Beer has long been given short shrift on the traditional Thanksgiving table, where wine rules, but the dazzling variety of craft beer available provides pairing opportunities that at least match wine’s affinity for food.
Some of beer’s qualities that make it particularly interesting with food can also help balance some of wine’s culinary foibles. Carbonation is an obvious example, and a lively brew can help refresh and renew a palate coated with rich flavors, and beer’s great forte is exposed when dessert hits the table.
Here are a few suggestions for craft brews to serve alongside the reds and whites filling your wine glasses. (And a wine glass makes the perfect vessel for the brews served at the table; these beers shouldn’t have to be relegated to beer mugs and pint glasses.)
Beer as aperitif
As family and friends -- and the tantalizing aromas of the cooking meal -- begin to fill the house, guests and cooks alike will be reaching for something to pique the appetite and dull the friction of gathered family. A classic pilsner fits the bill, and the dry finish and pleasant bitterness will awaken the palate and the stomach. Firestone Walker’s Pivo Hoppy Pils is one of the finest American craft examples of the style. Prima Pils from Victory Brewing is a more hop-forward example that can convert dedicated IPA fans to the pilsner camp.
The main event
You can try to find a brew to pair to each dish of the traditional feast, but because the Thanksgiving meal is served family-style, it’s better to find a versatile brew that fits in with the meal as a whole. Belgian ales are a great choice here; they are complex and bold, and they are often available in attractive large-format bottles that are at home on a well-set table. The effervescence of hoppy, spicy Belgian pale ale, or a stronger tripel, will refresh the palate between gravy-soaked bites, and the flavors will complement everything from the green beans to the bird. Ommegang BPA, Devotion Ale from the Lost Abbey, Duvel, Chimay Tripel and Orval should be easy to find.
Craft beer and the sweet stuff
Thanksgiving desserts such as pumpkin, pecan and apple pies are intensely flavored. They are notoriously tough to match with wine, but beer can step in at the end of the meal with grace and aplomb. Any of the various pumpkin ales are well suited to dessert duty, as are rich and chocolaty stouts -- especially examples dosed with coffee such as AleSmith’s Speedway Stout or Great Divide’s Espresso Yeti. And if you happen to have some ice cream left over after serving the pies, don’t be shy about dropping a scoop in a glass of the stout for an extra-festive treat.