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Beer and Blue Skies: Courtyard Brewery

Blue skies are the backdrop at Courtyard Brewery, New Orleans’ first dedicated tap room not attached to a production brewery or brewpub.

“Jules knows everyone in City Hall,” says Courtyard Brewery co-founder and brewer Scott Wood. Wood and his wife, Courtyard co-founder Lindsay Hellwig, took their toddler-aged son, Jules, to almost every meeting they had with various New Orleans city employees and commissions while navigating the tricky process of opening the first dedicated tap room (not attached to a production brewery or brewpub) in the city.

Courtyard Brewery co-founder Scott Wood. (Photo: Nora McGunnigle)

And there were a lot of meetings.

“We had to educate every person in every department along the way” about craft beer and the new concept of a tap room, Hellwig recalled. They also had to convince departments like the Fire Marshal’s Office that people will, in fact, “come to a desolated warehouse to stand around and drink beer,” when the marshal raised concerns about the lack of seating in the space.

Tell that to the hundreds of people who come to the brewery each weekend to enjoy Wood’s beer plus guest taps of some of Wood and Hellwig’s favorite beers from near and far. They estimate that more than 2,000 people came to their grand opening party in January.

“The grand opening was overwhelming, almost surreal,” Wood says.

Courtyard Brewery hosted more than 2,000 people at its opening. (Photo courtesy Courtyard Brewery on Facebook)

Success has continued thanks to a well-curated tap list and innovative and fun events designed to engage all corners of the beer-drinking community. Courtyard has hosted a night of all dark beers called Dark Hours on Dec. 21 (the shortest day of the year,) a high-end cheese and beer pairing with St. James Cheese Company and Saint Arnold Brewing, a hop-heavy IPA day, as well as hosting groups of architects, bikers, bloggers, and more.

IPAs and More

Wood is expanding his brewing space and adding three new stainless steel tanks to ferment his beer. He’s served his trademark Baby IPA; a session IPA; a hoppy pale ale called Young Pale Eyes, Sonic Youth in 1983 IPA; a hibiscus ale called Mike; and a single-hop series called Lonesome Traveller.

The outdoor courtyard at the brewery is a scenic spot for beer drinking. (Photo courtesy Instagram user Southernsprout)

While hoppy beers are the San Diego native’s passion, Wood says that he plans to brew a wide variety of beer styles. The most important thing for him is quality.

“If the batch doesn’t turn out the way I want it to,” he says, “I’ll dump it out rather than serve it.” He declined to share exactly how many batches he’s dumped, saying only that it was “more than a few.”

Wood and Hellwig have no kitchen onsite, but a steady rotation of popular local food trucks,such as St. Clair Pizza, Diva Dawg, Taceaux Loceaux, and Saigon Slim are on hand to feed their customers. Their Lower Garden District location on Erato Street at Magazine Street means they are close to parade routes and Warehouse District events like Wednesday at the Square. They also sell 32-oz growler containers of their beer to go.

Courtyard’s instant success is particularly sweet for Wood and Hellwig since they endured years of work to educate and advocate for a vision that was new to the city.

All in the Neighborhood

In the months leading up to the brewery opening in October 2014, Wood and Hellwig created a strategic approach to win over the residents and the neighborhood association. The two went door to door for a month and a half before presenting their tap room proposal at the neighborhood association meeting, Wood says. “We got people involved and excited,” says Wood. “If we hadn’t done that, I know there would have been opposition.”

One reason they were concerned with the neighbor’s perception of their project was that all zoning correspondence regarding their conditional use application sent by the city to the residents referenced a “cocktail lounge” instead of “tap room” or any other beer-related term. “We had to create a new vernacular,” says Hellwig, so that people would understand what exactly they were building.

“But winning people over wasn’t the hardest part – people here want more local options for beer,” Wood says. “Doing due diligence was the tough part.”

They sent letters well in advance of any hearings or decisions to the mayor and all city council members, not just the council representative in the district the brewery was going in. They drove to Baton Rouge to discuss appeals with the State Fire Marshall and to get clarification on the laws from the state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC.)

The laws surrounding breweries in Louisiana are so confusing and infrequently used that even other brewers weren’t sure what they were, and often told the couple that the tap room they envisioned wasn’t permissible under the law. “I’m glad people told me we couldn’t do it,” says Wood. “It made me want to do it more.”

“Everyone who told me I couldn’t do it was wrong,” Wood says with a smile. “We are doing so much better than we ever thought we would. We’re far ahead of our projections; we can’t even keep our own beer in stock.”

Courtyard’s baby-, dog-, and even pig-friendly environment (a neighborhood pig, Lilly, often drops by with her owners) contributes to its popularity, allowing people to enjoy a pint or two even if they have other important responsibilities.

In a city and state where craft brewers often face antiquated legislative and permitting issues, Wood and Hellwig – and Jules – are charting a route to success that other brewers can follow. And that’s real progress in redefining craft beer in New Orleans.

Courtyard brewery is open daily on Monday through Wednesday from 410 p.m. and on Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

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