As I think back to the Thanksgivings of my youth, the memory vault truly is a horn of plenty. There was that moment I fell truly, madly and deeply in love with parsnips. There was the time that my Uncle Jake voiced his thoughts on my Cousin Joe’s Mullet in a manner that resulted in laughter from the rest of us and tears from Joe. However, there was one thing that never really happened at my Thanksgivings and that was a meal that was buttressed with a healthy array of flavorful and unique craft beers. Well, the times they are a changin’ and this year I am going to make it my job to ensure that my Thanksgiving guests are greeted with craft beers to compliment the meal.
Thanksgiving is the official kick-off to the holiday season that many people celebrate with splendidly flavorful and over-the-top meals. However, when it comes time to figure out the libations to go along with a meal that would make Martha Stewart’s table, too often what we drink along with the food is an afterthought. This makes me sadder than a panda finding out that bamboo is high in trans fats. However, this article will give some ideas to make more of a synchronous harmony between the food and the drink.
When most people think about pairing food with alcohol, their thoughts go automatically to wine. Here is the dirty little secret that neither Bartles nor James want you to know: wine only pairs well with a fraction of foods that craft beer does. Think about it. Can you think of any wine that would stand up to a spicy Pad Thai? Is there a wine that would actually elevate a deliciously decadent cheesecake? The answer is no. Of course, wine pairing makes a lot of sense when you are matching it up with fish, chicken, beef or vegetables. However, once you get to the dessert course, it is a lot trickier. There is also a widely held belief that wine and cheese is a can’t-miss perfect marriage. Upon further review, the richness and fattiness of cheese will often overpower the nuanced and delicate flavors that made the wine good in the first place. One thing that craft beer has that wine does not is carbonation. There is a physical palate-cleansing power of tiny bubbles that will wipe the flavors and textures of a bite off your tongue to allow you to reset your taster machine for another bite. Wine does not have this and so some of the heavier flavors and textures of food just sit there on the tongue and act as an inhibitor to reaching some of the more delightful and titillating flavors. Hee hee, I said titillating.
So what craft beer styles can you use? Well, truth be told, if you have something you like, I would start there. The nice thing about pairing craft beer with food is that can go to your local bottle shop and do a build your own six pack and experiment a little bit. The advantage to having several different options is that if one of them doesn’t really jive, you are not saddled with five more bottles that you aren’t excited about.
For paring with Turkey, you need to think about flavor components. If you are lucky enough to have someone who is amazing at roasting a turkey, you want to be able to really accentuate the best flavors of the bird. Think juicy dark meat, succulent white meat, and last, but certainly not least the crispy, to die for skin that makes you want to rejoice from the rooftops and thank the lord for taste buds. These flavors will want to be enhanced and not trampled over. I think a nice Amber Ale, Brown Ale or even a Belgian Dubbel will do the trick.
An Amber Ale will have some caramel and malty notes. Most Amber ales are moderately hopped and that is good because an IPA would absolutely overpower the Turkey, which is a very mild and subtle flavor. This beer drinks smooth and is very easy for someone maybe not familiar with craft beer to enjoy. The other great thing is that this style is readily available and always in season. This is important because it will be fresh and taste the way it should. Some examples of this beer available in MN are New Belgium Fat Tire, Alaskan Amber, Bell’s Amber Ale and Tin Whiskers Ampere Amber.
For a bit more flavor, a Brown Ale will really be a delight. More hop presence will be noted in this style along with a much richer roasted malt character. The light caramel notes in the Amber take a major step forward in this style. This will pair well with the crispy skin of the turkey because the caramelized sugars in the malt will match up perfectly with the nutty and crispy notes of the skin. This is also a milder flavor and will not intimidate anyone or jar their palate. This is a more common style this time of year and so you should have no trouble finding it among the beers on the shelf at your favorite haunt. Surly Bender, Lift Bridge Chestnut Hill, Big Sky Moose Drool, Bell’s Best Brown and Brau Brothers Ringneck are all great options for your Turkey Day table.
For the more adventurous drinker, a Belgian Dubbel is a match worth of taking a risk. A little more nuance and flavor will be happening in this style and that is mainly due to the yeast. The yeast will give off flavors called esters. Esters are flavor elements that come as a result of the the yeast doing its thing in the beer. In the Belgian Dubbel style, the esters from the yeast resemble flavors of fruit and will have aromas of chocolate, caramel toast and dark fruit. If you like the idea of cranberries, but want to skip the ribbed gelatinous nightmare that is the Ocean Spray can of disappointment, this craft beer style is a must try! In addition to the esters, the malt will really shine through with a rich caramel taste. This beer would pair well with the turkey, but also with the other sides that are typically on the table. Your options for this style are a bit more limited and pricey, as they are more than likely going to be imported Belgian beers. There are a few local options for this, too, but they are somewhat limited. I suggest starting with Ommegang Abbey Ale, Chimay Dubbel, Boom Island Hoodoo Dubbel, and Town Hall’s Cranberry Abbey.
The Thanksgiving Table is more than just the food. What makes this meal special are the people who are there to enjoy it and the time that went into preparing it. By taking a little thought to think about what craft beers to go with the food, you will be elevating the food and impressing your guests with another element of culinary genius. Plus, when you are out of small talk with Uncle Fred, you can use the craft beer as a conversation piece and avoid the awkward silence.
Mosher, Randy. Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. Adams, MA: Storey, 2009. Print.
Oliver, Garrett. The Brewmaster’s Table : Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.