I can scarcely contribute anything to my family’s Thanksgiving meal. Turkey is my dad’s domain. My grandmother is a wizard with pies. My mom’s stuffing and sweet potato recipes haven’t changed since people wore hats with buckles. Thus my job is to bring some fine local beer—but how to choose from such a vast selection?
I consider the first rule of pairing beer with food is to drink what you love in good company. You can debate how certain flavor combinations work with one other, but true enjoyment of beer has little to do with what’s in the glass. Bring your favorite beers and your guests will no doubt share your enthusiasm.
That said, there’s a loose guideline that may help narrow things down. The Thanksgiving table is a massive assault of contradictory flavors, from roasted, savory dark meat to bittersweet cranberry. One drink will not pair with them all. But I find beers with predominantly malt-based flavors (those derived from grain) handle a smorgasbord better than those flavored by tons of hops. I’d say leave your most bitter pale ales for another day in lieu of something better suited to a supporting role at the table.
At the start of the gathering, I’ll pop a bottle of Auroch’s Horn from Olvalde Farm & Brewing Co (above). Olvalde is known for using old world brewing techniques and rustic flavors (like spruce tips and juniper) often harvested from their own farm—very much in the T-day spirit. Auroch’s Horn is a weighty, golden ale with mercurial floral aromas and a rounded honey-rich body. It will pair wonderfully with the browned bits of stuffing I’ll pick from the top of the pan as it roasts in the oven.
Once the meal starts, I’ll want to step back into a lighter, more accommodating ale and let the food steal the show. That sounds like a job for 14˚ ESB from Bent Paddle Brewing (top). It has some slight citrus hop aromas, but remains supremely balanced thanks to a caramel, toast, and toffee-rich malt character. It’s smooth and light—a perfect ale to prop up all the savory richness of your spread.
Towards the end of the meal, before the pie hits the table, I’ll switch to a more dessert-friendly beer—Stir Crazy from Indeed Brewing (left). This winter ale is comforting and luscious with remarkable vanilla and spice aromas. It may look opaque as motor oil but the sip is rather dainty. Molasses, fig, raisin, and cocoa flavors mingle into a subtle sweetness. Pair this beer with pumpkin pie and wearing wool socks in front of a glowing fireplace.
Those three should be readily available at any well-stocked bottle shop. Though, if I were to pick up a growler of beer straight from a brewery that doesn’t distribute, I could see the Halzenut Porter from Dangerous Man Brewing, the Schwarzbier from Fair State Brewing Co-op, and Nice from Bang Brewing playing admirably at Thanksgiving. With all this incredible beer being made right in our neighborhoods, it’s sure difficult not to be thankful.