Brewmaster Karlos Knott, spent years as a homebrewer perfecting a beer that would complement Cajun and Creole cuisine of Louisiana—spicy meat and seafood dishes such as gumbo, boudin, crawfish bisque and jambalayas. His creation, LA-31 Bière Pâle, became the flagship beer of Bayou Teche Brewing, selling out almost immediately after its launch in March, 2010.
Knott describes himself as brewer, janitor, groundskeeper, and in charge of the crawfish boils at Bayou Teche Brewing, located in the heart of Acadiana, outside Lafayette, Louisiana.
The Bayou Teche waterway runs behind the brewery. “It’s one of the most important waterways to the Cajuns,” says Knott. “It was like the interstate system before there were cars. They would take their boats up and down the Teche,” says Knott. “All the old Cajun communities were located on the Teche.”
“Our family came to Acadiana in the 1780s,“ says Knott, speaking of south-central and southwestern Louisiana where the Francophone population settled after being expelled from Acadia in the Canadian Maritime Provinces during the French and Indian War. “They’ve been here a long time. They developed their own culture. It was all French-based. When we were growing up, all the adults spoke French.”
French was the first language of his parents, who were stigmatized at school for speaking it. “They weren’t allowed to speak their language. They’d get hit. They’d get put in a corner.”
Not wanting their own children to have that stigma attached, Karlos and his brothers were brought up to speak English as their first language. “My grandfather spoke only French,” says Knott. “Anyone who spoke English he called ‘Les Americans,’ which was worse than calling them a Yankee. He was embarrassed, I think, that his grandkids didn’t speak French fluently.“
“So when we started making beers, we made a conscious decision not to make any English-style beers. Everything we do is Continental, European, mostly Belgian and French, and a few German beers. We realized that if we made an English beer, our grandfather would come out of the grave and get us,” says Knott. Coincidentally, “they work really well with our cuisine. It’s a Continental European-based cuisine, all the bisque, etoufees, and that kind of food. The beers really hook up with that kind of food.
Knott’s commitment to family and traditional Cajun culture is the inspiration for the brewery’s full menu of beers:
LA-31 Bière Pâle: essentially a Belgian-style pale ale, but heavier on the hops than a traditional Belgian beer. “We wanted that because it needed something to cut through our thick roux-based cuisine, and it cleanses the palette between bites.”
LA-31 Boucanèe: Cajun-French for “smoked food,” this is a lightly-smoked wheat beer. Wild cherries grew prolifically along fence lines. The women would harvest the cherries to make an alcoholic drink called cherry bounce, while the men would use the wood for smoking meats. “We wanted to make a beer that would honor our grandfather, and we thought it’s got to be smoked because he smoked everything: andouille, tasso, smoked sausages,” says Knott. The result is a beer that pairs remarkably well with Cajun food. “That smoke really hooks into to that aftertaste of smoke in a lot of our dishes,” says Knott, and who adds it also works well in brines and marinades.
Grenade: a passion fruit wheat beer. Granade is the Cajun-French word for passion fruit indigenous to Louisiana. In France, a grenade refers to a pomegranate, “but when the Cajuns came here, they didn’t have a word for the passion fruit they found growing, so they used the word they already had.” Knott formulated this for brunches and to be paired with lighter seafood dishes such as raw oysters. “You can make a really nice mimosa with it.”
LA-31 Bière Noire: an old-style Alt Schwarzbier made with ale yeast instead of lagered. It pays homage to the German immigrants who settled in this area of Louisiana prior to the Cajuns. “We figured they would have brought this beer with them,” says Knott, who says it’s not like a typical black beer. “It’s not a real roasty tasting beer. It’s smooth, almost like an espresso French coffee taste to the grains, and pairs well with blackened and barbecue dishes. As Bayou Teche’s lowest AVB beer, Knott designed it for visiting, “kind of like the old café noir was to the Cajuns. On Sunday they would make this café noir, black, black thick coffee, and visit all Sunday long, just talkin’ French and laughing. The whole family would be around.” The café noir tradition is fading away in the South, “so we wanted to bring that tradition back. Sitting around with your family and friends, and visiting over, in our case, a black beer.”
Knott is self-taught. He began dreaming about brewing while he was a Cavalry scout stationed in Germany, carrying a copy of Charlie Papazian’s “Joy of Homebrewing” in his backpack. “When I was reading it in the field, I’d think about what I was going to make next.” After he returned to the United States, he discovered that many of the beers he had come to know in Germany weren’t available in the States—a problem he solved by developing his own recipes. “I have ADD when it comes to brewing. I make a batch of beer, and the next time I’m like ‘what if I do this?’ which you can’t do in a production brewery. You have to make the same beer every time.” Knott’s wife Stephanie and brother Byron attended the brewing guild school. “They are trained brewers, and they keep me on track,” says Knott.
Knott founded the brewery with his two brothers, Byron and Dorsey. The three of them, together with their wives, and Knott’s son Cory, do everything from production and sales to packing. “It’s all family,” says Knott. “If we expand, we’ll have to adopt.”
Bayou Teche beers are currently distributed in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, with plans to expand to parts of Florida in the near future.