When Thanksgiving rolls around everyone starts talking about wine pairings. What is the perfect wine to go with the big dinner. Some how beer kind of gets glossed over and I’m not sure why. Today we’re changing that! I’ve got a post for you about pairing beer with Thanksgiving dinner!
Since I’m not super knowledgable when it comes to beer, I turned to someone who is. Let’s give a warm welcome to Colin! Colin is currently a sous chef at Deepwood restaurant and a brewer for the soon-to-be Born Brewing Company, here in Columbus, OH. To quote him, “I’ve been a beer fanatic for about six or seven years now, and a insufferable food snob since I was fifteen.” You can stalk him over on Twitter at BrewerBornBrew.
Like different types of wine, each beer variety has a certain set of general flavors and aromas that you can expect from it, Stouts are roasty dark flavors like coffee and chocolate. Brown Ales are toasty-chocolate-caramel, Pale Ales and IPAs are variations on sweet pine-citrus-tropical fruit while lagers tend to be crisper and cleaner finished vs their ale counterparts. Belgian beers exhibit a range of flavors and aromas all their own, the Belgians utilize funky yeast and aren’t afraid to add spices and herbs to their beers.
Within these generalities is an insane range of variation, no two IPAs smell exactly the same. Depending on the strength of a particular Imperial Stout you can find smokey hints, char, dark dried fruits like figs and dates, their chocolate characteristics can range from sweet milk chocolate to the bitterest dry cocoa.
With all that in mind the way you season and flavor your thanksgiving foods is going to help dictate which beer you might want to choose.
When I say small/big I’m generally talking about alcohol content which usually correlates with a more intense flavor/aroma profile. Let’s call anything under 6% small, and everything over 7.5% big, the stuff in the middle, moderate strength.
I am convinced that Bam Biere by Jolly Pumpkin Brewing is the most food friendly beer I’ve ever had, and I would pair it with every savory course at the table, but let’s review our options.
Turkey is a blank slate, roasted or fried that is, if (for some reason) you decide all you want to put on your bird is salt and pepper, then you’re going to want to go with a more subdued beer: Pale lagers (like Pilsners, Helles, Dortmunders), English Pale Ales, Hefeweizen (and other German wheats “Weissbier”), and Wit Biers.
Brown Ales that aren’t too hoppy (some American versions get rather assertive). Since turkey takes flavors so well, and it is the highlight of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, I would hope you were planning on some herbs or spices, a fun brine (try cider-chipotle) or even smoking/grilling the turkey. You’ll still want to stay away from super intense beers like American Barleywines, Imperial Stouts, American IPAs, and most of the really big darker Belgian beers (Duppels, Grand Crus).
When you introduce other flavors into the turkey that opens up a range of new directions to take your pairings; if your herbal rub/brining is good and flavorful you can start looking to American Pale Ales, their hoppiness, while potent, shouldn’t overwhelm, consider throwing some oranges into the cavity of the bird and rubbing the skin with various zests, citrus is a classic profile of Pale Ale. If you use some citrus on/in your turkey, add a little coriander and pair it with a Belgian Wit, a small wheat beer flavored with orange peel and coriander seeds.
If you go darker flavors, like molasses, or smoking/grilling you can try a smaller Stout, such as American Stout, Dry Irish Stout (like Guinness), and Sweet (aka Milk) Stout. Small Belgian beers would work well with a nicely seasoned turkey, be it herb or spice or whatever. Saisons have an excellent dry peppery finish, which makes them very food friendly across the board. For a stronger ale, try a Belgian Tripel, generally 9-12%abv, golden in color, solid bitterness but low in the hop flavor department, which will keep it from overwhelming the turkey.
For the the adventurous beer drinker, go bold and pick up a (hard to find) true Lambic. The Lindeman’s line of fruit Lambics, while tasty, are artificially sweetened and poor examples of the style (excluding their Cuvee Rene, a very nice, unsweetend, nonfruit Lambic). For a true Lambic look for Hanssen’s, Cantillon, Boon, 3 Fonteinen, or Oud Beersel.
These beers are not for the faint of palate, they are very acidic, dry, and funky beyond belief. Due to their acidity and dry finish these beers are quite food friendly, however depending on the bottle/producer selected, some of the funkier elements might clash with mellower food flavors.
If you’re wanting a cheese board for guests to snack on, or as a precursor to dessert, go all out with some intense blues, stinking(in the best possible way) washed-rind farmhouse cheese and gooey funky soft cheese and pair with a Kriek or Framboise (cherry and raspberry Lambic, respectively). These beers will mirror the funk of the cheese and the fruit component will add a nice contrast. Ask at your local cheese monger for their favorites (I like Curds and Whey in the North Market and the cheese counter at Whole Foods in Dublin).
Sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, gingerbread and various pies/sweets which might feature warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cloves would be well paired with Winter Warmers, a catch-all category for malty wintertime beers which are often spiced. Another option for these types of foods would be the darker Belgian beers, or German Dunkelweizens and Weizenbocks (dark brown wheat beers) as these styles utilize yeasts that give off aromas of brown bread and clove and vanilla.
American and English Barleywines (an archaic term for beers that are nearly as strong as wine, not actually grape derived) are malt focused beers of considerable alcoholic strength, often quite sweet; they find balance from the warmth of complex alcohols and assertive hop bitterness. These beers would be excellent selections for the meal over all. While they might be a bit overpowering for a subtly spiced turkey, they could be excellent against a sage and sausage stuffing and a spiced gravy. The overall malt component would match a yeasty bread or buttery rolls, and their boozy heat would help cut through the richness of buttery whipped potatoes and sweet candied yams. Their sweetness would pair well with a range of desserts. Plus on their own they make an excellent dessert beverage in place of port or brandy, the belly-warming effect of a few glasses of rich barleywine helps put everyone in a festive mood, regardless of the temperature outside.
Stouts get their black color and roasted flavors from barley malt that has been kilned to the point of nearly char, the use of these grains lends flavors and aromas reminiscent of coffee and chocolate. If the weather is mild or you’re planning on braving the November cold to fire up the grill, stouts will pair nicely with the sear and smoke of grilled meats or veggies. A coffee-chocolate dessert is an obvious hit alongside an Imperial Stout. You can pair a chocolatey Stout with something that benefits from chocolate but doesn’t actually have chocolate in it, such as cherries, cheesecake or peanut butter based desserts.
Thanks Colin for taking the time to share your beer knowledge with us!
My picks for the table would be:
Now you’re armed with beer knowledge and ready to tackel the big day! Happy Thanksgiving!