Tin Roof began – as many good ideas do – in a bar. Co-founders and childhood friends Charles Caldwell and William McGehee were catching up over drafts in 2008 when they first tossed around the idea of opening a brewery in Baton Rouge. McGehee was attending law school at Louisiana State University (LSU) at the time and Caldwell was searching for a new career. Neither was particularly thrilled with their prospects.
A discussion of craft beers, with which McGehee had recently fallen in love with during a summer abroad in Europe, quickly turned into gripes over lack of selection in South Louisiana. Before long, Caldwell and McGehee decided to give a brewery the old college try and the idea for Tin Roof Brewery was born.
For nearly two and a half years, Caldwell and McGehee researched, devised business plans and learned everything they could about beer.
“It was really, really tough research,” McGehee remembers with a laugh.
Just last fall, Tin Roof brewery opened in an old, un-air conditioned Sears distribution center in Baton Rouge. The name, aptly, refers to the tin roof donning the front of the building. Within months, Tin Roof had produced two microbrews – Voodoo Bengal pale ale and Perfect Tin amber ale – aimed specifically for their South Louisiana customers.
“We make the most quality beer with quality ingredients and a handcrafted feel,” says McGehee, “That’s what we’re here to do.”
Voodoo Bengal uses locally sourced Louisiana cane syrup to give the pale ale a smooth, sweet finish. Perfect Tin has toffee and chocolate notes and is a smooth and refreshing medium-bodied beer.
“There are too many breweries out there trying to be the next Sam Adams, but we’re not. We’re taking a brew that we love and keeping it local,” says McGehee.
Both brews have won faithful followers in Baton Rouge and New Orleans where the beer was only sold on tap in restaurants and bars until recently.
In August, the week Julep visited Tin Roof, the brewery had just installed canning equipment and began production on their first cans of beer. The cans are now on store shelves in Baton Rouge and New Orleans area retailers – a fact that excites many LSU fans hoping to tailgate with the brews this fall.
And it’s not just the LSU fans that are excited by the Baton Rouge brewery; the university has jumped in on the action, too. The food science program at LSU is working with Tin Roof to offer brewery science courses at Tin Roof.
“It’s a great academic opportunity for LSU students,” says McGehee, “A university the size of LSU needs a program like this.”
In addition to the brewery courses, LSU and Tin Roof have been in talks about producing a special LSU brew that will be licensed and sold by the university.
“The (LSU co-branding) beer really caught us off-guard. We were not anticipating to expand quite that fast,” explained McGehee.
Although, he admits, the opportunity to be the first to produce a beer in conjunction with a university is appealing. The idea has garnered some criticism as a university promoted alcohol. The beer would be an officially licensed product by the university – much like t-shirts or bumper stickers are – and revenues from the beer will go back to LSU.
Overall, McGehee said the chance to partner with LSU could not be passed up.
“It’s a great opportunity for Tin Roof and opens an entirely separate business for us.”
While the details of the LSU brew continue to be negotiated, Tin Roof is gearing up for a busy fall. Cans of both Voodoo Bengal and Perfect Tin have shipped out to stores and LSU classes in the brewery are starting.
The next time you find yourself down around Louisiana’s bayous, seek out a craft beer for a change. Or better yet, head down the old warehouse with the Tin Roof for one of the Baton Rouge brewery’s free Friday night tours and beer tasting. It’s the best way to savor the local flavor.