Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. A whole day dedicated to hanging out with people you love, eating amazing food, and a beverage or three? Oh yes, I am a Thanksgiving guy. Thanksgiving is also the busiest time of year for folks in my business, with most people coming by the store looking for advice on what to serve their guests for the holiday.
Picking out the right beers to enjoy and serve your guests at Thanksgiving is not all that dissimilar to working out wine pairings for the holiday. In some ways, it can actually be much easier. Here are a couple of tips for selecting your beers for the Thanksgiving table, and a couple of suggestions that I think will work well:
Don’t over-think it: This is a trap I used to fall into regularly when choosing wine for Thanksgiving, or any meal for that matter. You want so badly to find the perfect match; to blow everyone at the table away with your harmony of food and beverage. We all want to be seen as gurus of all things food and wine (and beer), especially during the food holiday.
The problem comes when we take time to consider the insane spectrum of flavors, textures, levels of sweetness, etc. in the dishes seen in the average Thanksgiving spread. What if the bacon in the green bean dish is a tick charred? What if Aunt Jenny brings that thing with the marshmallows and pretzels again? What herbs will be used with the turkey?
There are a million variables with Thanksgiving dinner, and unless you’re obsessively planning every aspect of the meal (not that some of us aren’t) it is nigh impossible to 100% nail it with either a wine or a beer pairing. Take the time to consider, but realize that there is likely a point where you’ve done the best you can. If you hit a wall, find something you know will work for the most part and is easily enjoyable.
This brings me to the next tip:
Know your audience: I brought a really nice bottle of wine to my family’s Thanksgiving get-together once. Once. The Barolo I thought was safe in a decanter in the dining room while everything was being prepared ended up being consumed hours before it was ready, let alone before dinner was. You have to bear in mind the level of appreciation that your folks have for these things: there’s nothing inherently wrong with dropping a couple ice cubes in your glass of White Zinfandel (tastes being subjective and all), but it should be a heads up to you that Grand Cru Pinot Noir from Burgundy may be bringing a cannon to a knife fight.
Finding a balance between food-pairing ability and pure enjoyment is the key for Thanksgiving. Some thought to how a beverage will match up is smart and encouraged, but have a care for the experience levels of those around you. I’ve come around to a “keep it simple, stupid” way of thinking for the most part, where I want to play to the broader palate. As always, your mileage may vary. Here are some beers I think would work at your Thanksgiving table:
Schlafly Kolsch: With a smooth, clean mouthfeel not unlike a classic Lager and the bright, fruity notes of an Ale, Schlafly’s Kolsch is the definition of everything I’ve talked about in this column. If you’re looking for a beer with broad appeal that can play off of various dishes, Schalfly Kolsch merits serious consideration.
Maine Beer Co. Peeper Pale Ale: A recent arrival to our area, Maine Beer Company is a small outfit making some extraordinary beers. The hops in Peeper Pale emphasize clarity rather than aggressiveness, and a fine carbonation accentuates this Pale Ale’s refreshing nature. An elegant way to get your hop fix this holiday.
Stillwater Autumnal: This one’s a bit of a dark horse as it may be hard to find, but I think this beer makes a ton of sense for Thanksgiving. Essential an Oktoberfest recipe, Brian Strumke ferments Autumnal with his farmhouse yeast strain to create a smooth, malty Ale (rather than a Lager as a traditional Oktoberfest would be) with fruit and spice notes from the yeast. There is just enough sweetness for Autumnal to handle sweet potato casserole, but crisp and complex enough to play with turkey and stuffing.
Bell’s Christmas Ale: Why not get fully into the season? As Scotch-style Ales go, Bell’s Christmas is pretty mild, but I think that makes it great for Thanksgiving. As a crisper take on a malty style, Bell’s Christmas has hints of caramel and roasty malts that make for a versatile food-pairing Ale. Stock up for the season: this one goes really well with a nice honey-glazed ham at Christmas.
Evil Twin The Cowboy: For those feeling a tad adventurous, this Smoked Pilsner may be just the thing. The smoked malts aren’t overpowering and the use of Pilsner as the base gives everyone a familiar touchstone. All in all, The Cowboy is an oddity that doesn’t come across as being all that odd and should be immensely enjoyable at the Thanksgiving table.
The Bruery Autumn Maple: Hard to find as most stores have sold out already, but there’s nothing else I want when dessert starts coming out on Thanksgiving. The notes from the yam, maple syrup, molasses, and spices in Autumn Maple are flat-out perfect for serving alongside pumpkin or pecan pie (I’m a pecan guy, myself).
No matter what you serve, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving at a table lined with great friends and family. I’ll see you next week with a holiday shopping list for the beer geek in your life.
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