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.
1. Appetizers – An accessible, flavorful, low ABV pale ale
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. Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project out of Massachusetts embodies this style in their beer, !Magnifico! This light-colored beer is also not intimidating to any relatives that have done most of their beer drinking in the light lager or pilsner category, so it’s not going to scare away the curious at the table. I would also place Maine Beer Company’s Peeper Ale in this category as it is as accessible as it is flavorful.
2. Conversation stater – A non-traditional style, barrel aged beer, or wine/beer hybrid
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.
3. With the meal – A crisp saison
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. My favorite in Maine is Oxbow Brewing Company’s Farmhouse Pale Ale, but is only available in growlers at the brewery in Newcastle. More widely available is Brewery Ommegang Hennepin and Brooklyn Brewing Sorachi Ace. Both 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.
4. With the sides – A malty amber or brown ale
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. A classic New England example is the Smuttynose Old Brown Dog, and DL Geary Brewing Company’s Autumn. Both bring a slight sweetness and a minor nutty note, which can bring out the richness in some of these dishes.
5. The sweet stuff – A sweet Belgian style beer
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. The timing of one of Sebago Brewing Company’s newest releases, ‘M’ couldn’t be better for this holiday. Their first quad, the beer was brewed in celebration of their 1,000th brew (hence the Roman Numeral nomenclature) and is surely something that the brewers are thankful for. It pours a pleasing mahogany color, and brings with it lots of dark fruit and even a slight roasted note or two. It is about 10% ABV, so you’ll want to share the large bottles.*
What beer did you bring to Thanksgiving? Leave a comment and have a safe and happy holiday.
*Edited on 11/25 to update the availability of ‘M’