When you think Mardi Gras, I bet you think lavish costumes, beads flying and one heck of a party. Well, it may be all of that, but it’s also true that Mardi Gras is celebrated in many ways all over the world in many different countries and cultures.
Origins of Mardi Gras can be traced back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular traditions into the new faith. As a result, the festivities of Mardi Gras became a prelude to Lenten season. In the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, celebrants would binge in preparation for several weeks of fasting. Hence “Mardi Gras” is French for Fat Tuesday.
In South America, Brazil’s weeklong Carnival features a mixture of European, African and native traditions. Quebec City hosts the Quebec Winter Carnival, where celebrants don red clothing and take shots of caribou. Many tourists flock to Italy for The Carnival of Venice, which is famous for its elaborate masks.
The first Mardi Gras in the U.S. took place on March 3, 1699, when French explorers landed in what is now Louisiana. They called the spot “Pointe du Mardi Gras” and held a small celebration. In the decades following, New Orleans and other French settlements in Louisiana began honoring the holiday with street parities, masquerade balls and lavish dinners. These celebrations were temporarily banned when the Spanish took control of New Orleans; however, Mardi Gras was quickly restored when Louisiana became a state in 1812.
Today, Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday. Carnival season typically begins in January, culminating on Fat Tuesday, which is Tuesday, February 13th this year. The streets fill with hues of bright green, purple and gold. Festivities include extravagant parades with custom floats, masked performers and copious amounts of alcohol.
And, of course, Mardi Gras is all about the food! Want to get into the Mardi Gras spirit? Here are four famous Creole dishes paired with some of the best craft beers:
Gumbo would pair nicely with Paulaner Salvator, the original doppelbock. This doppelbock’s sweet, malt forward profile will stand up to the bold and spicy flavors found in the dish.
Rice and red beans would pair well with Brooklyn Brown Ale. The balanced nature of this brown ale will not overshadow the dish, while the nuttiness and bready texture will have similar consistencies to the rice and beans.
Shrimp and grits would pair splendidly with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. This refreshing pale ale is light enough to let the Creole flavors shine through, while the hops will complement and enhance the spiciness of the dish.
Bananas Foster would pair well with Keegan Ales Mother’s Milk. This sweet stout, with flavors of chocolate, graham cracker, and milk, would perfectly complement the bananas smothered in butter, brown sugar, dark rum, and banana liquor.
MacKenzie Zarzycki was born and raised in Schuylerville, N.Y., where the beer flows like wine. Now a Certified Cicerone®, MacKenzie is on a mission to further her beer knowledge. When she’s not contributing to gotbeer.com, she’s nursing an unhealthy level of attachment to her dog, Kylie.