when his military service took him to Germany and then to the Pacific Northwest, two regions of the world renowned for their rich beer cultures. He became an avid home brewer and, for years, crafted special batches of beer for family meals in Arnaudville.
The idea for a commercial brewery came about on St. Patrick’s Day of 2008. As the Knott family sat enjoying a boiled Irish dinner paired with Karlos’ Irish-style homebrew, Dorsey suggested that they make and sell beer to go with traditional Cajun dishes like red beans and rice, jambalaya, sauce piquant, shrimp Creole, gumbo, fried seafood, crawfish bisque and etouffee. Thus was born Bayou Teche Brewing, which takes its name from the 125-mile long waterway that snakes through Arnaudville on its way to the Louisiana coast. As they were building the brewery over the course of the next two years, the Knotts developed the recipe for LA-31, a hoppy English ale designed to complement the flavors of their local cuisine and their local way of life. “We want to be the Louisiana lifestyle beer,” says Karlos.
The Louisiana lifestyle is something the Knott family knows a thing or two about. The Knotts’ ancestors have been living on the same piece of land since the late 1800s, and, today, the family’s routines are still punctuated by longstanding activities and rituals. On any given day, you might find Karlos out working in the garden, Byron and Dorsey crawfishing in the nearby pond, and Zydeco tunes chugging away on the radio. Floyd writes a column for the local newspaper about the olden days of life in Acadiana. Sunday brunches are the sort of drawn-out family events that stretch well into the afternoon and end with plans for cooking dinner.
The faces around the Sunday brunch table are the same ones that show up at business meetings on Monday mornings. Karlos’ wife Stephanie and Dorsey’s wife Laurin work for the brewery, and even Karlos’ kids are in on the action. “My daughter thinks she’s the brew master,” Karlos jokes of his seven year-old, Michelle. In the kitchen of Karlos’ house hangs a painting, by his son Cory, of a mother and baby pelicans in warm shades of pink and orange. That image became Bayou Teche’s logo, with the colors modified to reflect the Knotts’ German ancestry and Belgian brewing style.
At first, as they planned the business, the Knotts had modest ambitions for their brewery. They rigged up a one-barrel brewing system inside an old railroad car on their property and started brewing in small batches. “We thought we’d brew a few barrels because we enjoy doing it and we like this beer and we thought some of the local restaurants would like it,” Karlos explains. “We thought that three barrels a week would be enough.”
Three barrels a week, they learned quickly, was not nearly enough. “Our beer wasn’t even out yet, we didn’t have our final license from the parish, and the phone was ringing off the hook,” Karlos recalls. They made plans to build a bigger brewery adjacent to the railroad car but, in the meantime, sought out a contract brewery that could make their beer for them. Bayou Teche’s beer is now being brewed and bottled by Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Kiln, Miss. until the expanded brewery in Arnaudville is complete.
Since January, the Knotts have been selling LA-31 in Lafayette and the surrounding area. Bayou Teche is now in one hundred local stores and restaurants and, despite the Bud-loving tendencies of the area, the demand for LA-31 has been high. “We’re doing really well in the mom and pop stores where craft beer doesn’t usually do that well,” says Karlos.
In March, Bayou Teche rolled LA-31 into the New Orleans market. It has since been flying off the shelves at retail stores, bars and restaurants around town. “It caught on right away,” says Stein’s Deli owner and local beer expert Dan Stein of the brand. “I sold 18 bottles yesterday.” At Cajun restaurants like Cochon and Mulate’s, the beer goes so fast that the distributors have trouble keeping it stocked. Lazy Magnolia owner Leslie Henderson says she’s been impressed by how well Bayou Teche’s beer is selling. “It’s been quite a wild ride, and we’re thrilled with them.”
As they expand, the Knotts are developing new brewing recipes that reflect their Cajun traditions. They recently released Grenade (pronounced gra-NOD), a wheat beer brewed with passion fruit. “Growing up, all the farmers would have them on their fence lines,” Karlos remembers of the lime-sized tropical fruits. “They’re beautiful and we’re going to plant them around the brewery when we get a chance.” In their one-barrel system in Arnaudville, the Knotts are brewing a smoked hefeweisen called Boucanèe. The barley in the Boucanèe is flavored with smoked cherry wood, the same stuff used by people in the area to cure Cajun meats like tasso and andouille. (In Cajun French, grenade means “passion fruit” and boucanèe means “smoked”).This fall, they’ll roll out their Bière Noire (“Black Beer”), a dark brew that pays homage to the black coffee their French ancestors often drank.
But, while the Knotts are committed to using indigenous ingredients in their beers, they are careful not to force any flavors that don’t fit. One experimental home brewer in Lafayette offered to sell Bayou Teche his recipe for a gumbo-flavored beer. Bayou Teche politely declined. “We really want to make the best beers we can, not so much the gimmick of what’s local in the beer,” says Karlos.
Bayou Teche’s goal is to be statewide by the end of the year. Once the New Orleans market settles, they plan to extend distribution to Shreveport andMonroe. But, as popular as their beer may become, the Knotts say that North Louisiana is where Bayou Teche’s ambitions end. “People don’t eat like they do here anywhere else, so we’re not really looking to go into Kansas or whatever state,” explains Karlos. “We really want to sell to people from here.”