Thanksgiving is only three weeks away & CBW is here to advocate that you consider having beer on your table rather than (or in addition to!) wine.
Why beer with food
We are obviously beer guys – opening a brewery would be a dumb thing to do if we weren’t – so you could say that we’re kind of biased. But beer does have characteristics that arguably make it as good (or better than) wine when you’re paring it with food. Brewmasters have a wider variety of ingredients to work with than vinters. Beer’s carbonation cleanses your tongue when you’ve eaten something rich. Beer can stand up to some flavors wine simply can’t. It doesn’t hurt that you can walk into a better beer store and buy some of the world’s best beers for a fraction of what you would spend on a comparable wine.
What are you eating?
Well, you’ll probably be eating turkey (or a tofu/textured vegetable protein mimicking said bird), mashed starch(es) of some variety, cranberry sauce, stuffing, brussel sprouts, matzoh ball soup (thats a tradition in other families, right?), green bean casserole, rolls, pies, pies, pies and pies. Thats kind of all over the place, but we’re ok with that if you are.
What beer pairs well?
You’re going to have a lot of flavors on your plate and that means that we have a lot of room to play around. The safe bet is a Belgian-style saison but there is a lot of variety in that style. There are a handful of amazing saisons available in the Buffalo area – top among them Brasserie Dupont’s Saison Dupont, Goose Island’s Sofie, New York’s own Ommegang Hennepin and Glazen Toren Saison*. All of these make me think of a field of wildflowers in early spring. They share a similar soft, slightly lemony yeast character. They’re going to vary in malt profile (the Hennepin being the most pronounced) and alcohol (again, Hennepin has the highest ABV at 7.7%). They’re all delicious though & would be a great addition to your table.
Wild beers are amazing with food. These are beers that have been at least partially fermented with yeast & bacteria outside the normal spectrum used by brewers. Frightened by the mention of bacteria? Don’t be – you like yogurt, right? Its a similar process here. The character imparted by wild yeast & bacteria varies greatly, from what I describe as vaguely cherry pie flavored to full on sour. They’re slightly more expensive than a usual craft brew but totally worth it. Want an easy entry point? Try Orval, which is one of the most sublime beers in the world. A Flanders-style red, such as Rodenbach Grand Cru* is more aggressive in it’s tartness but retains a bunch of cherry & malt sweetness. Or go all out (note: I’ll be going all out) and get something from Cantillion*, Drie Fontienen* or Girardin* for a complex, sour treat.
Not in the mood for something Belgian? Not a problem. A good Brown Ale (Avery Brewing’s Ellies Brown, Goose Island Nut Brown, Smuttynose Old Brown Dog) is going to play really well with that delicious crispy turkey skin. So is a well made pilsner (Victory Prima Pils, Sly Fox Pikeland Pils, and if you manage to find it really fresh Pilsener Urquell). While it won’t match perfectly I can’t help but suggest robust porters (Southern Tier Porter, Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald, Smuttynose Robust Porter) as well.
Done with dinner already? How about a digestif? Barleywines, Imperial Stouts and Belgian Quads/Strong Ales are all going to help you relax on the couch as that post-turkey glow envelops you. If you want something roasty, chocolately & potentially a little burnt go for an Imperial Stout (Great Divide Yeti [oak aged or not], Smuttynose Imperial Stout, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout) . Want something with more caramel character – Go for a barleywine (Anchor Old Foghorn, J.W. Lee’s Harvest*, Dogfish Head Olde School*). Plums, figs & lightly fruity yeast – go for a Belgian Quad or Strong Ale (St. Bernardus Abt 12, Struise Pannepot*, Gouden Carolus Grand Cru of the Emperor*). These are all going to be pretty darn high in alcohol – so consider sharing with your friends and family, no matter how much you want to keep them to yourself.
Where do I find them?
There are lots of great beer stores throughout the Buffalo/Niagara region these days. Premier Gourmet on Delaware has the most extensive selection in the area. Village Beer Merchant on Elmwood also has a wide array of beers that would pair nicely with Thanksgiving dinner. Wegmans has really stepped up their beer selection in the last few years and you can find a lot of great options there. Consumers Beverages is a solid outlet for good beer as well. [ed. note: as of 2013, try Aurora Brew Works as well!]
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, no matter what you drink. May your turkey skin be perfectly browned.
* Anything marked with an asterisk is going to be a little harder to find. Premier should have it but other stores may not.