Sitting at what is commonly referred to as a “crossroads,” Avoyelles Parish is a place in Louisiana that exemplifies both the north and south sides of the state. The parish celebrates its combination of southern Louisiana’s Cajun culture and northern Louisiana’s religious influence. Recently, restaurateur Jonathan Knoll brought Avoyelles Parish into a group containing a select few — the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild.
Knoll’s operation, Broken Wheel Brewery, is a small brewing system he placed in the back of his seafood restaurant, Fresh Catch Bistreaux, in Marksville, Louisiana. After months of education and preparation, Knoll and his brewmaster Chris Pahl officially announced their products to the people of Louisiana in March.
Knoll learned the craft of brewing through a mixture of self-education and help from plumbing-savvy friend Gary Guillory of Big Dog Brewing. Currently, Broken Wheel operates on a small scale, brewing only three days per week, allowing Knoll to manage his restaurant.
“We’ve been reading so many books,” Knoll said. “Watching hours of YouTube videos and homebrew stuff.”
Broken Wheel brews four different varieties, each with a name that echoes the parish’s culture, history and geography — a pale ale named “Pachafa,” a “Spring Bayou Blonde Ale,” a “Muddy Waters” brown ale and “Grand Chien,” a milk stout.
Since opening Fresh Catch Bistreaux seven years ago, Knoll said he has noticed an increase in local interest to drink more imported, non-domestic beers over the typical domestics of rural areas. Knoll began working with the basics of homebrewing, unaware of the science and conventions of the process. Upon meeting Guillory, he improved his education to make Broken Wheel a reality.
Knoll said domestic beers such as Budweiser and Miller are prevalent in areas like Avoyelles Parish. However, if the brewery continues to thrive, he hopes to see success as a brewery in central Louisiana, and an unprecedented presence in the region. Despite support from the surrounding community, Knoll said the introduction of craft beer is an uphill battle.
“I think there is a market for it,” Knoll said. “I think I’ve got a little niche here. I’m trying to do something nobody else is doing. Everybody’s supporting it. The customers that have been complimenting me on it have really been flattering. It’s almost too good to be true.”
Like any self-made business owner, Knoll is looking to the future of Broken Wheel. He hopes to expand the operation into a larger facility, allowing him to meet any foreseeable demand that may come.
Because of its size, Broken Wheel is only able to produce enough beer to fill a few kegs from each batch. Knoll is now working on distribution permits, meaning all beer is sold within Fresh Catch Bistreaux and the surrounding area at public events. With these permits, Knoll said he would be able to meet an interest in his beer already established by local restaurants and surrounding stores.
Along with wider supply, Knoll is working to refine his brewing process, as well as keep resource costs as low as he can. One way he’s reducing cost is by growing his own hops.
Though Broken Wheel’s beers are now made with manufactured hops pellets, Knoll has begun growing his own, with 10 plants developing in his restaurant’s gazebo affectionately named “Der Hopfengarten,” or “The Hop
“It’s been a really cool and fun little journey figuring out all this stuff out,” Knoll said. “We’ve taught ourselves this far. I’m
willing to keep on going.”
For Knoll, Broken Wheel’s presence is what will help Avoyelles Parish’s regional image, adding another layer to the area’s persona of cultural significance. Broken Wheel’s place in the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild also puts the parish in a more public eye.
“Avoyelles Parish is a very unique place,” Knoll said. “The community that we have here is really strong, especially here in Marksville. We’ve come a long way just being a part of the [Avoyelles] Arts Council and the things we’ve done. People are rallying around that, and that’s what gives it the momentum that it has right now.”