Hello, mellow Jax: A toast to New Orleans’ one-time brewing king
Cotton might have been king in antebellum New Orleans, but it ceded at least part of its crown in the post-Civil War years to beer, with the Crescent City becoming the biggest beer-brewing city in the South. In was against that backdrop that, in 1890, a group of local businessmen started the Jackson Brewing Company — named after the hero of the battle of New Orleans, Gen. Andrew Jackson — right across the street from Jackson Square. Soon after, they installed local restaurateur Lawrence Fabacher as the company’s president. On his watch, the brewery’s namesake Jax Beer would help it to become a major player, as the largest independent brewer in the South and the 10th-biggest single-plant brewery in the country.
Jax Beer is gone, the brand having been sold off in 1974 to the Texas-based Pearl Brewery — now Pabst — which no longer brews it. The iconic 125-year-old local brewery building, however, still stands tall and proud on Decatur Street, having been converted in 1984 into a “festival marketplace” shopping mall, including shops and restaurants.
- The New Orleans Jax Beer wasn’t the only Jax Beer. Another company based in Jacksonville, Fla., used the name as well, sparking a 1935 legal fight in which the Florida Jax agreed to sell only in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, with the New Orleans Jax selling everywhere else. In 1954, the New Orleans Jax bought exclusive rights to the name from the Florida brewer.
- Jax was one of the few local breweries to survive Prohibition. It did so by converting its brewery to sell “Jax Pure Products,” which included root beer, Jack Cola, near-beer and other non-alcoholic brews.
- A popular Jax advertising campaign still fondly remembered by local residents featured a jingle that started, “Hello, mellow Jax, little darlin’. You’re the beer for me.”
- A separate but equally memorable ad campaign for Jax saw the comedy team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols providing the voices for dozens of animated, often-absurd TV spots. “It was the most fun doing commercials, I think, for us both,” May told Vanity Fair in 2012.
- The Jax label featured a silhouette of the famous statue of Andrew Jackson astride a horse that serves as a centerpiece to Jackson Square across Decatur Street from the brewery.
- When it closed, Jax Brewery was the oldest brewery in the city.
- The Jax Brewery building on Decatur Street was built by Dietrich Einsiedel in 1891.
- In 1954, New Orleans Mayor Chep Morrison attended a ceremony and seafood luncheon at the riverfront brewery to mark the manufacturing of the one millionth barrel of Jax Beer. Morrison was enlisted to help tie a red ribbon around the barrel of honor.
- Fabacher is buried in Metairie Cemetery. A prominent member of the local Catholic community, he was buried in the uniform of a Knight of St. Gregory, a title bestowed upon him by Pope Pius X for “distinguished serves to the Church.”
Even if it’s no longer a working brewery, the Jax Brewery building remains a New Orleans landmark. In addition to being ground-zero for the city’s annual New Year’s Eve celebrations, during which a lighted fleur-de-lis drops atop the brewery at the stroke of midnight, the old building — with its central location and its bold red letters reading “Home of Jax Beer” — serves as a year-round reminder of the city’s sudsy past. For anyone who’s lived in the city long enough, it’s hard not to see the building without thinking — or singing — “Hello, mellow Jax, little darlin’ …”