Rural Southerners have traditionally eaten dinner in the middle of the day. On southern farms before the spread of air conditioning, a light breakfast preceded the morning work. The mid-day meal was dinner, which lasted for a couple of hours and usually involved two or three different meats, at least three servings of vegetables (heavily seasoned with ham, bacon or sausage), cornbread and then coffee and dessert. After the hottest part of the day was over, the farmers would go back to work until the evening, and then eat a light meal called supper.
Now that many in the South no longer work the fields, but work for corporations who frown on their workers taking a several hour lunch break, the custom of the large mid-day meal has largely disappeared. Most everyone but our oldest residents now call the mid-day meal lunch, which is scarfed down before getting back to work. Sundays are the exception, and most everyone continues to call the noontime meal by its proper name—dinner.
Now that craft brewing is starting to take root in the Deep South, many locals are discovering the pleasures of pairing the traditional Sunday dinner with a finely crafted beer. Lazy Magnolia, Bayou Teche, and Back Forty Brewing’s Sunday dinner routines illustrate not only how deeply rooted the noontime agrarian tradition of dinner is to Southerners, but also a great opportunity to showcase the region’s traditional meals with their beers.
Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company
Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company is set deep in Dixie, in the small rural town of Kiln, Mississippi. Famous as the birth place of Brett Favre, Kiln is typical of the towns set in what is affectionately known as the Bible Belt. Most everyone goes to church on Sunday mornings, yet the lazy afternoons include worship of another sort for many Mississippians—football. Lazy Magnolia’s Leslie Henderson says that typical Sundays usually include an elegant early afternoon brunch while enjoying a football game.
Leslie prefers to pair her brunches with a bright, citrusy wit beer, and usually that ale is her brewery’s Indian Summer. Indian Summer is an American-style, lightly hopped Wheat Ale spiced with orange peel and coriander. The beer’s acidity cuts through all of the fat in her buttery shrimp and grits and can even compete with the rich Hollandaise of her signature eggs Benedict. Her post-football, late evening meal is a light dinner, usually leftovers, which are best served with a full bodied, hoppy Pale Ale, like Lazy Magnolia’s Reb Ale. It pairs perfectly with loaded salads, cold pizza, leftover chicken from Saturday’s supper, and anything else her and Mark are brave enough to pull out of the fridge.
Bayou Teche Brewing Company
Set in the agrarian area of Louisiana known as Acadiana, Bayou Teche Brewing’s Cajun Sunday dinners revolve around what is in season, and from December through the end of May that’s crawfish. Most Sundays after Mass, my brothers and I host large crawfish boils at the family’s outdoor kitchen behind our farm’s brewery. My brother Dorsey and our father bait the crawfish traps at our family’s crawfish pond on Fridays, making a run early Sunday morning to hand-fill sacks with live crawfish.
Afterwards, our brother Byron carefully sorts and washes the crawfish, and Dorsey and I get a large pot of water, heavily seasoned with salt, garlic, lemon and cayenne boiling on our outdoor propane cooking rig. We then add ears of corn, red potatoes, whole onions and carrots. After those are cooked, we start boiling the crawfish. Our wives make bowls of remolade for dipping the crawfish tails and plenty of sweet desserts.
For as long as I can remember, mass-market beer has been the beverage served at crawfish boils, though the residents of South Louisiana are discovering the pleasures of a finely crafted beer paired with their boiled crustaceans. At our Sunday crawfish boils, we usually serve a nicely crafted Pilsner, or an American or Belgian Pale Ale drunk straight from the bottle. Truthfully though, it’s our LA-31 Bière Pâle Belgian-style Pale Ale that fills our ice chests most Sundays. These crawfish boils are a giant party, allowing us to celebrate family and fantastically seasoned, locally produced food. It is also probably the only Southern dinner eaten standing up.
Back Forty Beer Company
Alabama’s Back Forty Beer Company is located in Gadsden, the historic county seat of Etowah County. At 40,000 residents, Gadsden is a rather large city by Southern standards, and serves as the hub for the smaller farming towns that surround it. Co-founder of Back Forty, Jason Wilson says that his grandmother remembers that Sunday dinner was always the most important meal of the week in the foothills of Appalachia. Jason remembers that many of those Sunday dinners were pulled pork served with a vinegary sauce, and way too many side dishes.
These days, folks in Alabama have Back Forty’s Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale to imbibe while patiently tending the coals, and to later pair with the slowly smoked pork. Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest here in the South, but with all of the work needed to prepare these large Sunday feasts, one wonders just how much rest is really going on.
Jason recommends a new Sunday tradition—taking the family out to a nice restaurant that serves locally sourced food and has a great craft beer menu. He enlisted the help of the official chef of Back Forty Beer, Chef Leonardo Maurelli III, to recommend some amazing food/beer pairings. Looking over the chef’s menu, his crispy pork belly with a charred pepper honey glaze, crushed pecans, and an arugula salad all paired with Back Forty’s Naked Pig IPA may be a new Alabama family tradition. For dessert he recommends Back Forty’s Kudzu Porter with his smoked chocolate ice cream, toasted pecans and coffee biscotti.
Though we hold on to our traditions here in the South—it would be hard giving up going to grandma’s every Sunday for dinner and impossible to stop saying y’all—one thing that is changing is Dixie’s new-found embrace of finely crafted beer. Southerners are discovering the joy of pairing beers offered by their local breweries; beers brewed to complement the South’s unique regional cuisines and lifestyles.
Karlos Knott, brewmaster of Bayou Teche, developed an appreciation for the finely brewed beers of Europe while serving as an Army Cavalry Scout in Germany in the 1990s. He was transferred to the Pacific Northwest just as that region’s microbrewery scene was starting to explode, and he began brewing beer at home. After his discharge, he came back to Acadiana, and began crafting beers for special family occasions and honing his brewing skills. Karlos enjoys playing his Cajun accordion, cooking for and spending time with his family, and cruising rural Acadiana highways on his Harley Springer looking for the elusive perfect link of boudin.