Friday, October 30, 2009

The Three Beer Lunch

Woke up this morning well before sunrise and sluggishly started a pot of Mello Joy dark roast coffee. Using one rounded tablespoon of grounds for each cup of water I was brewing what we call in South Louisiana café noir.

An extremely strong and very black cup of coffee.

My brother and I were getting ready to drive to Kiln Mississippi to tour the Lazy Magnolia brewery. MapQuest pegged it at a two hour and forty-five minute drive, so we would have to guzzle our café noirs to make our agreed upon departure time.

Cajuns love dark roast coffee - seems that people here have been steadfastly drinking Mello Joy coffee for as long as I can remember. From the time that my grandmother made me my very first childhood café au lait (much more lait then café) it seems that my fondest memories of growing up in Acadaina somehow included remarkably good beverages.

Oh there were a lot of good foods - Christmas Eve gumbos, Good Friday crawfish boils, boucherie boudin and cracklins. But the one constant in all of our family activities were great beverages.

Uncle T-boy would serve an out of this world bay leaf tea brewed with leaves from a tree in his yard. There were the illicit sips of locally distilled moonshine or nips from a flask of Southern Comfort while hunting or undetected sips of beer while fishing with some of our other uncles. Grandma’s homemade root beer (super sweet and made with Zataran’s extract) and lemonade in glass pitchers were always on the table for Sunday dinner, as was café au lait with couche couche in the morning. In the autumn, ice chests were filed with cream soda and red pop for refreshment after baled hay was loaded in Papa’s barn.

After every meal the adults would brew a too – strong greg of café noir. It seemed to us kids that the strong coffee would lubricate some kind of collective French speaking muscle, because the volume at the adults’ table would reach rock concert levels.

Byron and I finished our café noirs and hit I-10 east. Traffic was very light and we made it to Kiln with time to spare even after making two pit stops to relieve ourselves of all that strong black coffee. We met with Leslie Henderson at her brewery. We took an interesting tour and then spent the morning talking with her and Matt McKiernan about our lives in the South, Southern food, hospitality and the state of Southern beers. We suggested food and beer parings to each other – my brother and I were impressed with their passion for crafting great beers. Lazy Magnolia beers have an affinity for the foods of the Gulf coast.

After our visit, Leslie suggested my brother and I travel a mile or so up the road to have lunch at Banty’s restaurant. I ordered a large plate of red beans and rice with sausage and a large slab of cornbread. My brother had a muffaletta so big that if he held it up high enough, the sandwich would totally eclipse the sun. With our meals we each ordered a pint of Lazy Magnolia’s Reb Ale – served in Mason jars (a buddy of mine, also raised in the South said that he drank out of so many Mason jars growing up that his lips were threaded). Byron and I both agreed that it was one of the tastiest beers brewed in the region and I’ll be damned if it did not pare perfectly with our meals. Halfway thru our plates we rested to give our stomachs a break and each ordered a Magnolia Southern Pecan.

Struggling, we finished our too large dinners and the waitress asked if we wanted dessert. We both knew the perfect way to cap off this fine meal – not a café noir like our family did years ago, but a Jefferson Sweet Potato Stout from our favorite Mississippi brewery.

Next time ya’ll go to New Orleans, visit some of the local breweries. Lazy Magnolia is just thirty minutes or so east of I-10, Abita just north of Lake Pontchartrain in Abita springs, Heiner Brau in Covington brews some very authentic German beers, and the guys at NOLA are brewing in New Orleans (try their Hopitulas beer). All of them craft brews that marry with our region’s cuisine. With them we hope to revive the Deep South’s brewing traditions.

Or at least start a new tradition of the three beer lunch.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pecans are falling.

Took a break and spent a very wet October morning picking up pecans with my little girl. When we were done, the two of us sat on the porch of the brewery taking turns cracking them open with an empty German beer bottle. We ate pecans till we were full like the winter ready squirrels in the Brewery’s nearby trees.

I guess the significance of the beginning of autumn is different to people in other places, but in Acadiana it means we start picking, shelling and putting away pecans. In Germany they think of drinking Marzenbier at the Oktoberfest.

Marzenbier was what was in that empty bottle we used to crack open those pecans.

My brothers’ and my childhoods’ autumn weekends were spent picking sacks of pecans at our grandparent’s farm near Arnaudville. Most of those pecans were to be sold, but some were kept to be put away for the upcoming year’s pralines, fudge, pecan pies and cakes.

The first Oktoberfest was in Munich on October 18, 1810 celebrating the commemoration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwing and Princess Therese and also the introduction Marzen style of beer. Of course now, two hundred years later Bavarians celebrate the release of the new batch of Marzen beers at Oktoberfest and not the royal wedding.

Abita brews a celebratory Harvest Pecan Beer every autumn. Though not as good a use of pecans as pralines, fudge or pies, it is a very tasty brew. If Oktoberfest would have been invented in a pecan harvesting Louisiana instead of Bavaria, I imagine it is the kind of beer we would serve.

Our little town of Arnaudville had its first ever Oktoberfest last weekend. We brewed and served some German style Kolsch beer to go along with the mutzbratten, bratwurst, German potato salad, red cabbage, brotchen and German chocolate cake. Though not a style of beer we typically brew, or one served at your average Oktoberfest, it complements the hearty German barbequed meal rather well. There was a very large crowd there for the festivities, which surprised the organizers as there was an LSU football game that night.

There were complementary bottles of German Riesling – feeling German and only wanting to insure there was plenty of our beer for the guests, I consumed several of these wines myself.

In Germany, before refrigeration, it was risky to brew beer in the summer due to the hot weather and possible bacterial infection of the beer. Brewing ended with the arrival of spring, and began again in the fall. Thus, the last beers brewed before the warm months were brewed in March (Marzen). The beers were kept in cold caves for storage over the hot spring and summer months, and also brewed with higher alcohol content so they would keep. This is the beer of Oktoberfest and marzenbier is full bodied, rich, toasty and copper colored with high alcohol content.

Special autumn beers are a newfound tradition for American craft brewers as well. I just had a six-pack of New Belgium Brewery’s Hoptober ale smuggled in for me. Man was that beer fantastic. It tastes like an ale version of a Marzenbier (which is a lager), amped up with tons of hops. The Bayou Teche Brewery should be working a little harder on our autumn celebratory beer – we are tweaking a recipe and plan on having it on tap for Arnaudville’s Oktoberfest next year. The beer is a Top-Secret, Manhattan-style Project and will be like nothing else out there.

Just gotta stop taking so many breaks to pick pecans.