In the spring, New Orleans will get its second brewery when The Courtyard Brewery opens. The nano-brewery will serve small-batch brews from its Lower Garden District taproom.
It’s hard to say if The Courtyard Brewery is a love story about beer or a beer story about love. Either way, it began on Frenchmen Street.
Scott Wood lived in San Diego. He was a distributor for big craft breweries. He also had never tasted a beer until he was almost 30 years old. During a visit to New Orleans, he went to d.b.a. with friends to see Little Freddie King play. He tried his first beer, a Rogue Dead Guy Ale.
“It was wretched,” Wood said. Half an hour later he met Lindsay Hellwig through the window. They never spoke but instead communicated non-verbally through the glass. Wood tried to make it to her through the post-jazz fest crowd, but she shouted, “it’ll be more magical if we don’t actually talk.” Then she left. The Dead Guy Ale and goodbye could have been an inauspicious precursor for both romance and beer consumption, but instead they began to email each other soon after. Two years later they brewed two Belgian-style ales for guests at their wedding. Little Freddie King was there, too, playing music at the reception. They spent the night at a bed and breakfast on Frenchmen Street.
For the last few years, beer has been a thread that has woven the couple closer together, as it will continue to do when they open The Courtyard Brewery in the Lower Garden District this spring.
After meeting in New Orleans in 2010, Wood went back home to San Diego, but maintained a long-distance friendship with Hellwig for several months.
“We’d send photos of each other trying new beers,” Hellwig said.
They decided to spend more time together and made road trips to different breweries and bars in Texas and California.
“It caused beer envy,” Hellwig said. “We’d see people drinking stuff that we can’t get here [in Louisiana]. We thought we should be able to have those beers here but also keep it local.”
Wood moved to New Orleans on Jan. 1, 2011 and was considering going to law school at Tulane University.
“All my friends talked me out of it,” Wood said. “Lindsay asked me to figure out what they have in San Diego that we don’t have here in New Orleans.”
“When he suggested brewing, it seemed natural,” Hellwig said. They began brewing out of the courtyard of their French Quarter apartment, later inspiring the name for the nano-brewery. “We had only 400 square feet,” Hellwig said. “I had to stop cooking because we had so much brewing equipment in the kitchen.”
Soon they moved to a Lakeview home that they renovated. Again, they began to brew beer, but this time with more space.
Wood made friends with key beer people in New Orleans like Polly Watts of Avenue Pub, Dan Stein of Stein’s Deli, and Kirk Coco of NOLA Brewery.
“We were getting a lot of compliments on our home brew,” Hellwig said. The idea of opening a nano-brewery appealed to them both.
“I talked to Coco, and he said just do it, we need more of you,” Wood said.
Wood and Hellwig found the perfect space in a warehouse on Erato Street that they share with French Truck Coffee. Wood’s flirtation with law school helped, too. Most breweries in Louisiana open taprooms; it is the only way they can legally sell their product directly to consumers without middle-men distributors, but they can only sell up to 10% of their product on-site. Wood discovered he could sell his beer on premise if he was not distributing wholesale, which was beyond their starting capital anyway. The neighborhood’s Coliseum Square Association approved the nano-brewery’s plans, and Wood applied for a conditional use permit from city council.
He said the city will likely designate the small brewery as a “bar with light manufacturing.” The bar status will also enable Wood and Hellwig to sell beers other than their own in the taproom.
“We plan to have six to eight rotating drafts of our own with three to four guest drafts,” Wood said.
The focus of the nano-brewery will remain on The Courtyard Brewery brand, though. Wood and Hellwig will brew new beers weekly with a three barrel, 140 gallon brewing system. Wood plans to brew between 93 and 150 barrels the first year and rotate new drafts based on demand. The idea of their nano-brewery and taproom is intimate and direct; small-batch beers will be sold and consumed on site with the people that make them. Customers’ responses will be a large factor in what they brew next.
“An advantage to being a nano-brewery is we can brew a lot of different styles of beer,” Wood said. “We can also get direct feedback much quicker about our beer.”
“It’s fun to visit nano-breweries and know you can come next week and have a totally different experience,” Hellwig said.
Wood and Hellwig collaborate on many aspects of the brewery but often divide work based on their skill sets. “We work well together because I have skills that he doesn’t,” Hellwig said. “He has a sales background. He’s very intelligent mathematically, scientifically. I became more of the taster. Women have better pallets than men.” Hellwig also is responsible for drawing plans and designs.
While there are many female home-brewers in Louisiana, there are very few female brewers working commercially.
“I think for one thing we’re just behind the times on the trend in Louisiana. I think once women get a taste for more good beer, move beyond the gateway [Belgian ales] like I did, there’ll start to more of us out there.” Hellwig seemed to be speaking not only for female brewers and beer consumers, but for the growing craft beer market in Louisiana as a whole.
Another distinction of the brewery is that Wood wants his service staff to be part of the brewing process, so they are more intimate with the beers they serve in the taproom. More and more the brewery sounds like an extended beer family, where business, passion, and growth are not separate qualities, but all part of the same fabric that sewed Hellwig and Wood together and that they’ll extend to include others.
Hellwig and Wood plan to keep the operation small and grow their brand. And they’ll do this while raising a newborn baby boy, Jules.
“He was a wedding baby,” Hellwig said. Nine months after their wedding, Hellwig’s water broke while the couple was at Three Muses, across the street from the bed and breakfast they stayed for their wedding night, and a few doors down from where they first met.
“I would love to teach him about the business as he grows up,” Wood said. As Louisiana craft beer culture grows, so will The Courtyard Brewery and its founding family. Wood and Hellwig opened the nano-brewery to do what they love with the people they love. When their brewery opens in the spring, their family is going to get a whole lot bigger.