Food News

Jim Patton, Abita Founder and Wynwood Brewing Genius, Dead at 59 (Updated)

Jim Patton, brewmaster for Wynwood Brewing Company, Abita Brewing Company founder, anthropologist and craft beer pioneer died last Tuesday evening in Miami, he was 59. 

Luis Brignoni Jr., Wynwood Brewing Company founder, said: "It is with our deepest of regrets and sadness that we say goodbye to our brewer and friend Jim Patton. There are no words to describe the feelings of his loss in passing. For over a year I've had the blessed opportunity to work with Jim in putting together what was once just an idea I had and make it a reality. It takes a special person to move across the country to be part of something that he believed in so much."

See Also:

- Jim Patton, Wynwood Brewing Genius, Talks Craft Beer, Abita and Anthropology

- Wynwood Brewing Company Signs Lease, Plans to Open By November

- Beer Snobs Rejoice! Wynwood Brewing Soon to Open

Born February 24, 1953, Patton earned a bachelors degree from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he met his wife of 42 years. His first career was in professorship, earning a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Washington and Lee University in St. Louis, where he was a Dougherty Fellow specializing in Andean agricultural economics. 

In 1980, Patton took a break from academia to visit friends in Abita Springs, Louisiana for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Soon after he moved to teach at Southeastern and Xavier universities in southern Louisiana.

Patton made an abrupt career change, deciding to leave the "politics in the teaching" to become a full-time brewer, applying his research skills and business acumen to start a company that would become among the cornerstones of the craft beer movement in the United States.

"One thing my academic background did teach me was research and study," Patton told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in 1994

Abita Brewing Company debuted its first beer on July 4, 1986, and brewed only 1,500 barrels that year. Patton sold the brewery in 1998, but his legacy continued in the recipes for Abita's flagship beers: Purple Haze, Turbo Dog, Amber, Andygator and Abita root beer. In 2011, Abita brewed over 130,000 barrels , and their product is available in 46 states, making it synonymous with Louisiana and one of the most widely distributed craft beers in the U.S.

After leaving Abita, Patton continued his entrepreneurship and brewing knowledge to co-found Zea Rotisserie, a chain of brewpubs in New Orleans, where he was also a brewmaster.

Patton went on to brew for Key West Brewery. A San Francisco native, he also returned to northern California to study wine, taking distance learning courses through University of California-Davis. He was an avid wine maker, working for wineries in Oregon and California. 

Earlier this year, Patton responded to Brignoni's ad on seeking a brewmaster. Patton came aboard with Wynwood Brewing in late September. Patton settled into an apartment in the Wynwood district of Miami, where he was attracted by the arts and street culture.

When WBC opens later this year or early 2013, it will be the first production craft brewery to open in the city of Miami since Wagner Brewing Company in 1934.

Patton was an avid explorer and Sierra Club member. As a teenager he explored the mountains of his native California on foot, bike and cross-country skiing. In his twenties he hiked the Inca Trail, exploring Patagonia and the caves of of the Maya mountains. He was a champion for peace and passionate defender of wild places and sustainability. 

An extremely kind man, Patton kept cool and confident during difficult situations, believing that good will eventually triumph.

He was a man of many locations throughout the U.S., traversing between Washington state, California, New Orleans, Key West and Miami, keeping an intimate connection to each place.

"I just had a real desire to get back into brewing," Patton told Short Order earlier this month. "I looked into a lot of places. I really enjoy start-ups because they get my mind going and engaged. Miami is just open territory for craft beer. Not a lot of local stuff is going on here, compared to Seattle, where there are 30 craft breweries in the city. Miami is a place where we could go in and get some recognition."

"I am more determined than ever to take this project open and thrive," Brignoni says. "WBC wasn't just my dream, it was Jim's too and there is no better way to honor him than by doing so. So I ask you all to cheers today in Jim's name."

He is survived by his mother, Peggy, his wife, Kathleen, his daughter, Kathryn, his son, Will, and his two sisters, Amy and Betty. 

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David Minsky is a U.S. Navy veteran and Tulane graduate who has experience reporting on stories from California, South Florida, and the Deep South. He has also won some journalism awards. Email or tweet David with story tips and ideas.
Contact: David Minsky