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Note: This story was first published on Nov. 25, 2013
When I first started writing about beer, the idea of bringing beer to the Thanksgiving table was one that would elicit more than a few brow raises and questionable looks. In 2007, the new craft beer surge of growth was ramping up, but the level of acceptance of beer as an item for pairing with food had not yet reached a level of mainstream acceptance. In a way, it still hasn’t. Most images of Thanksgiving tables on glossy magazine covers still feature a classic glass of wine on the table. However, with the diversity of craft beer styles to choose from, it is difficult to ignore the possibilities that beer offers to this family meal.
Over time, I’ve come up with a few strategies for bringing beer to turkey day. Just like picking a good tap list, it’s important to have a variety of options available, have a decent amount of breadth, and to think of your potential audience for the beers. Below are five ways that you can try to integrate beer into your Thanksgiving meal.
With the range of tastes and dishes that populate a Thanksgiving meal and its preamble, having something that doesn’t distract from the meal is important. Several breweries have begun to offer lower ABV pale ales that are full of flavor, not overwhelmingly bitter, and great thirst quenchers.
While the meal is being prepared, in my family there are always a contingent of people that are considered “in the way” in the kitchen, but don’t feel like slumping on the couch and turning immediately to football. This is when I usually bring out a weird beer – something that is unexpected – and have a little impromptu tasting to pass the time. Usually this involves many small glasses of beer being shared with everyone (including the cooks) and having a discussion about the beer itself. I have recently enjoyed bringing beers that were aged in wine barrels or contain grapes to stoke the curiosity of my typically wine-loving dinner guests. Since the sample sizes are small if spread out among many people, this is also an opportunity to bring out something that’s slightly stronger – such as Allagash Curieux. The sky is the limit here, but be prepared to do a lot of explaining and guide your family through it. There’s a good chance not everyone will like it, but at the very least it’ll be something worth discussing.
Saisons are incredibly versatile beers when paired with food. They are delicate on their own, but bring almost a little spiciness from the yeast to play with the more earthy flavors of the meal. Any saison or bier de garde will do for the meal as long as they are not too assertive in their flavor profile. Both styles are dry and bright, bringing a lot of the mixed flavors of the meal to center stage, adding just a little bit of extra seasoning.
There are a lot of roasted and earthy flavors in a typical Thanksgiving meal – including those of roasted vegetables and squash. To compliment these flavors, try grabbing a brown or an amber ale. Brown ales bring a slight sweetness and a minor nutty note, which can bring out the richness in some of these dishes.
Quads and Belgian Strong Ales are great for the last course because they tend to be warming and high in alcohol – and they pair great with pies. After the meal, this combination can help you to transition into a beautiful post-meal nap.
What beer did you bring to Thanksgiving? Leave a comment and have a safe and happy holiday.
*Edited on 11/19/2014