I am a beer geek. From stouts to pales to barleywines, my passion for a good pint has come to shape much of my personal and professional life. My love for craft beer emerged in college, alongside my interest in regional food and travel. I’ve set foot in all 50 states, traversed the country by car and by plane and always managed to fit in a few brewery tours along the way.
Branding, beer styles and who populates the tasting room barstools at a craft brewery all tell you a lot about local culture and flavor. Connecticut’s Cottrell Brewing brews English-style ales with names such as Old Yankee Ale and Mystic Bridge IPA, reflecting the state’s nautical and Colonial history. RJ Rockers Brewing Co. in South Carolina is known for its incredibly juicy Son of A Peach wheat ale, paying homage to the state’s agricultural mainstay and imbuing the title with a little Southern rock ‘n’ roll irreverence.
The 50 States of Beer project grew naturally out of these travels, giving me an outlet to document my two favorite things: great beer and the open road (though never at the same time, of course).
Craft brewers have taken the great American beverage back to the pub, fostering a culture that celebrates community.
Beginning in Birmingham, Ala., 50 States of Beer makes its American Food Roots’ debut. I’ll pair a local dish to each featured beer (contrary to popular belief, beer is a fine accompaniment to food.) So, let’s buckle up and hit the road. Follow #50StatesofBeer on Twitter and Pinterest.
When I think of Alabama, I think of hot, sweaty summers, college football and, above all, “Fried Green Tomatoes” – both the 1991 film and the lesser-known – but just as tear jerkingly sweet – 1987 Fannie Flagg novel. I could probably recite every single word of both FGT iterations – from the opening scene where little Idgie Threadgood dares to wear a boy’s suit to her big sister’s wedding to Ellen Couch’s radical, Towanda-spouting final chapters. And, as luck would have it, my absolute favorite Alabama craft beer, Good People Brewing’s Flagship IPA, pairs perfectly with my own version of the story’s signature dish.
Good People Brewing Co. sold its first keg in 2008, opening with just 14 local accounts. Alabama’s Bible-belt liquor laws were tough to get around, and the Good People brewers had their fair share of battles while trying to open shop. They faced legal statutes against small-scale brewing, alcohol content (or ABV) limitations and run-around licensing procedures.
With the support of its community, the brewery fought The Man and managed to get some ordinances passed. In 2010, they expanded to a 1,000-barrel facility in Birmingham (1 barrel equals 32 gallons; for comparison, Budweiser brews about 130 million barrels per year). Due to size and remaining legal restrictions, though, GPB’s distribution is currently limited to Alabama and they remain focused on being a regionally minded brewery.
Their flagship IPA, presented in a simple and pleasantly retro can, pours a nice copper color. It’s unfiltered, so cloudiness envelops the glass as it lingers and settles, topped with about a half inch of cream-colored head. The aroma is on the light, refreshing side with herbal and floral notes. The initial taste is well balanced, with equal parts caramel malt and grassy hops, slightly syrupy but light bodied enough to complement rich cuisine – especially a plate of piping hot fried green tomatoes.
The pages of my "Original Whistle Stop Café Cookbook" by Fannie Flagg (Ballantine Books, 1995) are dotted with grease stains and dusty with flour – as they should be. Since my initial exposure to Flagg’s famous fried green tomato recipe, I’ve adjusted and made it my own, mixing flours to play with consistency and kicking up the spice to better match my favorite beverages. Paired with a Good People Brewing IPA, the recipe below is sure to combat any muggy ‘Bama night.
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/8 cup IPA, warmed to room temperature
- 3/4 cup self-rising flour
- 1/4 cup light rye flour
- 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse ground salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white peppercorns
- Dash chili powder or cayenne pepper
- Dash paprika
- 6-8 large, unripe tomatoes cut into ¼-inch slices
- Enough vegetable oil for frying (or bacon drippings if you prefer)
- Spicy dipping sauce (optional)
- Hot sauce (optional)
In a shallow bowl, stir together egg, buttermilk and beer and set aside.
In a separate bowl, sift in both flours, cornmeal and spices.
Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet (such as cast iron) until nearly, but not, smoking.
Dip tomato slices into wet mixture first, shake lightly to remove extra drip and then coat individually with dry mix. Carefully drop each battered slice into hot oil and fry until golden on each side, turning once with tongs. Make sure not to crowd the tomatoes in the pan – frying in a single layer with allotted space will allow for even temperatures throughout. When the tomatoes are done frying, transfer them to a wire rack or colander to drain excess oil.
The tomatoes’ spiciness matches the IPA’s intensity and the dryness of the beer cuts nicely through the tomato’s crispy skin and warm center. For an extra kick, whip up a side of dipping sauce with a mayonnaise or crème fresh base and liberal amounts of cayenne- pepper based hot sauce.