Urban South Brewery is the new kid on the block. Open only since last April, this up-and-coming brewery combines European beer making with American craft beer styles to make easy-to-drink local beer. They even aim to “re-establish New Orleans as the beer capital of the South”. Where Y’at met with Urban South Brewery founder and president, Jacob Landry, to find out what motivates his quest to “share the gospel of good beer”.
Landry wasn’t originally a beer drinker. He can recall the “awful” beers his family drank when he was younger and therefore chose not to drink much at all. However, one great-tasting cup of whiskey changed his life and launched the entrepreneur on a journey to create a better-tasting beer for everyone to enjoy.
Where Y’at: Tell me a little bit about yourself, and have you always been a beer drinker?
Jacob Landry: So, I’m a Cajun from rural southwest Louisiana, from Lake Charles and Lafayette. I’ve not always been a beer drinker. When I was growing up, my dad drank Milwaukee’s Best and Natural Light. I tasted it here and there and thought it was awful. And so my first couple years at LSU, I didn’t drink much at all. But then I got a chance to go to France for a year, my junior year of college. France opened my eyes, pretty much to all alcohol—incredible wine, and I had my first whiskey there. Towards the end of that year, I started tasting Belgian and German beers for the first time and it kind of blew my mind. I didn’t know beer could taste like that! So that kicked me off. I came back to LSU and started getting into some Abita, Sam Adams … 12 years ago. Over the years, I just started trying more and more craft beer and I developed a real passion for it.
WYAT: When and where did the idea for Urban South Brewery come along?
JL: It first came along about 10 years ago, living up in the Pacific Northwest, seeing the craft beer and brewery cultures up there. It kind of just festered in the back of my mind for a long time. I had a great career in public education and kind of wanted to see that through. Finally, about three years ago, I had a chance to go through Tulane’s Executive MBA Program and felt like that really gave me the tools that I felt I needed to take the leap. So, I spent about three years writing a business plan. It’s taken that long to put the finances together, find the right place, and build the right team.
WYAT: What makes Urban South different from other Louisiana breweries?
I think we’re all different by the style choices that we choose to come out of the gate with. We’re different by the people and our philosophies. For us, our goal is to make beer that we drink but, as craft beer brewers, we’re also kind of connoisseurs, if you will. We want to have some beers that are accessible to other people who maybe aren’t as far along the spectrum as we are. We’ve been able to secure some great raw ingredients that are kind of hard to get, particularly with hops. The most basic brewing ingredient we use is water, which really sets us apart to some extent. We start with 100 percent pure water and kind of create the water profile that we want, adding minerals back in. It’s not something that every brewery has given me.
WYAT: Describe Urban South in 4 words.
JL: I’d say nostalgic, modern, friendly and creative.
WYAT: Can you describe your current beer varieties you have available now?
JL: First there’s Charming Wit—it’s a Belgian-style wheat beer that’s really our most accessible beer. Some people are familiar with the style to some extent because of Blue Moon. It’s not going to taste exactly like Blue Moon, but it’s kind of in the same ballpark. That beer is brewed to be just an easy-drinking, everyday beer that a lot of people can access. Holy Roller is the other end of the spectrum. It’s our American IPA. We’re really going for a bitter, kind of citrusy-tropical IPA that is also fairly accessible. But, just being an IPA in and of itself, only beer drinkers who’ve been drinking them for a while are going to appreciate it. IPAs are kind of an acquired taste because of their bitterness. Then, the third beer we’ve got out right now is Delta Mama. It’s a lager and also a really easy-drinking, full-flavored beer.
WYAT: Besides the beers you offer currently, do you have anything coming down the pipeline?
JL: We’re going to be quickly rolling in to Oktoberfest--that’ll be our fall seasonal that will come out mid-September. That’s a Märzen lager that’s going to be an amber-colored lager that will be really great after the hot falls we have now. It’s going to be canned and draft. All of our offerings—flagships and seasonals—are in cans and drafts.
WYAT: Personally, what’s your favorite brew and why?
JL: I’m really partial to Charming Wit. It’s a beer that I can enjoy drinking and my family in rural Louisiana can also enjoy drinking. You know, a family that normally drinks Michelob Ultra. So it’s a beer that is going to bring a lot of people together and I really like and appreciate it.
WYAT: Describe what goes into “creating” a new Urban South beer for you and your team.
JL: A lot of our initial beer choices are really place-based. First and foremost, we think about what kind of beers we know really well, culturally and seasonally. From there, we look at what our brewmaster has skill at making, and we look at what other breweries are offering. We prefer not to go head-to-head with particular styles, especially if we happen to like that beer. Is there room in the market for a new style of beer? Finally, we pick beers that we really want to drink, that we enjoy drinking. From there, it’s up to Wes [our brewmaster] because he has experience. There are some styles that we are comfortable brewing a big batch of right out of the gate, and then there are others that we do really small test batches of, to see how we want to make it.
WYAT: Not only do you brew tons of beer at your current location on Tchoupitoulas Street, but you also throw some pretty huge events and parties there. How has that helped spread the word about Urban South?
JL: I think it’s essential. The consumer today really loves knowing where their food and drink come from, and we’ve got an incredible opportunity to show them firsthand where it’s coming from and how we’re making it. There’s a level of transparency you get when you can come to the brewery and see the machinery that you don’t get out of big national brands. So it really gives us a chance to show people that we are making this product in their own backyard. And we’re also people who love to have a good time and really want our beer to represent the cultural essence of New Orleans. So it also gives us that chance to build a community of people who want to hang out here. When they have a birthday party, this is a place to come celebrate. Part of our long-term vision, particularly with the place that’s here at the brewery, is building what’s called in the industry lingo “a third place”. You got home, you got work and you got your “third place”, which for some people might be a coffee shop or a brewery. We even have a kids’ area so people can bring family to those events.
WYAT: Are there any big parties or events planned for the upcoming months?
JL: We had a really successful food truck round-up a couple weeks ago. We’re working with a group called My House NOLA; they do a lot of food truck events in the city, and they’re helping us organize a last Friday food truck round-up. The last Friday of September and October, we’re going to have three or four food trucks here, have live music and have a great time. On October 15, we’re going to throw an Oktoberfest party. It’ll be an all-day event and we’ll have some special beers on tap and have live music. On November 5, we’re having a motorcycle show here. It’s a craft motorcycle show for people who are really in to building their own bikes. So that will be a fun event too.
WYAT: What has been your proudest moment with Urban South thus far?
JL: Knowing what goes in to the building and the business, and the point of that first beer out. I think seeing beer on the shelves and seeing people I don’t know putting it in their grocery basket and wearing our t-shirt. That is probably the moment that’s been most exciting. But I’d say overall, I’m really proud of the team that we’ve put together. We’ve got some great talent, and we’re really in the trenches doing a lot together.