Thanksgiving dinner is probably the largest meal that many of us will eat all year, and it can be one of the most complex in terms of flavors and dishes served. Hours upon hours are dedicated to the preparation of a perfect meal, but it seems that when it comes to picking out the perfect beverages for the dinner table, sometimes the energy runs out.
Most sources will direct you to the wine section of the grocery store. While wine is fine for some, not everyone can dig it. So after you grab a bottle of pinot noir and rosé, head over to the beer, cider and mead section for some excellent Thanksgiving pairings.
Before we get started, a few general guidelines. First, think about the main dish. Are you having turkey, ham, or maybe you’re preparing a vegetarian or vegan meal this year. Whichever way you go, start your pairing work from the main dish and work your way out from there.
Second, consider the sauces and any other strong flavors that may play a large part in the complete meal. Salty gravy can swing a pairing away from beverages with bitterness or high tannins, as these both intensify saltiness. Sour or sweeter pairings will help off-set salty dishes. And herbs like rosemary and spices like clove can completely transform the flavor of a dish. Look for complementary pairings to enhance these flavors.
Lastly, consider how heavy and filling your meal will be. In general, for Thanksgiving meals, I recommend picking lighter-bodied styles of beer with high carbonation levels, drier meads and ciders with crisp acidity to help clear your palate and refresh you for another bite.
The main things to consider are how bitter your greens are and what flavors are in your salad dressing. In general, blonde ales and tart saisons work well here. But I tend to enjoy semi-dry ciders better with salads, especially if you incorporate apples into the dish and use a tangy vinaigrette. Try Champlain Orchards (Shoreham) Original Cider. If honey or maple are involved in the dressing, check out Artesano (Groton) Traditional Mead.
I can’t say this enough: Belgian-style saisons are superb with the bird! Saison Dupont (Belgium), which is generally agreed to be the benchmark of the style, will offer spicy notes of white pepper, citrus and herbs, and a high carbonation level which will refresh your palate with each sip. Malty amber lagers like Jack’s Abby (Massachusetts) Red Tape Amber Lager and von Trapp (Stowe) Vienna-style Lager will bring out the savory notes in the turkey.
Here’s where you can really play with sweetness, especially if you’re involving a glaze or fruit in the recipe. Groennfell (Colchester) Wayfarer Mead, an oak-aged amber mead, has a lush palate with warm oaky flavors somewhere between a barrel-aged Chardonnay and a malty German Kölsch, but a dry finish to cut through any fat or sweetness.
If you’re going with a savory ham preparation, consider a slightly less-dry cider to offset the saltiness. Check bottle shops for Farnum Hill (New Hampshire) Semi-Dry Cider or Eden Specialty Ciders (Newport) Semi-Dry Cider, both of which will be robust enough to complement the sweet and salty flavors in the ham, and still crisp and light-bodied enough to refresh you between bites.
Brown ales and are right at home with pork, too. With honey-baked ham, you might try a Belgian Tripel, such as Unibroue (Quebec) “La Fin Du Monde,” which has notes of stone fruit and fresh flowers to complement the honey, and snappy carbonation which balances out the sweetness.
Stuffing and mashed potatoes
Don’t neglect the side dishes. Classic stuffing and mashed potatoes need a beer that is crisp enough to cut through their heft and also adds a little spice to the pairing. Try a German-style wheat beer like Weihenstephaner (Germany) Hefe-Weissbier, or if IPA is more your thing, try Sierra Nevada (California and North Carolina) “Celebration Ale,” a fresh hop IPA.
The caramel-y goodness of sweet potatoes will find a friend in a smokey, but not overly bitter, Scotch ale. Consider adding a few ounces of Founders (Michigan) Backwoods Bastard, a Bourbon barrel-aged Scotch ale, into the glaze for yams or sweet potatoes, and then pairing the dish with the same. If maple is involved, try to get your hands on some bottles of Dieu du Ciel! (Quebec) Équinoxe du Printemps, a Scotch ale brewed with maple syrup for spring time, but which ages gracefully into fall.
Belgian-style wheat beers are spiced with orange peel and coriander seeds which really sing next to cranberry sauces. Try Allagash (Maine) White, Hoegaarden (Belgium) Witbier or Unibroue (Quebec) Blanche de Chambly.
If you are forgoing the cranberry sauce, but would like a little pucker on the dinner table, break out your Great Aunt’s cordial glasses and pour each of your dinner guests a few ounces of any one of these options during dinner: Downeast Cider (Massachusetts) Cranberry Blend; Citizen Cider (Burlington) Companion Sour Cherry Cider; or Havoc Mead (Colchester) Psychopomp Sour Cherry Mead (the name is fitting for some family meals, no?). These can serve as a nice intermezzo in lieu of sorbet between courses. And who has time to make sorbet, am I right?
Thanksgiving isn’t really complete without pies. I used to pose that as a question, but at this stage in my life, I know that pies at Thanksgiving are fait accompli. For pumpkin pie, turn up the spices with some Shacksbury Cider (Vergennes) Ginger Spritz, a low alcohol session cider spritzer spiked with a tincture of ginger, galangal and bitter orange prepared by Alice & the Magician (Burlington). With berry pies, try a sweet-and-tart ciders like Boyden Valley (Cambridge) Cran-Bog cranberry cider. Pecan pie is right at home with a roasty-and-rich stouts like Long Trail (Bridgewater Corners) Unearthed. Apple pie and porter pair nicely – look for Queen City (Burlington) Yorkshire Porter or Ballast Point (California) “Victory At Sea,” an Imperial porter brewed with vanilla and coffee. For cream pies maybe just stick with a cup of black coffee, but spike it with a dose of Vermont Ice (Cambridge) Maple Cream Liqueur.
Enjoying a gluten-free Thanksgiving meal doesn’t mean you have to skip the beer. Green’s (Belgium) “Discovery” Amber Ale and Gutenberg (Quebec) Red Ale are both super versatile at the table. Ciders, meads and some ginger beers are also naturally gluten free. In addition to the ones mentioned above, look for products from Stormalong Cider (Massachusetts) and Moonlight Meadery (New Hampshire). For a spicy addition check out Halyard Brewing Co.’s (South Burlington) alcoholic ginger beers. Or if you’re looking for a funkier flavor profile, turn to Fable Farm Fermentory (Barnard) ciders.
No alcohol? No problem! There are lots of craft no alcohol options available in Vermont which will work perfectly at the Thanksgiving table. Look for All Times Sparkling Cider (Burlington), Barritt’s (Bermuda) Ginger Beer, and Fentimans Botanically Brewed (England) Curiosity Cola.
Share the feast
While food-pairing is a fun activity and can bring extra fun to the dinner table, for some Thanksgiving is a time of dire need. Please consider donating food, funds or volunteer time to the Vermont Foodbank or to your local food shelf to help your entire community have a celebratory meal this year. Vermont is strong because we all pitch in and help our neighbors. If you can help a fellow Vermonter, please do. If you need food assistance, please contact the Vermont Foodbank via phone at 1-800-585-2265 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff S. Baker II is the Curator of the Curriculum for Farrell Distributing. Find him on Twitter and Instagram @aPhilosophyOf. Jeff co-hosts the “It’s the Beer Talking” podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud. More at www.burlingtonfreepress.com/news/podcasts