Without question, one of the biggest holidays of the year for eating and drinking is Thanksgiving. Besides the obligatory list of things to be thankful for, the entire day is about eating, drinking and watching football. And it’s not just a standard meal…in some households; dozens of dishes compete with each other for space on both the table and your plate. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, vegetables and so much more take the stage in a dance which has the sole purpose of getting you to loosen your belt and fall asleep in front of the television in the fourth quarter of the last game of the day. Sounds like quite the challenge for somebody wanting to pour the proper beer. Fortunately, there are options that will make it easy to make sure you and your guests have the best beer to pair with your meal.
The first key is to not try to find one beer that is all things to all people. You probably won’t pull it off. Instead set up a sampling table somewhere in the vicinity of the dinner table and stock it with a variety of beers to suit a variety of foods. Put out small glasses if you have them and encourage guests to sample the beers in four ounce servings so they can pair multiple beers with the meal. Try some all around good food beers, add in some beers that present a crossover opportunity for the wine drinker, pull out one or two outrageous beers that will be a treat for the adventurous members of your dining group, and top it all of with a couple of dessert and digestif beers. Don’t be concerned if there are those in your crowd that may claim to not like beer. Have some wine available for them, personally I prefer a Pinot Noir and a Riesling with the traditional turkey dinner, but expect them to gravitate towards the beer, just because it is different. If you really want to go all out, make up index cards for each beer with a description of the flavors to be expected.
The first beers to include are the classic food beers, beers that don’t take much imagination to enjoy and pair well with a wide range of food. For these, I recommend staying on the maltier side, although you will need something with a little bit of hops to cut through the richer foods. So let’s go with these:
New Belgium 1554
This is a darker beer based on an oldBrusselsrecipe. It has a nice touch of sweetness to it but is easy drinking and pairs well with a large variety of food. Don’t let your guests shy away from the color of this beer. Dark is not a flavor.
Victory Prima Pils
A wonderful beer with plenty of carbonation to help cleanse the palate so each bite of your meal is as enjoyable as the first.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
This is the beer with that little hop bite. It has a solid malt backbone to stand up to a variety of food, and has just enough hops to deal with the gravy.
Next, let’s look at something for the wine drinkers. Here we will go for something with a little more complexity that still will pair with different foods:
The Bruery Autumn Maple
How can you not include a beer that is actually made with yams? In addition to the yams, this Belgian Strong Dark Ale is brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, molasses, and maple syrup. It will go great with dark meat, stuffing and, of course, yams.
This Belgian Tripel brewed with barley, wheat and oats has layers of flavor that will match just about any food you choose to serve. The fact that it was named, “The Best Ale in the World” at the World Beer Awards certainly doesn’t hurt.
Lost Abbey Red Barn
I believe that saisons may be the best overall style in the world to pair with food and this offering from Lost Abbey certainly helps prove the point. It will pair with just about everything on the table and works great as an aperitif as well. For something different, try the slightly earthier Avant Garde from this brewery instead.
How about challenging your guests while still giving them a strong pairing experience? Don’t worry; I have suggestions for those as well.
Ballast Point Sculpin
It’s a hop bomb to be sure, but still has a solid malt backbone and will work well with very rich foods, and if you serve blue cheese before or after the meal, its an incredible pairing.
Tart and refreshing, use this as a palate cleanser for a multi-course meal. It’s perfect just before the main course is served. Cantillon has been tough to find in Arizona recently so any Gueuze will do.
Redstone Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Stick Mead
Meads are beverages where the primary fermentable is honey. This particular one is named after the natural flavorings added. Try a Black Raspberry, Traditional Mountain Honey Wine or Juniper Mead as well. They are refreshing and a different flavor, especially good with lighter dishes.
Crispin The Saint
This hard apple cider fermented with Trappist Ale yeast and a hint of organic maple syrup is just right for a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner. While it pairs well with turkey it really stands out as a complement to a ham dinner.
And now for dessert, stay with rich beers the complement the flavors and the richness of the dessert:
Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, Left Hand Milk Stout
All three of these beers go great with desserts and the ingredients in the dish would determine which would be best. For a lighter creamy dessert, go with the White Chocolate Ale, since it’s a wheat beer, it may not stand up to incredibly rich desserts. The Vanilla Porter is perfect with dishes like Crème Brulee or Flan. A lot of pies, especially pecan and pumpkin will go well with this. Finally, chocolate or coffee based desserts (think tiramisu or mocha) deserve Milk Stout. The unfermented sugars along with the roastiness of the stout make it ideal for this situation.
Cherish Raspberry or Cherry Lambic
Actually any traditionally made lambic will work great with fruit desserts or pies. The underlying tartness from these spontaneously fermented beers provides a nice counter-balance to the sweetness of the dessert. Try to avoid the artificially sweetened lambics out there as they tend to be a bit cloying especially with a sweet dessert.
North Coast Old Rasputin
Pour it in a snifter and don’t worry about dessert, sit out on the patio and enjoy it. Old Stock Barley wine from North Coastis also a great stand-alone meal finisher.
So those are my recommendation for Thanksgiving dinner. I realize that not all of these are available everywhere, so be creative, look for options that mirror these. No matter what you choose to drink, make sure it goes well with your food. The ability of beer to enhance the dining experience is amazing and it certainly deserves its place at your table.
Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy!
Cave Creek, Arizona