Though I don’t think of myself as a fanatic about pairing beer with food, I have been adamant about beer’s place at the Thanksgiving table. If you think about the various courses that are included in the typical Thanksgiving feast, the emphasis is on the savory, the comforting, the earthy and the familiar.
Wine provides enough of an intoxicating effect to help you cope with your family’s mixed political views, but its flavor range to match with these types of food is limited. When you have plates that involve fats, oils and roasting, sometimes the extra bitterness of hops or sharpness of crisp carbonation can cut through them in a refreshing way, while beers with more roasted malts can provide a compliment to the earthy side dishes.
In my family, there’s the time when you arrive for Thanksgiving, which is always hours before the turkey emerges from the oven. You don’t want to start drinking too heavily, but you need something in your hand for mingling and to wash down the snacks (or stolen bites of food being cooked). The answer to this need, for me, is Allagash Brewing Co. Hoppy Table Beer. Hoppy Table Beer was designed to be flavorful, slightly hoppy, but low in alcohol. A Belgian “table” beer is also one that’s meant to be just enjoyed as-is without too much fanfare, an everyday beer. Hoppy Table Beer fits that bill, with a bright and hoppy taste that is complimented by the familiar flavors of a light Belgian-style ale. If your family loves cheese, try this one out with everything on the cheese board (but make sure you still save some room for the later courses).
When things start to get a bit settled in, I recommend cracking a Libbytown Brown from Bunker Brewing Co. This brown ale is malt-forward and leans towards the more traditional brown ales. It reminds me of Newcastle Brown Ale and might be a familiar flavor profile for old-school beer fans, as well as new ones. This one will effortlessly complement any of the root vegetables, casseroles or other savory sides. Also, its accessible style is a crowd-pleaser, even for those who may not normally seek out craft beer. For the turkey, there is one beer style that surpasses all others for its match – the saison. The gentle carbonation, the dry finish and the subtle spicy flavors from the yeast are all perfect to cut through the richness of the bird and pull out the roasted flavors. There are several excellent saisons brewed in Maine, but a bottle of Oxbow Brewing Co.’s Farmhouse Pale Ale is has been my go-to. Slightly hoppier than a typical saison, Farmhouse Pale Ale features all American hops but still retains all the beautiful notes that a saison should bring. It is also served in a large-format bottle, so it feels more wine-like on the table. Allagash Brewing’s Saison and its all-Maine Sixteen Counties are also excellent choices, each bringing a slight spin on the same complex flavors that work so well.
Then, of course, there is the iconic side dish of cranberry sauce. There have not been many attempts by brewers to wrangle the tricky flavor of cranberry in beer, and the few I’ve tried haven’t been particularly successful. Contributing only tartness and earthiness, it can be difficult for brewers to harmonize the cranberry’s sharp flavor with an already bitter beer base, especially if hops are involved. Foundation Brewing Co. has found a creative solution to this with its Cran-Orange Jam by adding some citrus for balance. A sour ale that is brewed with cranberries and oranges, the brew is punctuated with both tartness and the sweetness. In addition, the beer is bright red, which might turn some curious heads – or help to steer the conversation away from stressful topics.
Finally, onto dessert. While it might be tempting to go super rich or sweet here, I tend to think about how desserts can be supported without being overshadowed. When the pie plates get uncovered, I recommend also reaching for Banded Brewing’s Jolly Woodsman. The coffee-infused stout is a great compliment to the pastry-laden dessert tray, with the toasted notes of the coffee playing with the sweetness of each dessert differently. The flavor is assertive, and the alcohol level is a little higher at 7.5 percent, but it seems a fitting and mellowing end to a large meal.
When creating your shopping list for this year’s festivities, be sure to remember the beer. Many beer shops close up for the holiday, so it pays to plan in advance if you want to bring a variety of locally-made beer to your own table. Share your beer, share the beer’s stories and enjoy your holiday. Cheers!