Do you know how lucky we are? Do you? Truly? You and I (and the guy sitting just to your left. Turn and give him a little friendly wave) are not only living in what might arguably be the boom of the domestic craft beer movement, we get the luxury of living in one of the epicenters of the whole shebang. Well, I do and if you happen to be reading this from some place other than Chicago, it's a lovely place to visit and you should book a trip soon (but all bets are off come January. You've been warned.) As of last count, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild listed over eighty craft breweries in the Chicagoland/Illinois region alone. That's a lot of shelf space and tap handles. The choice of what beer to drink has never been so diverse, exciting and yes, occasionally overwhelming. But you and I wouldn't have it any other way. That guy sitting to your left, however, seems to be breaking out into a cold sweat at the prospect of pairing his beers with the family Thanksgiving meal. For his sake, I'm going to break down a typical Chicago Beer Turkey Day. All of the following beers are local and can still be found on the shelves of a well stocked craft bottle shop or big beer liquor store that rhymes with "Whinny's". I'll also include a Beer Menu link for each suggestion because when one of us drinks well, we all drink well.
PREPPING THE BIRD
In some houses this might start early in the morning, in which case I suggest grabbing yourself an bright eye & bushy tail cup of joe. If you happen to be one of those folks who likes to make a day of it smoking, grilling or even deep frying the bird (Holla out to Down The Hatch Middle Brother who has never passed up the chance at playing with an open flame!) a glass of something light in ABV but large in taste is required in hand. In fact, since you actually have two hands (well, I'm assuming that you have two. If you happen to only have one, boy is my face red. And I really hope that the other is a hook at least) you might need more than one glass to get your through the afternoon. Pop open a bomber of a Berliner Weiss from a brand new Chicago area brewery, Marz Community Brewing. Bubbly Creek is a lemon forward Berliner Weiss with a well balanced mouth pucker of tang. And at a mere 2.8% ABV, you could probably finish off the bomber with out over cooking your giblets. Or losing a hand in the process. I also recommend a bright, citrus forward APA such as Ale Asylum's Hopalicious, if Berliner Weisses aren't your thing. I don't "get" that concept, but I also try not to judge (I kid. We all know the truth here. Totally judging you) which clocks in at a sessionable 5.00% ABV. Brewed with Cascade Hops, it's crisp with a refreshing bite that quietly screams notes of grapefruit and lemon. Honestly, I drank the hell out of this beer over the summer during a Wisconsin Dell trip. Yes, this was the same Dell trip that I scores a $2 pour of Toppling Goliath's Pseudo Sue APA. And I'm still talking about Hopalicious, so that should tell you something right there.
Marz Community Brewing's Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss
Ale Asylum Brewing's Hopalicious APA
EATING THE BIRD
So you've successfully navigated the turkey onto the dining room table, talked great Aunt Edna down from her annual rant about teenage boys in low slug jeans that just gets creepier and creepier every year, and lead the masses in a quick speech of thanks. As the resident Beer Geek, your family's next question is "So, what are you pouring?" A typical Thanksgiving meal is no longer typical by any stretch of the imagination. This year alone, I know of at least one family who is serving Pasta Marinara, Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries & Walnuts and Five Cheese Enchiladas all on the same table. The idea of matching any sort of drink, let alone a beer, with all of those elements is maddening. My solution is to take the most basic component of the meal, the thing that almost everyone will have at least a slice of, and pair your beer with that. In most cases, it will be the turkey (unless you are celebrating at a steakhouse with your crew and in that case, just get a decent bottle of Malbec and call it a day.) I love drinking Saisons with poultry and Off Color Brewing's Apex Predator holds all the cards needed to compliment your Thursday night meal. The fruity yeast, restrained funk and floral forward notes of lemon grass and herbs with a hint of pepper on the finish will help to bring out the meatiness of the bird while not overpowering any of the side dishes that accompany it. Since Apex Predator is one of my go-to Farmhouse Ales when pairing with a wide variety of foods, the chances of it working with whatever odd family traditions that land on your plate are pretty darn good. But you say that you were craving something a bit fruitier and cranberry forward in your dinner Teku? Pipeworks Brewing has you covered with their Flavor Memory Response (yes, that is the name. No, I think it sounds like a Fifth Grade Science Fair Project too.) This year Pipeworks is releasing a trio of holiday beers that they call The Three Dragons of Thanksgiving (yes, that is the name. No, I think it sounds like a children's book from George R.R. Martin too.) FMR (not any better. I know) is a Wit that was brewed with cranberries and spices (mostly notes of cloves.) The acidity of the tart cranberries and the fruity nature of the Belgian yeast will compliment your poultry and a good majority of traditional side dishes from roasted sweet potatoes to chestnut stuffing. You're on your own with the Five Cheese Enchiladas though.
Off Color Brewing's Apex Predator Farmhouse Ale
Pipeworks Brewing's Flavor Memory Response
DIGESTING THE BIRD
So you and your loved ones (and that second cousin with the Cosplay addition who your mom insisted that you give your new address to) have devoured the meal in twenty minutes that took you three hours to lovingly prepare. The next question is what to serve for desert? In my house, we are a pie family. Apple. Pumpkin. Pecan. Honestly, I'll probably have a bit of each on my plate. But in my glass I want a beer that I can sip slowly and enjoy it in a relaxed "I don't have to do the dishes because I cooked for all of you lazy slobs" sort of way. A lovely, creamy, Imperial Stout is called for. Spiteful Brewing's G.F.Y. Imperial Stout was aged in barrels from a local distillery who is also getting some nationwide accolades, F.E.W. Spirits (I'm not kidding. Entertainment Weekly recently featured F.E.W. in their gift selection section. And if Entertainment Weekly tells me to drink it...) G.F.Y. Imperial Stout is dark chocolate forward with elements of darkly roasted malts and a hint of bitter coffee with an earthiness that lends some appreciated depth to the taste. The alcohol bite is mellow and warming as the drink trickles down your throat. But for the people who are actually tasked with washing the dishes (thus needing to keep a clear head on their sudsy shoulders) I'll have a bomber or two of my favorite coffee porter, SlapShot Brewing's McLaughlin's Red Eye Porter. This porter boasts one of the truest coffee notes that I've had the pleasure of sniffing. No lie. I could spend an hour just inhaling the scent of this beer and be happy. It's made with with locally roasted cold brewed coffee, which works to mellow out the burnt bitterness that many coffee porters seem to posses. Notes of slightly sweet chocolate and a hint of dirt round out a simplistic, yet effective flavor profile. And at a laughable 5.8% ABV, you don't have to worry about Grandma Alice's china getting chipped. Who are we kidding? My Grandma Alice liked paper plates whenever possible too.
Spiteful Brwing's G.F.Y. Imperial Stout in F.E.W Barrels
SlapShot Brewing's McLaughlins Red Eye Coffee Porter
Thanksgiving is easily my favorite holiday of the year. There are no carols to be sung. No balls of lights to be untangled. And no presents to be hastily wrapped. It's the one day a year when people take a moment to be grateful for the abundance of blessings that even the lowliest of us are granted. It's not a time to lament what you lost, or worry about what you might want in the future, but to be thankful for what's in front of you right here and now. I hope that you and your loved ones are enjoying something wonderfully delicious in your glasses as you pause to reflect on your present abundances of riches. And get a good night's sleep, because Goose Island's BCBS Release Day is on the morrow and its back to the rat races bright and early Friday morning.