This week we sit down with American Literature scholar Matt Dischinger to talk about drinking in the South. Matt contends that typical literary discussions about southern drinking tend to focus on major authors and larger-than-life stories, which are fascinating, but they can also leave out important aspects of southern drinking culture.
In many ways, the South is a temperance-inflected culture, but drinking is also hyper visible in the stories of famous authors, in the figure of the moonshiner, and in the proliferation of southern artisanal cocktails. Matt links this dual image to temperance—where legal restrictions became coded in the South as gender and racial restrictions on drinking, creating new centers and peripheries associated with the law, but also associated with broader cultural practices and beliefs. In the case of moonshine, part of its appeal derives from its illegality. Knowing how to procure moonshine demonstrates that the buyer is part of an “in” group. With moonshine, drinking and secrecy are intimately linked together.
The rise in craft cocktail culture and local breweries can also be attributed to the easing of temperance laws in many southern counties and states, which opens up opportunities for entrepreneurs. The emphasis on artisanal and southern aspects of local cocktails and beers appeals to those who want to be part of an “in” group too. Bringing up the New Orleans Sazerac, Matt mentions that an important aspect of drinking, no matter the region, is knowing about the local drinking culture. Perhaps local alcohol purveyors hope to create the feeling of an authentic, local, southern drinking experience.
We end today’s show by sampling a few different moonshines, and by sharing our favorite southern drinks. We begin with an authentic home-brewed, locally sourced moonshine acquired from a friend of the show. We then try two flavored faux moonshines sourced from the local Kroger. Matt then describes two of his favorite southern drinks, a Ramos Gin Fizz, and a mint julep. Kelly’s selection, the Aviation, wasn’t invented in the South, but was first served to her at a local Atlanta bar. Gina mentions her Southern Comfort punch, which she only made in Milwaukee. Taken together, our favorite drinks gesture toward an idea of southern culture as a combination of lived experiences and creative imaginings.
We would like to thank today’s special guest, Matt Dischinger. Matt is a Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology He teaches courses in multiethnic literatures, American Literature, critical theory, and writing. His research examines contemporary U.S. literature in the South. Along with Conor Picken, he is currently editing a forthcoming collection entitled Southern Comforts: Drinking and the U.S. South.
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