For my family, Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl and World Series rolled up into one awesome holiday. We spend months planning the menu, weeks shopping for groceries, and endless days and hours preparing the feast. By the time we're ready to sit down and dig in, we could certainly use a drink or two.
In years past, that meant plopping a couple bottles of red and white wines on the table. But as my tastes have evolved from grapes to grains, I find myself gravitating toward beer. With scrubbing carbonation and a far-ranging palette of flavors and aromas, beer offers an array of pairing possibilities. Here are a few can't-fail combinations for Turkey Day.
Greet your guests with a flute of Berliner weisse, a tart, sparkling, and low-alcohol German beer that enliven taste buds and primes them for the ensuing feast. The Bruery’s lemony Hottenroth is a lovely option, as are Westbrook Brewing’s Weisse Weisse Baby and Germany’s Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse.
For snacking, I offer a cheese board brimming with Brie, Camembert, and perhaps a hard cheddar. Turn to a crisp, brisk pilsner such as Victory Prima Pils or Pilsner Urquell. They’ll cut through Brie and Camembert’s gooey richness and ably complement cheddar. Alternately, a fruity, bitter IPA such as Bear Republic Racer 5 or Stone IPA would stand up well to a strong cheddar. One note: If you favor blue cheese, the pungent fromage finds its equal in a brawny barley wine such as Anchor’s sweet, fruity, and well-hopped Old Foghorn.
To match a turkey’s caramelized skin and herbal flavors (you did stuff your bird with herbs, right?), seek out strong farmhouse ales called bières de garde, a.k.a. “beers for keeping.” The pride and joy of northern France’s Nord-Pas de Calais region, medium-bodied bières de garde offer maltiness (think: caramel or toast) matched with an herbal bitterness. A favorite is Brasserie Castelain’s fruity Blonde Bière de Garde, though Two Brothers' Domaine DuPage French Style Country Ale is also swell.
My favorite part of Thanksgiving is stuffing. I could happily eat endless plates of the salty, herbal, and buttery side, especially if I have an amply supply of dry, effervescent saisons. The earthy, rustic ale (French for “season”) is the perfect palate cleanser, offering a refreshing one-two punch of bitterness and peppery complexity. Seek out Boulevard Brewing’s fruity Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale or Belgium’s spicy and snappy Saison Dupont—the style's standard-bearer. Bonus: Saisons also excel with turkey.
For this pairing, think about the aromatics and spices used to enhance the relish—namely, the orange peel. You’ll want to echo this citrusy note with an elegant and effervescent witbier such as Unibroue’s lightly citrusy Blanche De Chambly or the fruity, lightly tart St. Bernardus Wit.
With pumpkin pie, there’s a natural inclination to partner a slice with a pint of gourd-based beer, such as Southern Tier’s Pumking. While the coupling will work just fine, to me it’s too much of a good thing. Instead, seek out a dry, roasty imperial stout such as North Coast’s reasonably priced Old Rasputin. (Deschutes’ the Abyss is also terrific, if you can snag a bottle.) If you prefer pecan pie, try Goose Island’s muscular Bourbon County Brand Stout. The indulgent elixir’s 15% ABV means that drinking the beer might double as dessert.
Can’t be bothered to pair beers to every dish? That’s understandable. Instead, stock up on a nutty, toasty brown ale. It’s sort of the Swiss Army knife of food pairings, particularly excelling at turkey, gravy, stuffing, and dessert. Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler Brown Ale is as approachable as it is affordable, as is Smuttynose's Old Brown Dog.
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