Written for the Arlington Free Press http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/life/food/2016/11/11/jeff-bakers-thanksgiving-craft-beer-review-recommendation/93583494/
The time to feast with friends and family is near. This year you don’t need to leave your beer behind on the coffee table when the dinner bell rings. It’s time to serve beer at the Thanksgiving table.
Thanksgiving dinner is probably the largest meal that many of us will eat all year and it can be one of the most complex meals 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, the energy runs out.
Most sources will tell you to grab a light-bodied Pinot Noir, or one of the more zesty rosés that are still left on wine shop shelves. These pairings are fine for some, but not everyone loves wine. So I’ve put together a beer pairing guide for traditional Thanksgiving dishes to ease your beverage burden.
First, think about the main dish. Turkey is king, but even if the main dish is vegetarian start with the central dish and work your way out from there when considering beer pairings. Second, consider sauces and any other strong flavors that may play a large part in the complete meal. Salty gravy can swing a pairing away from bitter beers, as bitterness intensifies saltiness. Herbs, such as rosemary, and spices such as clove, can completely transform the flavor of a dish.
Look for complementary pairings to enhance these flavors. And lastly, consider how heavy and filling your meal will be. In general, I recommend picking lighter-bodies styles that have high carbonation levels to help clear your palate.
The main things to consider are how bitter your greens are and what flavors are in your salad dressing.
In general, blonde ales such as Magic Hat (South Burlington) “Single Chair” or tart wheat beers such as Hill Farmstead (Greensboro) “Florence” are a good starting point. Pale lagers like Oskar Blues (Colorado and North Carolina) “Beerito” should also work well.
Belgian-style saisons are superb with the bird. Saison Dupont (Belgium), which is generally agreed to be the benchmark of the style, or Ommegang (New York) “Hennepin” will offer spicy notes of white pepper, citrus and herbs, and their high carbonation level will refresh your palate with each sip.
Malty amber lagers like von Trapp (Stowe) Vienna or Brooklyn (New York) Lager (which is also a Vienna-style lager) will bring out the savory notes in the turkey.
If turkey isn’t your thing and you’re going with ham this year, a malty brown lager like Idletyme (Stowe) Dunkel will be just 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, such as Samuel Smith (England) “Nut Brown Ale,” and Prohibition Pig (Waterbury) “Downtown Piggy Brown” 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 such as 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 caramely goodness of sweet potatoes will find a friend in a smoky, but not overly bitter, Scotch ale. Drop In (Middlebury) “Heart of Lothian” and Stone Corral (Richmond) “Latigo” will both do the trick.
If maple is involved, try to get your hands on a bottle of Lawson’s Finest Liquids (Warren) “Maple Nipple.”
Belgian-style wheat beers are spiced with orange peel and coriander seeds, which really sing next to cranberry sauces.
Try the “original Witbier,” Hoegaarden, which has been brewed in Belgium since 1445. Or for a regional option look for Allagash (Maine) White, which is a tried-and-true staple at reputable beer shops.
Thanksgiving isn’t really complete without pies, right? For pumpkin pie, reach for a rich, nutty brown ale like Rogue (Oregon) “Hazelnut Brown Nectar.”
With berry pies, try a sweet-and-tart sour cherry beer like Verhaeghe (Belgium) “Echte Kriek.” Pecan pie is right at home with a roasty imperial stout like North Coast (California) “Old Rasputin” or perhaps with Ballast Point (California) “Victory At Sea,” an Imperial porter brewed with vanilla and coffee. Apple pie and porter pair nicely; look for Founders(Michigan) Porter or Smuttynose (New Hampshire) “Robust Porter.” Cream pies? Maybe stick with coffee.
Gluten free beer
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 versatile at the table. For something sessionable, try Omission (Oregon) Lager, which took home a bronze medal at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival. Looking for a hoppy gluten-reduced brew? Stone (U.S. and Germany) “Delicious IPA“ is what you seek.
Also remember, Thanksgiving is a time of need. Please consider donating food or funds to your local food bank to help your entire community have a celebratory meal this year.
This article published online Nov. 11, 2016. Jeff S. Baker II is the Curator of the Curriculum for Farrell Distributing. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @aPhilosophyOf. Jeff co-hosts the “It’s the Beer Talking” podcast found on iTunes and Soundcloud. More info at www.burlingtonfreepress.com/news/podcasts?