Thirty minutes outside Lafayette sits a brewery where the tastes and traditions of the past collide with modern technologies of the future.
When you step onto this expansive property in Arnaudville, the sounds of Cajun music hits your ears and the smell of beer fills the air. This is Bayou Teche, a brewery born out of a love of Louisiana food, family and necessity. Carlos Knott owns the operation with his two brothers.
"We wanted a beer that would preserve our language and our culture in Acadiana," said Knott.
Their family has lived on this land for years.
"They were very industrious people here, what I like to say is they lived off the land," Knott explained.
Speaking mostly French, Knott's grandmother taught him as he grew how to use the things around him to cook and even make an alcoholic beverage or two.
"They would cut down a tree, one tree a year in June, and the ladies would take the cherries and make this moonshine for the holidays, and the men would cut up the tree and that's what they used to smoke their Andouille, their tasso," Knott said. "So on our smoked beer, that's what we smoke it with, that same kind of cherry wood."
Preserving the past is important for Knott. It's something he thinks about daily as each beer is carefully made.
"The day starts out in here," said Knott, explaining how the process works. "We take anywhere from 700 to 1,000 pounds of grain and we'll dump it one bag at a time in this mill."
The grains are purchased mostly from France and Belgium and help cultivate the taste of each brew. Along the way, critical ingredients are added.
"Every recipe we make, we find a way to incorporate something inherently Cajun or historically French into the recipes," said Bayou Teche Brew Master Gar Hatcher.
One example is the Miel Sauvage beer, which means wild honey.
"We use a lot of local Cajun honey," said Hatcher. "It comes from Bernard's, which is really just down the road from us on the swamp. We use almost exclusively French malts in this one so we get all the grains in from France."
Then the beer is aged in oak. Some is stored in old whiskey barrels. Other beer is stored in wine barrels from France.
"The barrels expand and contract with the temperatures, the beer goes in and out of the wood and extracts those flavors of the wood," explained Knott.
The beer is fermented in 30 barrel vessels, then, it's ready to be sold.
One of the things that makes Bayou Teche so different from other breweries is the way it handles its waste water. The LSU Ag Center developed a system of ponds here to clean the water. Knott says it's critical to his operation.
"This first pond here is pretty deep, it's like 14, 15 feet deep and all this allows - we pump the water here first, the water from the brewery, the waste water, and all the solids settle out, the pieces of the grain and the heavier solutions in the water fall to the bottom," Knott said.
The water is then moved to a second manmade pond where plants help take the waste out of the water. The plants will eventually provide another added benefit.
"The long-term plan is to harvest some of these to make ethanol for our sales vehicles," Knott said.
It's a concept developed by a college in California and used in a number of West Coast cities.
"You basically can make beer out of the roots and then from the beer you distill it and you make alcohol," Knott said.
From the second pond, water is transferred to a third. Clean water in this area is used to grow a Louisiana delicacy - crawfish!
"The original plan with LSU was not to have a crawfish farm, it was to have sprinklers so we could use it to irrigate our grass, but we just thought, hey this would be a lot more Louisiana to have crawfish," Knott explained.
The set-up here isn't something you'd expect to see in a rural Cajun town, but then again, this isn't your typical brewery. "We're making the beer to make the plants to make the gas for the vehicles," said Knott.
Knott said without the ponds, he'd have to use a septic tank to collect the waste water, then ship it to the waste water treatment plant in St. Landry Parish. This system provides a more economically and environmentally sound option. Plus, it's attracting visitors.
"It gets people to come tour, that's the other thing, they want to come see the pond and they want to see the Cajun music that we have or whatever we have that's different from other breweries," Knott said.
For Carlos Knott, this place is a labor of love. It's a way for him to preserve the traditions and tastes of his ancestors while doing everything "green" he can to make sure Bayou Teche Biere is around for the future.
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