While a lot of people think of Thanksgiving as a wine-centric holiday, craft beer has become a viable alternative in the past few years. The endlessly expanding number of options in style and body make it easy to find something that complements the basics, like turkey and stuffing, as well as more daring dishes.
However, when you’re pairing a beer with any sort of food (a subject we’ll be looking at in more depth in the weeks to come), it’s something that takes some forethought and sometimes trial and error. The trick to pairing any beer (or wine, for that matter) with food is finding one that works with the meal – not that replicates it. You also want to be aware of the type of food you’re eating.
Thanksgiving is typically a very savory meal that leans toward the mild side, assuming you’re not Cajun frying your bird. For that reason, an IPA may not be the smartest choice, no matter how much you enjoy them. A hop bomb can dull your palette and ultimately make the meal less enjoyable. (If you just can’t stand the thought of not having one, sip it while you watch football – and give your tastebuds time to revive before dinner – or wait for dessert.)
So what should you consider? Here are a few suggestions:
Prepping the turkey
Beer and turkey can go together long before you sit down to dinner. It’s hardly a secret that brining your bird will make it more tender, flavorful and moist, though most people opt for a water- or wine-based brine. Beer can work wonderfully with a turkey as long as you don’t overwhelm it.
A wheat beer (such as Allagash White, Avery’s White Rascal or Brewery Ommegang’s Witte) adds an earthy hint. Other good styles to consider include any blonde ale you have leftover from the summer or a Doppelbock, such as Sun King’s Afternoon Delight or Ballast Point’s Navigator.
When choosing the beers to pour at the table, you’ll need to look at the menu – particularly your side dishes. Is your gravy pepper-intense? Did you opt for a stuffing mix or make a more complex sausage and fennel one from scratch? Sweet potatoes or mashed?
Look for a beer that can accentuate the foods, focusing on either similarities or contrasting flavors. There are a few beers, though, that are a good place to start finding the right blend.
A good saison or farmhouse ale is a good place to start. Typically spicy and crisp, these beers are highly carbonated, giving them a champagne-like effervescence. The best ones walk the line between bitter and sweet and will certainly compliment the turkey. And there a number of fruit forward examples that could work well with other dishes.
Among my personal favorites are Freehouse Ashley Farmhouse Ale, an organic offering with mild spiciness and hints of orange, and Jester King’s Noble King, a complex, slightly sour Saison/farmhouse that opens with a hint of lemon and an earthy tone then finishes clean.
The go-to saison choice, though is Vieille Provision Saison Dupont, a hyper-carbonated, earthy beer that starts with lemon and pine, then exhibits tart qualities before finishing extremely dry.
Not a Saison fan? Other good ideas include malt-intense offerings (though you might want to be wary of coffee- or chocolate-intense stouts and porters during the main course) and Belgian-style beers. (Ommegang’s Three Philosophers is a good mix of both, with a full-bodied maltiness that blends a variety of fruit flavors, including prunes and cherries.)
If you really want to offer a seasonal beer, Cascade Brewing’s Cranberry Sour is a terrific choice, with a tart mix of fruit flavors, including (naturally) cranberry, cherry and raspberry and a hint of cinnamon at the finish. Like many other beers listed above, it finishes dry and could be an interesting palate cleanser between bites.
While Thanksgiving dinner may not be able to support big, bold beers, you can go nuts when the turkey carcass is removed and the pie starts hitting the table. Rich desserts pair well with more powerful beers. If you generally go with a cognac or scotch after dinner, a good barleywine – like Firestone Walker’s §ucaba – is a viable substitute.
This is also the part of the meal where a hoppy IPA can work, especially if you’ve got a sweet, spice-filled dessert like chocolate or even pumpkin pie. It’s a fielder’s choice on this one, since everyone has their favorite, but don’t be afraid to try something that’s normally a palate killer like Dogfish Head 90 Minute or Stone Ruination. Alternatively, pumpkin pie can blend quite well with a good pumpkin ale, if you’ve still got one around the house. Samuel Adams Fat Jack is a fine choice, as it has the expected spices (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), but they’re not as forward here as they are in some other offerings and it has a nice malty smoothness.
Going with a cherry or apple pie? A sour is a good complement. Russian River’s Supplication or Consecration would be ideal for either. And the use of citrus in Evil Twin’s Sour Bikini could make it an interesting selection.
And, if you’re finishing the evening out with a pecan pie, it’s the perfect excuse to open up a barrel-aged stout. Founders’ Breakfast Stout is a great way to go – especially if you can get the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, loaded with bourbon and dark chocolate. Goose Island’s new Bourbon County Barrel Stout 2015 line doesn’t drop until Black Friday, but if you had enough willpower to save one from last year, this is the time to pop it. And Westbrook’s Barrel Aged Mexican Cake has a great blend of heat (from a habanero pepper), cinnamon and sweetness to make any pecan pie taste better.