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Brews News: Great Raft, Red River Break Out in Shreveport

Just weeks before the New Year, Louisiana gained two new breweries from an unexpected geographic corner: Shreveport.   Red River Brewing Company and Great Raft Brewing both were licensed and approved in fall 2013, making Shreveport the only city in Louisiana with two manufacturing breweries.   


Great Raft Brewing, especially, signifies a growing change in Louisiana beer culture, as their story details how a couple were inspired to supply their community with a new, spirituous craft product that had been gaining popularity mostly in the southern regions of the state.


Great Raft Brewing was founded by Andrew and Lindsay Nations, who grew up in Shreveport, but learned to appreciate beer while living in Greater Washington D.C. in Alexandria, Va.


“We fell in love with beer when we lived in D.C,” Lindsay said.  “That was our only hobby: hanging out with brewers, hanging out at beer bars, hanging out with friends who were starting breweries… we were watching those dreams come true for friends.”


They flew back often to Shreveport to visit, but could not find the same quality of craft beer at home.


“We were frustrated that there was no local beer here.  We were more than 150 miles away from locally crafted beer,” Lindsay said.


A couple years ago they were about to fly out of Shreveport Regional Airport when Andrew turned to Lindsay and said he wasn’t coming back home until they had a business plan to start their own brewery there. 


At the time Lindsay was getting her M.B.A. from George Mason University, and the couple collaborated on plans to open a brewery in northern Louisiana. 


They made their first business proposal to investors in March 2012 and coordinated on brewing ideas with former Abita co-founder Jim Patton, who had planned to move to Shreveport to be their brew master.  Lindsay and Andrew sold their Virginia home and moved back to Shreveport in summer 2012 to be in closer touch with investors and start doing the groundwork for their plans.


In October 2012, Great Raft Brewing had their “coming-out” party, debuting their craft beers at BREW, Shreveport’s annual beer-tasting festival.  Three days, later Patton passed away.


Patton had been a key cog in helping attract investors and collaborate on new recipes, Lindsay said.


“You can’t fake twenty-five years of experience,” Lindsay said.


Lindsay and Andrew recruited Harvey Kenney to replace Patton as their Chief Brewer.  Kenney had been living in Australia as Thunder Road Brewing Company’s head brewer but wanted to reintegrate himself into the American brewing scene, Lindsay said.


About a year after their debut at BREW, Great Raft Brewing got its license in October 2013.  Its taproom opened on Dec. 20 for locals to preview before quickly closing again.


“We sold two weeks worth of beer in two days,” Andrew said.  


“Everybody has been extremely supportive,” Lindsay said.  “Everyone is so excited—having a brewery in the town where you live brings a real sense of pride.”


The brewery plans to have several recipes on tap and to distribute regionally in Northern Louisiana, Andrew said.  Their current flagship beers are Commotion, a dry-hopped pale ale, and Southern Drawl, a light German-style pale lager.  They plan to release specialty bombers seasonally, including an American dry-hopped Belgian Saison named after 80’s electronic band Depeche Mode.  Beers will be bottled and canned.


The taproom will reopen Jan. 9 with a more ready supply for consumers.  Andrew said the brewery has capacity to make 4,000 barrels a year.


New Orleans and Baton Rouge will have to wait to try Great Raft’s beer for now, though.  Great Raft Brewing will distribute only to Northern Louisiana in the first half of the year.


“We’re going to grow with demand and focus locally for now,” Andrew said.  “We don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity… I don’t want to head to South Louisiana until we’re absolutely ready to be down there.” 


Lindsay and Andrew have begun talks with distributors and hope to ship to New Orleans sometime in the second half of 2014, but will not do so until they feel they have enough beer to supply the market consistently. 


The name Great Raft pays homage to Shreveport’s history.  The Great Raft was a logjam more than 100 miles long in the Red River in the early 19th century.  Captain Henry Shreve was assigned to remove the jam, which took several years and many men, prompting the start of a new town.  It was later called Shreveport in his honor.  The brewery’s namesake parallels its own contribution to the town as the brewery should help bolster local economy while reorienting the community to a new industry.  Lindsay considers their taproom not just a local hang-out spot and potential tourist destination on the Louisiana Brewery Trail, but also a center for beer education.


“We wanted to provide an unpretentious place where the community can ask questions, learn about and enjoy our beer,” Lindsay said.  “Shreveport is waking up to the craft beer movement and starting to demand more variety and flavor.”


Red River Brewing, Shreveport’s other brewery, was licensed just two days before Great Raft Brewing.  They are a smaller brewery and are unlikely to distribute to Southern Louisiana soon.


Both breweries reflect an upswing in what Lindsay calls the Deep South’s bell curve for craft beer.  They were the first to break ground in Northern Louisiana, and as Great Raft Brewing attempts to both increase and satiate regional thirst for fresh, local beer, the market will likely open up and expand.  They are the first breweries in the area in many years, but they will not be the last.


“It’s an exciting time for beer here,” Lindsay said.  “The bar is being raised in Louisiana; I think we are going to be a state to watch for craft beer in the next couple years.”  


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