Although it may be a sommelier’s and Cicerone’s dream–or nightmare–Thanksgiving dinner might arguably be the meal most requested for pairing suggestions. For wine, I prefer Beaujolais because it’s unpretentious, juicy, and has slight herbal notes.
Any meal has an opening for wine, but so does beer, and both deserve their place at the dinner table. So long as intensities matched up, beer can help cut, contract, and/or complement your entire day of gluttony, not just the dinner feast.
As a quick side note, we’ve heard of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Well, the Brewers Association has created Small Brewery Sunday to promote our amazing independent breweries. Stop by for a pint to take a break from all the shopping! Use the hashtags #SmallBrewerySunday and #SeektheSeal on the socials. OK, on with the pairings!
As is our custom, my father and I start the day with an exchange of stories while enjoying a couple of crisp beers as we begin to prep for the day. This is my favorite part of the holiday. I start things off with a hoppy lager with enough character and bitterness to kickstart the appetite but calm enough to not overpower the palate. Pales and IPAs are next.
My choice: Pally Pils (Green Cheek)
Here is where you can turn it up a notch with some hops. If you’re having some charcuterie and artisan cheeses, especially those with robust, buttery, and earthy flavors like blue and goat cheeses, an IPA will be a fine choice. You could also use a well-hopped pale ale. The bitterness will leach out any saltiness and let the earthy cheese flavors shine. The carbonation will take care of the fat and cream by scrubbing it away.
My choice: Slap and Tickle (Brewery X)
Garrett Oliver, author of The Brewmaster’s Table, decisively proclaims there is really is no other choice for Thanksgiving dinner than a French bière de garde. With subtle sweetness, the beer pairs perfectly with the poultry, the yeast spice character harmonizes with stuffing, and the carbonation will wash away the mouth-coating mashed potatoes and gravy. Unfortunately, bière de garde’s are rarely produced by local breweries. However, saisons are and they serve as great substitutes, providing very similar flavor notes but with a more rustic profile.
My choice: Saison Ardennes (The Bruery)
Coffee is a common choice for dessert to contrast with the sweetness that can easily cloy the palate. An imperial stout can easily act as a substitute here with hearty roast and coffee flavors. I prefer to harmonize. Depending of the dessert of choice, your options are quite expansive. Pecan pie? This is where a big imperial stout will help cut the sugary sweet stickiness. Flan? Yes, flan. My last name is Perez, and this is traditional for us. A doppelbock with bready notes complements the delicate, milky flavors in the flan. Pumpkin pie? The caramel flavors of a barleywine or wee heavy resonate with the pie or harmonize with a pumpkin-spiced beer.
My choice: Heirloom Pumpkin Ale (TAPS Brewery)
The bellies are full, leftovers put away, and dishes are cleaned. Well, perhaps only one of those might be done. Before the tryptophan kicks in, top things off with a potent barrel-aged stout or barleywine. High ABV to aid and encourage relaxation. Pair with a nice cigar if you have one, and let the digestion begin.
My choice: Darkstar November (Bottle Logic)
There is no concrete pairing guide for Thanksgiving or any meal in general. It is all up to the individual on what they’d like to drink this holiday. I hope these suggestions help you if you choose to have beer at any point during the day. Don’t forget about Small Brewery Sunday, and enjoy your meal!
I wish you a happy and, more importantly, safe Thanksgiving.
Editor’s note: Charlie Perez is an Advanced Cicerone® who covers the Orange County beer scene for the Booze Blog.