The editors of Beer Advocate magazine discuss Thanksgiving beer pairings in their current issue. According to them, many in the community of finer beer appreciation have been championing French saison-style and Bierre de Garde as food-friendly pairings that work with any course; an opinion that the editors strongly disagree with.
I’m with the Alstrom brothers. Thanksgiving is usually a layered affair with abundance of different dishes, and to attempt to match one beer (or, traditionally, wine) to everything on the table is both generic and lazy. The Alstroms encourage their readers to challenge convention and open other people’s minds to something new.
Not everyone’s Thanksgiving is the same; turkey or ham, scalloped potatoes or green bean casserole, pecan or pumpkin for the pie. With this in mind, I’m attempting to match beers with a number of different courses no matter how they’re prepared. You, the customer, doesn’t have to feel intimidated by purchasing multiple 6-packs to accomplish this, either. There are a number of stores that sell mix-and-match packs and both Hopjacks and Pensacola Bay Brewery sell take home growlers in varied sizes.
There are always more side dishes than main dishes so I’ll start with these. German weizenbier’s lemon and clove pairs nicely with lighter dishes like salads or a sauté of green beans with garlic, shallot and white wine. Wild rice with either pecans or chestnuts would almost beg for the caramel and toasted nuts of an amber like Bell’s Amber ale or Abita Amber Vienna lager. This year, I think I’m going with the spice and dried fruits of Belgian golden ale to really win with multiple sides. Unibroue Don de Dieu or Duvel both have enough bright flavors to balance out heartier, richer sides — like truffled mashed potatoes or dressing with giblets – while amplifying the tang of cranberry sauce.
If you’re going historically-accurate for your main dish, then grilled or roast venison should be your aim. Sierra Nevada Stout or Pensacola Bay Lighthouse Porter make a killer match for little Bambi. Most of us, however, stick with turkey. Whether you’re brining it, frying it or roasting it up with an herbed butter rub under the skin, I think a witbier is going to make the best pairing. The coriander, lemon, orange and lemongrass found in Dogfish Head’s Namaste Witbier bring out the best flavors of turkey by contrast while the cloudy wheat base ensures a thirst-quenching quality should your Aunt Gracie’s turkey be as dry as a Baptist minister’s liquor closet.
Buy a couple of bottles or fill a couple of growlers with draft beer, give everyone a 4oz pour and see what they think. And don’t forget the dessert! Those Belgian abbeys and triples have enough malt and fruit notes to really make that pie or bread pudding sing. Indulge in a Gulden Draak or Rochefort 8 with your after dinner treats and you’ll be giving thanks to yourself for doing so.