Southern Beer, Made for Mealtime

fullsteam_SLW1Attendees at this past weekend’s Brewvival, widely considered one of the region’s top beer festivals, were granted sampling glasses at the event gates. Yet forks and knives might have been more suitable for some of the ales being poured: Brewing’s vanguard is especially interested in highly complex, multi-layered flavors right now.

Sean Wilson of Durham’s three-year old Fullsteam Brewery takes a different approach: “My personal comfort zone is how the right beer can enhance a meal, or how it can facilitate community and conversation. Outlandish beers tend to try to turn a beer into an experience — I know because we make a few of them.”

Wilson acknowledges nuance isn’t always the most direct path to recognition and customer acclaim. But he believes food-friendliness could become a defining attribute of Southern beer.

“We’re decades away from having year-round, scalable access to beer’s core ingredients,” Wilson says, referring to the region’s incompatibility with hops farming. “Yet we’re fortunate to have access to two critical components: A bounty of seasonal farmed goods that can enhance a beer’s complexity, and one of the richest food cultures in America. That’s what the South can leverage.”

As Wilson admits, he isn’t completely adverse to creating a meal in a glass: Fullsteam’s popular Working Man’s Lunch (which he’s learned is one of the hardest phrases for craft beer aficionados to pronounce when drunk) was designed to emulate the flavor notes of an RC Cola and a MoonPie. Overall, though, he’d prefer for beer to supplement dinner, not supplant it.

“I can tell you it’s a more challenging path,” Wilson says of his emphasis on subtle brews. “But my reward is countless meals where a great beer truly complemented a fantastic meal. That’s not limited to the South, of course, but I’d like to think it’s what we should proffer as our regional narrative.”

Fullsteam last year started distributing its beers in Charleston: Wilson will be back in town for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival.

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