Thanksgiving. When it comes to pairings, it can be the sommelier’s and Cicerone’s dream … or nightmare. An honest sommelier or Cicerone may find it challenging to find the perfect pairing to go with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. But it’s really not that difficult if you follow some simple pointers.
For wine, there are many styles to choose from, all of which have a part to play with the dish. Zinfandel with its rich and spicy flavors, pinot noir with its deep red-fruits and light body, Beaujolais with its unpretentious juiciness, sancerre with its herbal notes; the list is expansive and ingredient-focused for wines. I love wine, don’t get me wrong, but what about beer?
Ah, now here is we can have some fun, and not only with the main course. Any other course has a potential for beer, too. As long as we keep intensities matched up, we can focus on what is commonly referred to as the three C’s: cut, contract, or complement. You’ll see these sprinkled around below. Let’s start from the beginning.
Early in the day, my father and I love to exchange stories and enjoy a nice beer. Here, I opt to start things off with a light lager or ale, something with character but take notice not to ruin your palate. Keep the IPAs and sours for the next couple of courses. Some suggestions here are Kraftwerks (Stereo Brewing) or Tailgater (Tustin Brewing). Plus, bitterness tends to increase one’s appetite.
My choice: Local Import (Green Cheek)
Here is where some meats and cheeses may come into play. If you’re only doing some heavy cheeses, such as aged cheddars or rambunctious blues, you can bring out your hoppy pales and IPAs. The cutting power of the hops helps lift the fats yet also complement the unctuousness of some intense cheeses. There are plenty of amazing pale ales and IPAs here in Orange County. Some of the best are from but not limited to Tustin Brewing, Docent, Artifex, RIIP, Green Cheek, Noble, Unsung, and many others. In my home, my father and I take another route. We make ceviche for the entire family to munch on throughout the day while we all take turns in the kitchen making our signature dishes for dinner. For this, I reach for something with some acidity and a slight funk to complement the freshness of the ceviche.
My choice: Summa Vitis by Bruery Terreux
There really is no other choice for Thanksgiving dinner than a French Bière de Garde, as Garrett Oliver so firmly puts it in his book “Brewmasters Table.” The subtle sweetness of the beer pairs perfectly with the poultry, the yeasty spices will latch on to the stuffing, and the carbonation will wash away the mouth-coating mashed potatoes and gravy. A saison or a Belgian strong ale variation prove to be nice substitutes since a local Bière de Garde is difficult to come across. Look for some take-home offerings from The Bruery, Gunwhale, or Good Beer.
My choice: 3 Monts by Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre (Local substitution: The Order by The Bruery. Not a Bière de Garde, but still a good choice.)
Sweetness in dessert can easily cloy the palate, and coffee is usually the drink of choice to contrast this. Here we can easily substitute a shot of espresso with a firm imperial stout. Grandpappy from Docent or Book of Bad Decisions from Asylum come to mind. If the traditional pumpkin pie is served, try a barleywine or scotch ale to add some caramel flavors or a spiced holiday beer to resonate with the pie. Pecan pie? Here we should look at something big enough to take on the stickiness of the pie, perhaps with more alcohol and even some barrel aging. Autumn Maple from The Bruery is also a fine choice depending on the pie. There really are so many ways to go here. Just keep intensities even, and you’ll be all right.
My choice: Black Phoenix (Bootlegger’s)
A full belly and ready to relax. Go for a bourbon barrel-aged stout or barleywine here. Something with some high alcohol to promote relaxation and enjoyment of the moment with your loved ones. If you’re like me, pair a nice cigar with it for a sensational experience.
My choice: Darkstar November (Bottle Logic)
This is by no means the end all for pairings, and there are just my choices, although they may seem tilted toward one brewery that best fit my palate and the relative availability of the product. At the end of it all, if you want an IPA with your turkey dinner and a riesling with dessert, go for it! It’s about enjoying the day and what we may be thankful for. Do whatever suits you, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Cheers, and have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!
Editor’s note: Charlie Perez is an Advanced Cicerone® who covers the Orange County beer scene for the Booze Blog.