Brews & BitesThe annual Miss-i-sippin’ craft beer festival offers family fun for a good cause while celebrating the state’s growing craft beer culture.
BY AMELIA CAMURATI
Spring has almost sprung, and a community picnic filled with craft beer, great food and fun games is the perfect way to kick it off.
Presented by the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, the ninth annual Miss-i-sippin’ craft beer festival returns March 24 and 25 to educate beer lovers and novices alike while enjoying tasty samples from around the state.
Last year, a few changes were made to the festival schedule, including the addition of a Friday night brewers’ dinner, allowing 100 guests to mingle with brew masters from around Mississippi while enjoying a delicious multi-course meal paired with local, exclusive beers.
This year, Sinfully Southern restaurant and bakery owner Dwayne Ingraham will be catering the exclusive four-course dinner, carefully partnering each dish with beer.
“I’m infatuated with craft beer. I found my first love for craft beer when I was in culinary school in Vermont and there were so many microbreweries there, like Magic Hat,” Ingraham says. “I learned beer can have so many flavor nuances that take it to a different level. I love beer, so when I was approached to do this, I was very excited.”
While Ingraham is known most for his desserts and stints on Spring Baking Championship and Cutthroat Kitchen, he said he will have some savory courses to demonstrate what his new restaurant can do during lunch and dinner services.
During the festival, brewers from around Mississippi and the South will be stationed around the Old Armory Pavilion on Bramlett Boulevard with samples and information about every milk stout, pale ale, lager and more. Andrews said breweries come back year after year because of the different experience Miss-i-sippin’ offers from the typical beer festival circuit.
“What they loved was the fact that the public that came was there to have a community experience, a neighborhood picnic with a theme,” director Wayne Andrews says. “They were there to get great food, talk to people about beer, sample the different beers. They were there to actually learn, and they took it as an opportunity. The whole experience was this neighborhood picnic because everyone was here to socialize and learn and have fun.”
The Saturday festival has been pushed back this year, from 3 to 7 p.m. March 25, and Andrews hopes this will encourage more families to come down, get a few drinks, snack at the food trucks and play family-friendly games on the first Saturday in spring. When the arts council took over the Old Armory Pavilion last year, they moved the festival portion from their home Powerhouse to the larger outdoor area, allowing for more space, utilizing the covered pavilion area as well as the grassy spots surrounding it.
“We’re not trying to design an event about how many beers can you get in you,” Andrews says. “It’s about these small businesses that are part of our creative culture and bringing people to our town to have fun and explore for the weekend.”
The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council hosts shows, classes and events every year, and to do that, they need a few fundraisers in the mix. Supporting both the arts council and the Mississippi Brewers’ Guild, proceeds from Miss-i-sippin’ will help Andrews and the council bring culture and art to Oxford, including library programs, Sunset Series in the Grove and so much more.
“The great thing about the money your spending on this, it’s not going out of town, it’s coming right back here,” Andrews says. “The arts council is a unique beast; it’s not run by artists, but by business people who realize the more access we have to art and culture means more tourists want to come here and it’s a great place to live. If you’re not entertained here, it’s not the town—it’s you.”
Tickets for the brewers’ dinner and festival are available online at sippin.oxfordarts.com. Discounts are available for YAC members.
Something about the space struck Emily Blount the first time she saw it.Sitting vacant and unbothered among the Square’s signature spots, it grabbed her while on a walk with her family. The bones of the building reminded her of New York, where she lived for a decade before moving to Oxford with her husband, Dan – a Mississippi native – and their two children.“I immediately knew it had potential,” Blount says. “I guess the New York style and feeling of it make me feel at home.” The culmination of that potential is Blount’s restaurant, Saint Leo.With Blount at the helm, the restaurant has more than capitalized on the building’s promise. The white marble bar serves a steady rotation of Oxonians sipping craft cocktails. The place stays packed most weekends, often with a wait.
The positive reception was instantaneous (even the restaurant’s three pop-ups before the opening were well attended), but the development of the restaurant was a long-time dream for Blount, whose life has been imbued by food.
Originally from Mill Valley, California, a city just minutes from San Francisco, Blount moved to Boston to study acting before pursuing a successful theater career in New York City. She landed a role in New York’s longest-running off-Broadway show, Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, also appearing in independent films, television and commercials.
However, after Blount met and married her husband, Dan, a native Mississippian—“I thought his Southern accent was so charming,” she laughed—and had children, the couple decided they didn’t want to stay in the city long-term with their family.
“(Dan) was like, ‘Come on, let’s give Mississippi a chance,’” Blount says. She agreed, with the stipulation that if she didn’t love the small town life in two to five years, they would move.
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Blount attributes her interest in food to her mom, in part, an avid gardener who supported the farm-to-table organic food movement in the late ‘60s and ‘70s.
Her childhood was spent traveling and eating a wide variety of food.
“Food was just always a really big part of our life,” Blount says. “There’s something about people sharing food together that’s always been attractive in terms of being a social person.”
Blount got her start in the service industry at a very early age, working as a hostess at an Italian restaurant in Tiburon, California, but her longest running—and most influential—restaurant experience was in New York City, where she worked at the classic French bistro Raoul’s in SoHo.
“That place was very formative, just because I loved everyone who worked there so much, loved what they did. The pulse of it was addictive, really,” Blount says.
Though she’s no longer acting on stage, the restaurant business isn’t so far removed from her first career, Blount says.
“Every service is a show, and a performance to a certain extent. I love that about it,” Blount says. “In a lot of ways it’s similar to Tony n’ Tina’s. The interactiveness, the unpredictability of what every day will bring is the same.”
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When Blount moved to Oxford, she knew she wanted to open some sort of hospitality related business, and oscillated between running a restaurant, a food truck, a bar, or a bed and breakfast.
“The seed of the idea was there,” Blount says. “I was always sort of circulating something.”
After researching possibilities, Blount decided to focus on wood fired pizza and local, farm-to-table food.
With the concept in place, Blount sought advice from John T. Edge author and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and self-proclaimed “big fan” of Saint Leo. Edge suggested that she travel across the region to see what other restaurateurs were doing.
“After that conversation, that’s what I did. It was very caloric and lots of fun,” Blount says.
Blount sought out all the best Italian and wood fired pizza joints in the South. She ate at Tribecca Alley in Sardis, Miss.; Post Office Pies and Bottega in Birmingham, Ala.; Antico Pizza in Atlanta, Ga.; Domenica in New Orleans, La.; and Hog and Homily in Memphis, Tenn.
After researching, planning, and preparing for years, the restaurant opened on June 30, and stayed busy through the summer and into the fall.
“It’s gone so well, and I’m so grateful [for] the reception,” Blount says. “The town has been so supportive of what we do.”