Thanksgiving Beer Pairing Ideas

November 18 2011 - 9:21 AM

A very bright person who shall remain nameless came up with the idea that I should do a piece on Thanksgiving beers.  Not a hint of sarcasm there.  It’s truly a great idea but I don’t know if I’m up to the challenge. Thanksgiving is a tradition dating back centuries while beer pairing is in its infancy.  Plus, I’ve never been to a Thanksgiving dinner – ever – where they served beer.  If anything, it’s what you might have after the gathering at your friend’s place when the pumpkin pie settles in.   My family rarely drinks and never while I was growing up.  A beer post under my name offering any hint of knowledge about it would have set my mom’s face as aghast as if someone splattered her pumpkin pie on the floor.  We weren’t exactly homebrewing.

For these reasons, listing beers to pair with Turkey Day dinner is an uphill climb for me.  But let’s have some fun with this anyway.  I’ll offer you this: a stage-by-stage Thanksgiving Day pairing of things you’re likely to eat, and beers that you can actually find.  (In other words, I won’t be recommending any Canadian Breakfast Stout or Surly Darkness as a digestivo.) Let’s get started.    

Breakfast:  Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast or Founders Breakfast Stout. 

The alarm shakes you into Thursday morning and you have a whole day of cooking, mingling, and football ahead of you.  You might even be shaking off the Wednesday night “biggest party night of the year” effects.  If you break taboo and have a beer with the a.m. eggs as you watch Popeye sail down towards Herald Square or the first of 50 seasonal showings of “It’s  A Wonderful Life” (good luck with that), a great pick-me-up is a coffee stout.  Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast is primed and ready as it’s exceedingly lively with a strong coffee aroma and a java and hops flavor striking at your palate with a nice gritty, grainy foundation against bitter chocolate.  A similarly great experience is the easier-to-find Founders Breakfast Stout.

Mid-Day and Early Afternoon:  Three Floyds Zombie Dust or Boulevard Tank 7.

Now you’re rolling.  The bacon wrapped turkey is in the oven. You’re working on a casserole and preparing the stuffing as you follow the football game (the Lions are worth watching!).  Several guests have already arrived with jumbo shrimp cocktail.  It’s a good time for a lighter bodied beer that’s an attention-getter.  Enter Three Floyds Zombie Dust Pale Ale.  With its beautiful flowery nose, citrusy and spicy flavor, and clean biting finish, Zombie Dust will usher you along.  Alternatively, you could go Belgian the Kansas City way and open a a Boulevard Tank 7, a feathery farmhouse ale with flavors of orange peel, melon, banana, and a bit of citrus, quietly grounded in hops.  The bomber size is perfect from sharing with guests and plying them with beer to mash the potatoes.

 Appetizer time:  Three Floyds Alpha King or Flossmoor Station Pullman Brown Ale.

 You could go in one or two directions here.  The house is full of savory smells – turkey, stuffing, gravy (all yours, I hate it), dumplings, broth.  Some guest brought prosciutto and cheeses.  You could pour something bold and hoppy here, or seek something fuller and mellower as dinner beckons.   Hop lovers might choose Alpha King as its robust hops will tame tangy cheeses or meats and strip your palate clean for dinner.  Others may prefer the Flossmoor Pullman Brown Ale which should be on tap in every Midwestern bar between October and March.  It embodies the fall with a rich, supple mouthfeel, modestly toasted malts hinting at milk chocolate, atop humble hop flavors.  Pullman Brown puts you in a happy place.  It’s the perfect time to call your annoying uncle.

 The Main Event, Dinner:   Goose Island Matilda or Stone Levitation Ale. 

I’m not a fan of either of these, and I'd hardly ever seek them out. Matilda is too subtle and I can’t stand that chalice with the cursive lettering.  On its own, Stone Levitation seems bland.  And both immediately sprung to mind when I thought of Thanksgiving dinner.  Your beer should not overpower your dinner, and few other beers will better pair with Thanksgiving dinner’s savory meats and spices.  Think of a beer that goes with sweet potatoes.  You could faster name a quiet Kardashian.  Ah, but Goose Island Matilda pairs better with buttery and gamey flavors than almost anything else out there with its subtle flavors and aromas, slight graininess and sparks of acidity.  Same goes for Stone Levitation Ale, which has just the right amount of alpha acids from its earthy hops. 

Post Dinner Sour: Jolly Pumpkin or New Belgium’s Lips of Faith.

 Nothing is as versatile or palate cleansing as a sour.  I’m foolish for not seeking out sours more than I do.  In the United States, the starting point is Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisian Ales.  Their sours are flat out gold and don’t cost a lot less than the precious metal itself.  But what better way to erase your oversaturated holiday palate than with the lean, tart bite of Jolly P’s E.S. Bam or the honeyed-orange flavored and spicy Maracaibo Brown.  For a lot less coin, the sours in New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series, particularly the Terroir, with its citrus and spice, is a delicious palate cleansing.     

Dessert:  Pumpkin Ale – Dogfish Head or Southern Tier.

Of course I’m having pumpkin pie for dinner; and if you don’t like pumpkin then I’m taking your slice too.  Chances are, like most people you like pumpkin, so I’ll have to double up with a great pumpkin ale instead.   The two best around here (and may still be in stock at a liquor store) are Dogfish Head Punkin Ale and Southern Tier Pumking.  The Dogfish is about as perfect as a pumpkin beer gets, never overpowering and has more subtle but lively pumpkin flavor.  Southern Tier Pumking explodes in your mouth with so much pumpkin pie and nutmeg flavor you’ll swear you ate the pie.

Winding Down: Three Floyds Alpha Klaus. 

The guests have left.   The last dish is in the dishwasher.  Now you’re ready for a bit of you time and cozying up to a winter warmer beer.  Split it with that special someone.  It’s time to get snuggly.  I’m talking Alpha Klaus, Three Floyds’ Christmas porter that’s lush, spicy, grainy, and nestled in a bed of bitter chocolate goodness. 

 May you have Friday off. 

–Mark Sheppard