I have read in several places how Dixie 45 beer got its name, something about a bartender who kept a Colt 45 pistol behind the bar. As a teenager, however, I heard it was named Dixie 45 because it contained 4.5 percent alcohol and that the name was changed when the U.S. government made breweries reduce the alcohol content of the beer, possibly due to Prohibition. What's the true story?
Roy L. Mehrtens
Dixie Brewery, founded by Valentine Merz, was built in 1907 at 2401 Tulane Ave. It advertised its brewing diversity as "One Brewery, 45 Brands," a successful marketing strategy until Prohibition (1920-1933). In response to Prohibition, the name of the brewery was changed to Dixie Beverage Company, and during this time it manufactured malt extract and powder, as well as sodas. It returned to brewing beer in 1934 under the name Dixie Brewing Company. Perhaps the 45 comes from the former advertising motto, but legend has it that Merz visited nearby Nick's Bar, where owner Nick Castrogiovanni told him that Dixie had a kick like a .45 pistol. Appreciating the compliment, Merz created the Dixie 45 brand.
In 1985, Joe and Kendra Bruno bought the Dixie brewery, but the company filed for bankruptcy four years later. The brewery later introduced Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager and turned a profit by the mid-1990s. The brewery on Tulane Avenue has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina, and Dixie currently is produced in Wisconsin.
In 2011, the state of Louisiana invoked eminent domain, seized the shuttered brewery and sold it to Louisiana State University. LSU transferred ownership rights to the Veterans Administration, which plans to open a recovery center and research facility at the site. The Brunos fought for three years to save the structure, but their latest request for an injunction was denied in January. Part of the building is being demolished, but some elements of the historic structure may be preserved.