The table swells with a dozen dishes: cranberry sauce with can marks as visible as panty lines, vegetables mired in a swamp of mushroom soup, dueling in-law’s stuffing recipes, sweet potatoes pummeled to candy-like goo and gadrooned with tiny marshmallows. Then there’s the casserole Aunt Ruth brought that no one has the courage to ask if it’s animal, mineral or vegetable. Finally, the light meat, dark meat and a nuclear-carrier-sized mound of mashed potatoes topped with the king of all foods, cream pan gravy, dumplings optional. Dessert, anyone?
It’s a beastly spectacle of a feast, a true groaning board. No wonder it’s the greatest meal of the year, but what to drink?
It isn’t obvious. Beer pairings work best when singular soul mates like an artisan cheese or lush dessert meet their destiny: Gorewydd Caerphilly with Lagunitas Pilsner, Humboldt Fog with The Bruery Saison or Gorgonzola with Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. I encourage you to try these or others in advance of the main event. But, a mash-up like Thanksgiving means a riot of flavors that may not play nicely with your beer of choice.
Fortunately, beer is a pretty supple partner, and there are many different approaches that should put everybody in a mellow frame of mind. With the right beer, Cousin Eddy won’t care that he’s still sitting at the kids’ table even though he’s on his third wife. There’s lots of ways you can go, from Norman Rockwell classic to beer Cogniscenti.
We’ll try to find beers that are neither too bold or timid, letting the food shine through even as the beers assert themselves.
Find room for a beer station with three or four beers near the table so people can select what moves them and observe the changing emphasis as they try different beers. Big bottles encourage sharing and seem more celebratory. Put out some nice glasses—I like red wine stems—the beer tastes better in them.
Beer Pairing Classics
With all that’s going on with food and family, sometimes it’s nice to keep it simple, and just enjoy the day. These delicious beers are easy to love whether you’re paying attention or not.
1554 Black Ale | New Belgium | Fort Collins, CO
Based on a very old Brussels recipe, this is a chestnut-brown beer with a very soft and pleasing character, with just a hint of sweetness.
Boston Lager | Sam Adams | Boston, MA
This is a craft beer that even Uncle Harry has heard of, and it’s beautifully balanced, with just enough hops to cut through the gravy.
Tumbler Brown Ale | Sierra Nevada Brewing Company | Chico, CA
Definitely on the toasty side, but soft and drinkable, with a clean, dry finish.
Beer for the Inner Beer Geek
Curieux | Allagash Brewing Company | Portland, ME
This is a complex, oak aged pale amber beer that’s light on its feet and about as elegant as beer gets, which is pretty damn elegant.
Le Merle Saison | North Coast Brewing Company | Fort Bragg, CA
Hazy and luminous as early winter sunshine, Le Merle seems simple enough, then you start peeling through layer after layer of earth, fruit, spice and perfume. Amazing what the right yeast can do.
Autumn Maple | The Bruery | Orange County, CA
With maple syrup to dry out the palate and a real taste of sweet potatoes, of course it fits right in.
Just Gimme Some Hops!
I expect you hopheads to ignore this advice, and run out and grab a pile of Pliny the Elder, Le Freak or Hop Stoopid. But, there are ways to get your hop fix and still enjoy the turkey.
Hop Rod Rye | Bear Republic Brewing Company | Healdsburg, CA
Hops are plentiful, but tempered with layers of complex caramel, spicy-creamy rye and dried fruit that go great with roasted foods and sweet dishes.
Two-Hearted Ale | Bell’s Brewing Company, Inc. | Kalamazoo, MI
Sure, it’s hoppy, but it’s also plenty malty with a nice fruity aroma.
Silverspot IPA | Pelican Pub & Brewery | Pacific City, OR
Brewmaster Darron Welch selected the blend of Sterling, Fuggle and Meridian hops, focusing on herbal, floral, spicy and tangerine-like characters to create this highly drinkable English-style IPA.
Beer for the Wine-Experienced
Sometimes it’s fun to get into smack-down mode with Cousin Anne, the sommelier-in-training. Armed with beers like these, you’ll have more than a fighting chance.
Your favorite Belgian-style Tripel | Brooklyn, New Belgium, Allagash—many craft breweries make delicious examples and have a lot of similarities when it comes to food: complex aroma, honeyed notes, a crisp palate and enough alcohol to deal with rich foods. A viognier of beers.
La Roja | Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales | Dexter, MI
Tart, oaky and very engaging—who needs pinot? If this one’s hard to find, try New Belgium’s La Folie or Lost Abbey’s Cuvée de Tomme.
Judgement Day | The Lost Abbey | San Marcos, CA
This beer actually uses raisins to add a layer of fruitiness even as they dry out the palate. Great with the dark meat, stuffing and those sweet potatoes.
Beer and Dessert
Desserts are a whole ‘nother deal. A bigger beer is definitely in order; caramelly, nutty, raisiny and toffee like characters in beers will resonate with these two classics, pumpkin and pecan pie. By the way, all of these beers are good enough to have as your dessert.
- Velvet Merlin | Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Paso Robles, CA
- Brother Thelonious | North Coast Brewing Company | Fort Bragg, CA
- Chocolate Stout | Rogue Ales | Newport, OR
- Bigfoot | Sierra Nevada Brewing Company | Chico, CA
- Local 2 | Brooklyn Brewery | Brooklyn, NY
- Brown Shuggah | Lagunitas Brewing Company | Petaluma, CA
- Old Viscosity | Port Brewing | San Marcos, CA
- Cane & Ebel | Two Brothers Brewing Company | Warrenville, IL
Randy Mosher is an author, lecturer and consultant on beer styles and brewing. He is an instructor for the Siebel Institute in Chicago and the author of The Brewers Companion, Radical Brewing and most recently, Tasting Beer. Additionally, Mosher is a brand identity and package design consultant for an international range of clients in the brewing, food and beverage business through his company, Randy Mosher Design.