thanksgiving beer pairing
I am so very tired of hearing article after segment after blog post about Thanksgiving wine pairing without any mention of beer or cider. Sure, when it comes to pairing, I am very biased. But in this case, as it turns out, I am right.
Wine simply does not have the immense pairing potential that beer does. There are far more foods that wine hasn’t been able to stand up to, like most chocolate (yes, really), that beer doesn’t even have to sweat to match. In order to deliver that perfect synergy of sip and bite, follow some simple points. Or my specific suggestions, of course, some of which come from my top picks last Thanksgiving at The Four Firkins (RIP).
Pairing is scientific art, and there are many schools of thought on how to do it best. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I encourage you to experiment with similar flavors, opposite flavors, and different intensity. Sure, you could take a look at each dish and create a complex beverage menu. But for most families who eat buffet style, or families with such large gatherings that no one is simultaneously eating the same thing, keep it simple. Break the event of a meal into several parts.
Move into more substantial choices while the turkey is being carved. Mashed potatoes, yams, green bean casserole, and that suspicious looking 9×13 pan of heaven knows what will work very well with a Belgian Dubbel such as Maredsous Bruin or St. Bernardus Prior 8. The abbey-style dubbel is the pocket knife of hearty food, balancing vegetal green beans and cutting through gravy all while delivering a robust Belgian body and 8% ABV. Nuttiness compliments sweet potatoes naturally while bitterness acts in contrast to cranberry sauce. For something lighter and more bitter, reach for an equally versatile American amber like Rush River’s Unforgiven Amber.
Save a few sips of the bruin to enjoy with turkey – it’s a divine match – or move to something different depending on the preparation of the bird. For very simple and light preparations, try Domaine duPage by Two Brothers, an unusual French style called Bière de Garde that delivers a balanced caramel sweetness with a potent hop finish. The caramelized skin of the bird is a perfect match. Heavier, gravy-coated, or generously spiced meat will work with a German dunkelweizen like Weihenstephaner Hefeweissebier Dark. This is a beer in a league of its own with beautiful yeast-derived character and malt complexity.
For the “I’m stuffed” vs. “where’s the pie?” time, use beer as a tasty palate cleanser. By now, some will be wooed by the beer pairings and might be disappointed by the beer equivalent of a sorbet course, but trust me on this one. The counterpoint to a heavy meal is key. I recommend Saison Dupont for a spicy zest on the tongue; it will gently re-calibrate the palate, bringing elements of spice, citrus, and hops into balance.
Finally, the pies are sliced and the cakes are frosted. The turkey fiends have been satisfied, while others have relished the side dishes like they were the main course. But the dessert people? These are my people. So don’t forget to bring beer into the grand finale! Dessert pairings range from very obvious and tasty like chocolate on chocolate, to the unusual IPA-meets-carrot-cake as quite the unlikely pair. Experiment generously before the big day if able.
Pumpkin pie stands up to spicy “Christmas ales” or “winter warmers”, but pairing spice on spice can be tricky as one element or the other may dominate. I recommend 21st Amendment’s Fireside Chat as a good place to start. It delivers moderate spice with some sweetness and brings out molasses and brown sugar notes in the pie. Robust brown ales or imperial stouts are also a good choice with dessert, including pecan pie. Try the versatile Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. For something more bitter to let the sweetness of the pie shine, a roasty bitter beer such as Founder’s Porter is a wonderful compliment.
Whatever you choose to serve guests at your table, bring a little intention to the party. While you may be tempted to provide the boring basics (red, white, and some generic beer), guests will be more inclined to drink adventurously when provided with a guide. But most of all, be sure to enjoy the experience. Some sound advice from a pro on the wine side: Mario Batali recommends opening several bottles, giving brief advice, and letting the experimentation begin. Happy Thanksgiving!