April 10, 2008

Bad Southern Beer

Though I grew up in the South, it wasn't until driving through that region of the country this spring break after living in Colorado for a few years that I realized that the South has pretty crappy beer. Now, we can all argue at length as to what constitutes "crappy" beer. But, aside from the nationally distributed beer that you can buy for $5 a pitcher at rundown bowling alleys and shoddy saloons, their is no high-quality beer that you can immediately associate with the South. Other parts of the country have region specific quality microbreweries. What I want to know is why the South has never developed its own distinctive beer.

One reason might have to do with the temperature in the South. Most people enjoy their beer cold. Before refrigeration and electricity it was probably hard to keep beer cold in the South. With limited space in iceboxes given up to food that needed to be kept cold, beer was an afterthought. However, whiskey tends to taste roughly the same cold or not (I even like it better warmer) and was also easier to cool down with an ice cube or two whereas beer would taste disgusting with ice in it. This fact might lend itself to higher specialization in whiskey distillation in the South rather than beer brewing. Indeed the top whiskey distilleries are in the South today and Kentucky bourbon is the most popular type of whiskey in the country. Not to mention the fact that in many parts of the South private, illegal distilling is still a profitable business with recipes for moonshine handed down from before prohibition.

Even with the advent of electricity and modern techniques for keeping things cold, beer has not developed much. Of course Southerners today like beer as much (or maybe more) than others in the country, but they are also big on tradition. With high quality whiskey being such an ingrained part of their culture, they might be more willing to spend money on high quality whiskey than high quality beer. While both whiskey and beer will get you drunk, Southerners like beer but take great pride in their whiskey.

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