Giving Thanks to Craft Beer

By Ashley Routson

Thanksgiving is one of the most special holidays in this country—not necessarily because of its somewhat controversial and often disputed history, but for what it symbolizes. Although the traditions may vary from household to household, almost all Thanksgivings across the country share one thing in common—they bring together family and friends over a large delicious meal and, often times, several tasty beverages.

For those who live, work, eat and breathe craft beer, our holiday traditions almost always involve the fruits of our labor. After all, craft beer is a source of income that allows us to provide for our families and enjoy everyday pleasures—something for which we are all extremely thankful.

This year, I asked many of my good friends in the craft beer biz to share some of their favorite ways to celebrate and give thanks to craft beer. Below you will find their stories and favorite Thanksgiving beer traditions. We hope you’ll join us this Thanksgiving in raising a toast to the finely crafted beverage that has brought all of us together as family.

Cheers, craft beer. We are thankful for you.

Thanksgiving Beer Traditions

It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve spent Thanksgiving with my nuclear family, and most years are spent celebrating with friends. Each year, I dip into my cellar and share some of my most precious rarities with my friends, and I almost always bust out a vertical. Here are a few festive beer-themed Thanksgiving traditions from some of my favorite craft beer colleagues.

Amanda King | Marketing Manager | Odell Brewing Company | Fort Collins, CO
For about the past 10 years, we’ve gotten together and enjoyed a meal with our extended coworker family. Everyone brings in a different dish, and often the recipes include our beers. We also pick out 4-5 beers to pair with the meal, and then vote on our favorite pairings. It’s one of my favorite days because not only does it smell like yummy beer making, it also smells like turkey!

Mariah Calagione | Vice President | Dogfish Head Brewery | Milton, DE
We usually pull a few bottles of Pangaea (our beer brewed with an ingredient from every continent) to enjoy while playing the “go-around game,” which our family invented as a way to help keep the kids part of the conversation. Basically one person asks a question and we go-around the table and listen to everyone answer it. Sometimes the question is thoughtful, but kind of expected (What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?), and sometimes the question is completely random (What is your favorite kind of light, and why?). With twenty-plus folks at the table for turkey day, we get lots of great answers!!

Bess Dougherty | Brewer | Wynkoop Brewing Co. | Denver, CO
The past couple of years I have taken my mother out to lunch and to visit a brewery in downtown Denver. I’ll have her try different beers and then let her pick her favorites that I then pick up and bring to Thanksgiving dinner. Last year she picked the beers based on how she thought they would pair with Thanksgiving foods. Mom beer geeking out is just too awesome! Oh, my other little one is that I make the pies every Thanksgiving and, since turning 21, I have also picked up beers to pair with the pies.

Dave McLean | Brewmaster and Owner | Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery | San Francisco, CA
I’m kind of a sucker for tradition—for the little rituals that wiggle their way into your life and make things interesting. Beer is great for that. We usually host a big group of longtime friends and family at our house and I always bring home a keg of Magnolia’s Winter Warmer, which has a long tradition of being released at the pub the day before Thanksgiving. For most people who come over, it’s their first taste of it that year, and I love the ritual of that—kicking off the fall holiday season with friends and family sharing a beer I have been brewing for 16 years. Having it around that day throughout cooking, catching up with friends, and celebrating is as integral to my Thanksgiving experience as the turkey itself.

Thanksgiving Beer Pairings

A grand meal without beer is no meal at all. Craft beer has the amazing ability to heighten a pairing and lift a meal to the next level. I love bringing a variety of beers to the table, as many styles work with the rich and complex flavors of a Thanksgiving meal. I love partnering a kriek (cherry lambic) with turkey and cranberry sauce, and a brown ale is perfect for washing down mashed potatoes and gravy. When it comes to dessert, imperial stouts and Belgian trippels usually do the trick, and you can’t go wrong with pumpkin ales or other holiday spiced beers.

Jacob McKean | CEO & Founder | Modern Times Beer | San Diego, CA
I love The Bruery’s Autumn Maple with everything I eat. I find that pumpkin beers rarely taste like actual pumpkin, but the yams in Autumn Maple really come through in a very delicious way. I’m a vegan, so my dishes are often a bit different than everyone else’s at the table, but I have had so many memorable meals with Autumn Maple. The sweetness and spice of Autumn Maple pairs really beautifully with roasted brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and gravy and homemade seitan.

Julia Herz | Craft Beer Program Director | Brewers Association | Boulder, CO
Turkey and all the trimmings paired with a Belgian-style golden strong ale (BGSA) is my holiday favorite. The main malt is pilsener malt, so the base malt flavor is reminiscent of graham crackers. The malt flavors fall into the mild white meat flavor of turkey beautifully (not as great with the dark, more iron-centric meat). Plus, turkey is a very mild meat, thus brining the turkey with beer (see Tipsy Turkey recipe) helps you introduce a variety of flavor harmonies with your craft beer.

Then there’s the herbal and toasted bread flavors from stuffing that tie into this beer style’s malt and spicy yeast flavors. The common BGSA yeast strains deliver a lot of white fruit esters (pear and apples) and pepper phenols that help freshen and spice up the meal, leaving you tasting more than just the glorious gravy on your mashed potatoes and protein. The more robust alcohol levels of this style (7%-10% ABV) stand up to the richer side dishes, yet the style is drier and lower in residual sugar than many others so it’s quite sessionable. Finally, the higher carbonation levels of a BGSA help scrub the tongue and prepare your palate for the next bite.

Rob Tod | Owner & Brewmaster | Allagash Brewing Company | Portland, ME 
The beer I naturally think of for Thanksgiving is Interlude—our wine barrel-aged Belgian farmhouse ale brewed with Brettanomyces. It’s extremely versatile and works well with the broad variety of flavors in a Thanksgiving meal. The tartness in the beer compliments the cranberry sauce, yet contrasts the thick creaminess of the gravy and stuffing. Most people drink wine on Thanksgiving, and with its barrel-aged vinous character, Interlude has the ability to crossover.

What about craft beer are you most thankful for? Share your stories in a comment below! Happy Thanksgiving!

Ashley Routson, known amongst the craft beer community as The Beer Wench, is a self-proclaimed craft beer evangelist and social media maven on a mission to advance the craft beer industry through education, inspiration and advocacy. She is currently the “Director of Awesomeness” at Bison Brewing in Berkeley, Calif., as well as the founding editor of DrinkWithTheWench.com, BeerMixology.com and IPADay.org.

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