Being someone who revels in the enjoyment of good food and beer, I’m always grateful when Thanksgiving Day rolls around. I love all the traditional holiday fare! Turkey, mashed potatoes, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, deviled eggs and, of course, dessert. With such a broad range of flavors served on Thanksgiving, it’s truly a day made for beer pairings. There are a few great beers that can stand up to to the whole day of flavors, from savory to sweet; and you’ll meet one of those in just a moment. But, if you’re like me, and really want to make an event of it… here’s a few suggestions for beer pairings throughout the whole meal.
Picture a gathering of family and friends, catching up on the events of the past year, and waiting on the feast. Having put out some snacks to stave off the famished folks; maybe a cheese plate, some charcuterie, or mixed nuts… I strongly suggest adding Haw River Farmhouse Ale’s (Saxapahaw, NC) Cotton Pickin’ Farmhouse IPA, an Imperial Belgian IPA aged in oak foeders with Brettanomyces and generously dry-hopped with Centennial and Amarillo whole cone hops (ABV: 8.5%, IBU: 80). While this beer sounds like it has a lot going on, it melds into a smooth drinking IPA with layers of flavor and a wonderful floral hop aroma. Haw River will tell you it goes well with an aged sharp cheddar. We went with a little further and paired it with Sugar Island’s house-made spicy pimento cheese. Sam uses Ashe County Cheddar cheese from West Jefferson, NC in ours and adds just enough jalapenos for a nicely balanced heat. It is a memorable combination.
If hoppy beers are not to everyone’s taste, you can go with a maltier choice and try Fullsteam Brewery’s (Durham, NC) Seasonal Apple ESB (ABV: 6%, IBU: 38). Brian Mandeville, Fullsteam’s head brewer, makes this beer by adding about 10 lbs of apple pomace (the apple left over after pressing out the cider) per barrel. Think classic English Extra Special Bitter whose caramel and toffee flavors are complemented well by the nice, subtle apple flavors on the finish. This is one of my favorite Fall beers.
Now, gather round folks, it’s turkey time! And, of course, all the mouth watering, wait all year for, side dishes. I truly believe we need more food-centric national holidays like Thanksgiving. I mean, it is conceivable to eat all these wonderful dishes any time of the year, but it’s just not the same without everybody participating. Belgian-style Tripel is my favorite style to pair with the cornucopia (pun intended) of Thanksgiving flavors. The higher alcohol content gives it the intensity to stand up to all the flavorful foods and help cut the richness, and the higher levels of carbonation refresh the palate after each bite. The interplay of the Belgian spices with the traditional Thanksgiving herbs and spices is always fun. This brings us to my favorite NC beer for Thanksgiving, Regent’s Rye Tripel (ABV: 8%, IBU: 18) also from Haw River Farmhouse Ales. It’s lovely amber-gold color just looks like it belongs with all these holiday riches, and the spiciness of the malted rye in the grain bill complements the Belgian yeast quite well. It is simply a well-made, flavorful beer, with a superbly dry finish. That wonderful dry finish is a big part of what makes Haw River’s Tripel such a great beer for food.
If your crowd is up for embracing the funkier (and equally delicious) side of beer and food pairing, look no further than Wicked Weed Brewing (Asheville, NC). One of my favorite beers to pair with food any time of the year is Wicked Weed’s Recurrant, an American sour ale fermented with black currants and aged in freshly emptied Cabernet barrels (ABV: 7.6%). Recurrant has a rich, ruby color. It’s well balanced acidity makes for a flavorful and fruity but not overly tart sour ale. This is a great one for the wine-loving beer drinker; pairing well with any food you would typically enjoy with a glass of red wine.
Make sure to leave room for dessert… at some point in the day, anyway. Here’s some ideas to go with our Sugar Island Bakery holiday favorites:
NC Pecan Pie ~ Haw River’s Regent’s Tripel (yep, it does dessert too). Or, for something a little darker, let’s jump up to a Belgian-style quad and break out Quest Brewing’s (Greenville, SC) Grand Cru (ABV: 11.5%). The malt backbone stands up well to the caramelized sweetness and pecans with the Belgian spices singing a nice harmony. And if you didn’t leave room for dessert, just yet; Grand Cru also makes a nice after-dinner treat all by itself.
Apple Crumb Pie ~ Wicked Weed’s Barrel Aged Lunatic (ABV: 7%) or Ponysaurus Brewing’s (Durham, NC) Biere de Garde (ABV: 6.3%). The Franco-Belgian flavors, lighter grain bill, and dryness in both marry well with the fruit and spices in the pie.
Pumpkin pie (or pumpkin whoopie pies, pumpkin bread, etc…) ~ While you wouldn’t go wrong with our favorite Belgian style beers here (think complementing spice flavors) may I suggest we return to our Southern roots here and break out Fullsteam Brewing’s Carver Sweet Potato Lager (ABV: 5.5%). The earthy, subtle sweetness from the sweet potatoes goes nicely here.