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Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Beer Pairs

One of my bosses likes to tell me that whatever I am doing, it's not rocket science.  This is probably a good thing, because my math skills are, let's just call them, lacking.  Pairing beer with your Thanksgiving celebrations also should definitely fall into the "not rocket science" category (if you want to learn exactly what is rocket science, click here.)

FOOTBALL (pre dinner)

This year the Houston Texans will play the Detroit Lions in Michigan.  Houston certainly seems to be on a roll right now.  While I don't think we are going to have a blow out, I also think it's a game that you can turn to every fifteen minutes or so and not feel like you're missing anything highlight of the week worthy.  Perfect for that awkward viewing time when your early guests are arriving.  Early afternoon is a bit premature for me to enjoy a beer, but who am I to judge other's?  (actually, I'm Marie.  I'll decide later how I feel about you It's nice to meet you.)  Anyway, a lighter beer (and notice I did not write "Lite" beer.  Big.  Big.  Big difference)   is nice to have on hand for those who feel the need to partake before noon.

A fruit flavored beer is an appropriately seasonal way to begin the day.  I'm not a huge fan of fruit beers, but when they are done correctly, they can be quite refreshing.  And you can sort of justify drinking one before the coffee pot has had a chance to cool completely (it's sort of like a glass of juice, right?)  This year I bought a few a bottles of New Galrus Brewing Company's Apple Pie  to drink while my brother fries the turkey in the backyard.  I'll post my review of this beer (and the next one too) in a separate post, but I'm hoping for a tart, cider flavored brownish ale.  I also have a couple of bottles of their one-off Thumbprint Enigma beer.  New Glarus' website lists it as Sour Brown Ale flavored with a mix of cherries, oak, vanilla and smoke.  Intriguing, no?  

An English Bitter is also an interesting way to go Session Ales are usually low in hops and AVB with mild carbonation.  They smell of fruit and oak with light to moderate mouthfeel.  Two Brothers Brewery out of Warrenville, IL produces their Long Haul Session Ale year round, but I think it's particularly nice in mid Autumn and then again in mid Spring.  It has the aroma of bready yeast and citrus, which marries with a bit of spice on the taste as well.  There's a dry oakiness on the slightly bitter finish.  Plus a low ABV of 4.20% means that your guests can enjoy more than one without falling face first into their mashed potatoes during dinner.

So say you aren't a health nut and don't want fruit anywhere near your hopped up fermented yeast.  I can understand that.  Lagunitas Brewing Company's Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale is the pale ale for people who don't like pale ale (and that would be, ahem, little sumpn' sumpn' like me.)  I spoke with some of the brewers of this ale last summer and mentioned how much I enjoyed the low hoppiness of their beer.  They laughed and informed me that Little Sumpin' Sumpin' was actually their highest hopped beer.  The rye malts used when brewing it balances out the extreme bitterness of all of those hops and makes a smooth, highly drinkable beer.  It's easy to drink with food or just hanging out by the fire pit.

FOOTBALL (dinner)

If your family is anything like mine, you'll have the end of the Washington Redskins & Dallas Cowboy game on in the background while you eat.  And if you're smart, you'll be sure to seat your mom with her back to the TV as well (what she doesn't know won't hurt any of us.)

There's a lot less pressure in choosing a beer to go with the Thanksgiving feast than there is in finding the perfect wine. (read my Thanksgiving wine post here)  Maybe it's the unnecessary pretension that some people heap onto their glass of vino.  Maybe it's because it's easier to find an inexpensive brew that will work with a diverse menu.   Maybe it's just because sometimes good beer comes in a can and it's hard to get all OCD over anything wrapped in aluminum.   

Brown Ale is an easy choice for dinner.  It's food friendly and simple to drink.  There are a lot of great Brown Ales out there.  Smutty Nose Old Brown Dog would be a good choice (click here for my review.)    If you have Porter fans in  your family, Bonfire Brown Ale from Saugatuck Brewing Company is a seasonal smokey Brown Ale that also exhibits some porter-like characteristics.  Over Ale by Chicago's Half Acre Beer Company brews a solid entry as well.  It pours a chestnut brown with a decent head.  Flavors of biscuit, nuts and caramel malt are balanced by bitter hops on the back.  Medium body and short to medium finish won't overpower anything on your dinner plate.  And yes, it comes in a can (so pour it out for your guests when they sit down at the table.  We're not animals here, people.) 

Lagunitas Censored Rich Copper Ale

 Red Ales are also a good choice for dinner.  I recently drank a Lagunitas Censored Rich Copper Ale and my first though was that I have to remember this one for Thanksgiving.  Lagunitas Brewing Company is quickly becoming one of my personal favorites for well balanced brews.  It pours a really pretty reddish gold and one finger head. It opens a bit sweet with caramel malts and toffee which fades to an earthy profile.  The moderate hops will work extraordinarily with your turkey,yet not give the vegetable side dishes an off taste. 

Domanine DuPage by Two Brothers Brewing Co.

Farmhouse Ales are sort of made for Thanksgiving dinner.  By nature they are extremely food friendly.  Semi dry with only a touch of sweetness balanced by a healthy amount of tartness. Also known as Saison beers, this style may not be as popular as say your average IPA, but they are definately worth seekling out (especially for the holiday.)  Two Brothers Brewing makes a marvolous French Country Farm House Ale named Domaine DuPage that I absolutely love. (click here for my review)   Goose Island, while not necessarily a craft beer brewery any more (at least not in my opinion),  makes a smaller batch Saison named Sofie that should be easy enough to find this time of the year.  But why not seek out something truer?  Try New Holland Brewing's Golden Cap which tastes of biscuit, earth and just a touch of fruity tartness. 

FOOTBALL (pie me!)

 I'm going to be honest here, I'm not going to be drinking a beer with my pie.  I'll be enjoying a nice cup (or two) of fresh brewed coffee while watching the Patriots whip the Jets (sorry New York/New Jersey fans.  There are very few Thanksgiving miracles out there.)  But what if you have people over for dinner who (gasp!) don't like pie?  I know.  It's mind boggling, but it is my understanding that such people do exist.  I imagine that they are probably related to these people.


You might want to provide your non pie imbibing guests with a tatsy beverage to distract them while you sneak a second slice.  

Left Hand Brewery's  Nitro Milk Stout

Milk Stouts are heavier beers that usually have strong chocolate and roasted nut flavors.  They are thicker in body with a smooth lush in mouthfeel.  Nitro Millk Stout by Left Hand Brewing Co. is a great example.  To pour this beer, turn the bottle over completely into your pint glass and watch the magic happen (the beer will pour flat at first, but after a few second, the head will rise from the bottom of the glass.  See, tasty brew and party trick in one.) 

Lexington Brewing Company's Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

Lexington Brewing Company's  Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is also a great option.  This English Ale is stored in Kentucky bourbon barrels for six weeks, which results in a uniquely spirited drink.  Vanilla and oak flavors round out the harsh edges of the whiskey taste.  This isn't a beer for the guy who insists on passing on the pie to watch his figure.   

Thanksgiving is the day that we all should take a step back and remind ourselves of just exactly how lucky we really are.   There are 364 other days in the year to gripe about all the things that we don't have or that wish that we had.  For example, I would really like a wood burning oven in my backyard (it's never going to happen, but I can complain all I want about the lack of one.)  On Thanksgiving day we don't need to learn any special songs or search in vein for rapidly spoiling colored eggs or worry about a love one's disappointment when they open a lackluster gift (such as George Forman Grill  instead of a wood burning backyard oven.)  So be thankful for the roof over your head, the friends around your table and the craft beer in your glass.  I know I am.