Thanksgiving dinner is one of the few times in the year when Americans eat a truly multicourse meal — a main course preceded by perhaps an appetizer or possibly a soup and/or salad.
Finding a wine to hold up to flavors as diverse as turkey and gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, honey baked ham, stuffing, sundry vegetables and, of course, pumpkin pie is no easy task.
So this Thanksgiving, try something different. Something that has the flavor profile to stand up to whatever pairing you can throw at it and the affordability to ensure there is plenty to go around.
I'm speaking of beer.
There might well be no Thanksgiving if not for beer, actually. It was a low supply of beer that helped lead the Mayflower colonists to set up shop at Plymouth Rock. As William Bradford, one of the original passengers, later wrote, "We could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer, and it being now the 19th of December."
There are two approaches to take in pairing beer with Thanksgiving dinner. You can break up the meal into courses and pair an appropriate style with each course. Or you can pick one style of beer with the range to pair with most dishes likely to be on the table.
If you plan on breaking the meal up, a good rule of thumb is to consider the meat dishes first. Choose pale, sweeter ales for turkey dishes, such as Terrapin Golden Ale ($6-$9 a sixer) or Redhook Blonde ($6 to $8) on the lower alcohol-content side, and Brooklyn Local 1 or Allagash Tripel Reserve (both $7 to $11 per bottle) for higher alcohol-by-volume options. These offerings also pair nicely with mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casseroles, and many other side dishes. Avoid hoppier (bitter) offerings like India Pales, as they tend to overpower these dishes.
For ham and sweet potatoes, malty bocks and doppelbocks are a perfect pairing. Some choices include Samuel Adams Winter Lager ($6.99 to $7.99 a sixer) on the lighter side and Celebrator Doppelbock ($9.99 to $12.99 a 4-pack) and Spaten Optimator ($8.99 to $12.99 a sixer) for more flavor concentration. A Weizenbock, such as Aventinus ($3.99 a 16.9 oz bottle), works just as well and has the added benefit of pairing well with sweet spiced dishes such as pumpkin and minced pies.
If you prefer one all-purpose beer that can handle most everything on the table, look to the farmhouse ales of Wallonia. Saisons typically possess an apple-like sweetness, along with spice, pepper, sweet malt and yeast notes, and may possess mild tart notes that complement cranberry sauce. Saison Athene from Tarpon Springs ($8.99 to $10.99 a bottle) is an excellent option. In the same price range you can find Saison Dupont, Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere and North Coast Le Merle.
Whichever route you choose, consider pouring your beer with a pitcher, which makes it easier to share and improves the visual presentation. As long as the beer is refrigerator temperature when you put it in the pitcher you do not have to worry about it getting too warm.
Likewise, you need not fear it will lose carbonation. The CO2 in beer will last for hours before fading.
— Joey Redner is a Tampa resident and world beer traveler.