Your Turkey Wants a Beer

Monday, November 20, 2006

As I begin, let me suggest that you readThe Brewmaster's Table by Garrett Oliver. The whole book is about tasting beer and pairing different beers with different foods. Excellent for so many reasons.

I bring this up because a common question around Thanksgiving, especially for people who are invited guests to such a dinner, is "what wine goes best with Turkey?"

The right answer is beer!

Beer was absolutely the staple beverage of the Pilgrims, being the most ship-worthy beverage in terms of being able to be produced in a large enough quantity to be the beverage of choice for the 4 - 6 month voyage. It has also been dicovered in reading the ship logs of the Mayflower that they put ashore in Plymouth (which was not their target destination) because beer supplies ran low.

When the Pilgrims landed and began to settle, a brewery was one of the first buildings to be erected. The reason: they were suspicious of water -- which was often tainted back in Europe -- and wine and spirits in the Mayflower's era were medical provisions and not for the table. Beer was a way, because of the alcohol content, to purify water to make it drinkable. This form of water purification goes even farther back.

So did the "first settlers" drink wine at the "first Thanksgiving?" Hell no! They drank beer!

We benefit now from such a massive variety of specialty craft beers to choose from that we can pair different courses with different beers. Following are my own recommendations for beer-food pairings. If you're looking for something to pair with the Bird other than a boring Chardonnay, consider some of these.

Nothing huge here; we don't want massive alcohol contents, huge hops or tons of roasted barley to kill the tongue so that we can't enjoy our dinner. For this course, as guests arrive, consider a nice light Pilsner or Lager; something lightly grainy and vaguely hoppy to give the tongue a little tease. Consider:

  • Warsteiner Premium Verum
  • Sam Adams Boston Lager
  • Brooklyn Brewery Lager
  • Weihenstephaner Original Lager

    Hors d'Oeuvre Hour
    Turn on the hops a little more for this course, as you will have probably several different appetizers of varying taste, oiliness, fattiness and complexity (even if it's just chips-n-dip and salsa!). The hoppy character in Pale Ales will go really well greens, cheeses, fruits and the like without overwhelming what you're eating (you never want your drink to be the star over your food). Try:
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Pale Ale
  • Anchor Liberty Ale
  • Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale
  • Bass Pale Ale

    And now for the bird. And the stuffing. And the potatoes. And... Now's the time to hit a strong-tasting ale with some residual sweetness to compliment the latent sweetness of the bird and the feast. Also, you want a boosted alcohol content, because the higher alcohol concentration will help cut through fats and starches to help you taste the beer and will cleanse the palate between bites. Try some Belgian-style beers here:
  • La Fin Du Monde
  • Delirium Tremens
  • Michigan Brewing Company Celis Grand Cru
  • Ommegang Hennepin or Rare Vos
    You could also look at more lagers (not American Light spiciness or taste), since the higher carbonation and hoppiness in lagers cleanses the palate between bites and the spicey hops compliment the dishes well. For instance, try Pilsner Urquell, which features the wonderfully-spicey Saaz hop. Peppery.

    The best course, in my opinion, for beer pairings is dessert. This is mainly because I am a massive fan of Stouts and Porters. Think big, huge and rich:
  • Founders Breakfast Stout
  • Great Divide Yeti or Oak Aged Yeti
  • Rogue Chocolate Stout or Shakespeare Stout
  • Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout

    This is the kick-back, sip and relax drink, where belts and pants-buttons are undone and you watch your favorite football team lose terribly as you nod-off to a restful triptophan-induced slumber. Think smooth and numbing:
  • Dogfish Head Raison d'Extra
  • Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine
  • Rogue Old Crustacean
  • J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale (look for a vontage older than 1 year, so '04 or older)

    Again, this is by no means definitive, but hey, if you've never done this or are looking for something more interesting than the $9 sale wine at the local grocery, give this a shot.

    And be thankful to the Pilgrims for establishing a fine tradition of drinking beer with your feast!


    Mike 5:21 PM  

    All right. You've earned your way back into my salivary glands' good-graces, after last week's all-too-vivid descriptions of . . . ummm, bodily fluids not called "saliva."

    Some of the beers you've listed in the dinner, dessert, and bombed and sloshed and stuffed phases of the meal sound great.

    Mmmmm. I may have to grab me a Brooklyn Chocolate Stout on the way home. Just to whet the appetite for Thursday, you know?

    Smitty 10:03 PM  

    Hey, I live in Hell, we ALL live in Hell, right? Glad not to have permanently lost any of my 5 readers at any rate.

    Brooklyn Chocolate Stout. Good call, Mike. Fits well in the Dessert category as well.

    Had me a Victory Golden Monkey this evening, a damn fine beer in its own right.

    Mike 7:18 AM  

    Black Chocolate Stout, Victory Golden Monkey, etc. nice to see that the craftbrew establishment has taken note of an important phenomenon: beer geeks like high alcohol content as much as St. Ides drinkers, we just have impossibly high standards on taste, appearence, scent, drinkability.

    And at no time in my life have I been presented with such a wonderful selection of 7.0+ ABV brews to choose from.

    For about $4.50 I can drink one Black Choc Stout (~10) and one Golden Monkey (~9), and I'm sportin' a pur-retty nice buzz, you know what I'm saying? Though I'd drink the Golden Monkey first.

    Add if I'm in apartying mood, a $2.00 bottle of, say, Ommegang Ale (8.6?), and I'm rocked for under 7 dollars.

    The world improves for Beer Nation. I'm hard on my country at times, but in the big picture, the US takes a back seat to no one in the hops and malt world.

    Smitty 11:17 AM  

    Amen, Mike. We have taken the best of each country's brews and added that bit of "America" to them. The Brits, for example, love American IPAs because that's what the Brit versions used to taste like before they decided that all things British are "subtle."

    Are you on the Beer Advocate web site?

    Mike 10:59 PM  

    No. I've cruised through a couple times, but it always seems to require sign-ins and such. I hate the hassle.

    Also . . . honestly -- and I'm not trying to be falsely modest -- I'm not at the level of you or some of the guys there: haven't sampled as many, haven't brewed, haven't been to too many festivals, don't know the vocabulary.

    I'm more than just a dillatente, that's true. After 15 years of seeking out great beers I know plenty, but I don't really have the accumen to offer much to guys who know every beer I've ever tasted.

    Smitty 12:29 AM  

    Think about looking more at that site. You've got a very discerning pallate, and I learn as much from that site as I do in terms of offering anything to it. The only reason I am an uber-dork of beer is that I studied and took the test to become a judge for competitions. That site is what really launched me into knowing and understanding more about beer...

    Mike 8:21 AM  

    I'll take your word for it. I'll spend a little more time there.

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