FOR MORE THAN a century, American brewers have been pleading with you to serve beer on Thanksgiving.
In 2006, the Brewers Association launched a website (now defunct) devoted to imaginative turkey-and-beer pairings. (India pale ale and Cajun deep-fried turkey! )
In the 1980s, Anheuser-Busch answered health concerns about alcohol abuse with advertisements that portrayed beer as a sacred part of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving.
In the 1950s, New York’s Schaefer Brewing pleaded, “The trimmings should include real beer. . . . When the ladies say, ‘Everything’s ready,’ that’s the time for Schaefer Beer. “
Even before Prohibition, Braumeister of Milwaukee advertised, “If you like beer with your meals, you certainly appreciate a bottle of Braumeister with your Thanksgiving dinner. “
And did you listen? No, you uncorked a bottle of Chardonnay and stuck a fork in the turkey.
Well, I’m here to give it another stab.
There are two basic reasons beer is more appropriate than wine for Thanksgiving:
1. Bubbles. Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver notes in “The Brewmaster’s Table” that beer’s natural carbonation helps cleanse the palate of the strong, often-fatty flavors of the typical Thanksgiving meal. He suggests pairing turkey with either a basic, malty American lager, like Samuel Adams Octoberfest, or a stylish biere de grade, like 3 Monts from France.
2. Variety. Think of the wide range of flavors of a typical Thanksgiving dinner, from tart cranberry sauce to buttery corn to savory stuffing to roasted turkey. Wine just can’t keep up.
But Julia Herz of the Brewers Association says, “Craft breweries are producing so many flavor profiles today, there’s always lots of choices for a celebration. “
Now, you can sweat it and try to find the perfect beer to complement every single dish. (May I suggest a malty winter warmer with Mom’s candied sweet potatoes? Try Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale or Avery Old Jubilation. )
But that’s insane, and besides, your in-laws won’t appreciate the effort anyway. Instead, keep it simple. Here are a few basic styles that will have you reaching for a bottle opener this Thanksgiving instead of a corkscrew.
You want something light, sparkly and festive to go with those stuffed mushrooms and that cheese plate. And, of course, it’s got to be special when you toast the chef. Break out the Champagne glasses and fill them with a bubbly Belgian lambic.
Try: Sweet, raspberry-flavored Lindemans Framboise or tart, cherry-flavored Boon Kriek. Both will tickle the nose and the palate.
When the carving begins, you need a beer that can stand up to big flavors without overpowering them. A light pilsner will get knocked out by the gravy, while a dark stout will big-foot the roasted bird. Try American adaptations of two classic Belgian styles, saison and abbey dubbel. Serve bottles of both styles to give your guests a choice.
Try: Victory Helios, a hop-forward saison from Downingtown, or herbal Saison Athene from Florida’s St. Somewhere. Both are light-bodied and will easily complement the bird and any salad.
Or try: Ommegang Abbey Ale (New York) or Allagash Dubbel (Maine); both are sweet and malty without being cloying.
The temptation is to pull out a strong, dark ale like North Coast Old Rasputin because it pairs so well with chocolate. But with pumpkin, apple and pecan pies filling the table, now’s the time to crack open a spiced beer.
Try: Voodoo Love Child (Pennsylvania), aged on passion fruit, raspberry and cherry, and spiced with coriander; Autumn Maple, made with yams and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, from the Bruery (California); Winter Wunder from Philadelphia Brewing, flavored with plums, dates, cinnamon, allspice, clove and ginger; or creamy Breckenridge Vanilla Porter (Colorado).