Pairing beer with a Thanksgiving day meal can be tougher than one may expect. As I think back to previous experiences of bringing bottles of English Brown Ales, Hefeweizens, and even a three-liter “Jéroboam” Chimay Grand Reserve, I remember how unmanageable it was to pair the beer with all of the dishes that were actually on the table. With so much variety in flavors and textures and styles, how can you choose what will work with your selection and what won’t?
I’d like to help you navigate those beers this upcoming Thanksgiving. I tested out five completely unique Michigan brewery beers that I know will pair well with all the components of your meal during different stages of the day.
Number One: The “I’m-ready-to-party-and-my-palate-is-fresh-as-a-newborn-baby” phase.
All right, you’ve just walked in the door and are greeted by family and friends, which means one thing: you need a drink. It’s going to be a very long day of consumption, so how about we start off with something subtle with lower alcohol content? I’d suggest popping open a bottle of Odd Side Ales Fig Brewton.
The Fig Brewton is their version of an English Pale Ale brewed with figs. At 4% ABV this aromatic-forward brew is your ticket to beginning your light buzz on an empty stomach, because why would you eat something before the party? This dark amber and cloudy concoction is full of sweet fig aromatics, notes of brown sugar, light toffee and an earthy/dry fall leaf character. The flavor is very, very subtle. It contains a faint hint at fig and the earthiness with a balancing hop bitterness.
It’s happened. You’ve finally sucked down your first beer of the day and are probably feeling a tingly happiness in your belly. Ready to eat? Good, because we have a great beer for the first round.
Normally at this point there are a few lighter snacky dishes. Dishes such as layered salads, roasted pumpkin seeds, deviled eggs, polish roses, roast squash, and plenty of other food options are offered to the guests. You begin telling stories, gossiping with cousins, updating everyone about your kids, sharing photos and creating that base of food in your belly that you will regret later once you’re in a food coma.
At this pivotal point in the day, we are opening up our palate to various flavors. Pungent onion, bright salads, salty spreads, and so many other flavors are being introduced to our willing bellies. Because we’re in the initial phase of sharing, it’s time to break out a 750mL bottle of Rockford Brewing Company’s Country Ale. It’s a 7.3% ABV Saison that is hazy and a beautiful orange/honey color. The aroma is complex and layered with notes of lemon, white pepper, grape nuts cereal and just a touch of overripe strawberry. It tastes quite similar, but the flavor is more subtle than the robust bouquet. I found that this beer is all about aromatics and mouthfeel.
The Country Ale is quite bright with balancing acidity and a touch of alcohol warmth and some spice-forward heat and bitterness. It has a soft feel on the tongue with a dry finish. The beer is excellent as it warms up and will be exceptional with all of the brighter but varied flavors of the first round of Thanksgiving food. Use the spritzy carbonation, the pungent spices, and the bright acidity to scrape and lift off fatty foods and sweet flavors. The peppery notes will resonate with spices on the various dishes, while the lemon notes will resonate with vinaigrettes on salads and contrast with fattier foods like egg. Above all, the beer will rinse away any light to medium food flavor so you won’t feel quite as palate fatigued. I mean, come on. You aren’t allowed to get full right away!
The table has finally been set, the children have been wrangled, and your family and friends are now gathered around the table to tuck into the best meal of the year. There are so many dishes on the table that you’re drooling into! Turkey, honey baked ham, green bean casserole, mashed and sweet potatoes, the cranberry sauce, stuffing and gravy. For you vegetarians out there, perhaps there are delicious treats such as a mushroom and farro pie, pumpkin orzo with sage or perhaps a butternut squash, kale, and cheddar bread pudding. All in all, we have a literal feast in front of us that is just teeming with savory, salty and sweet flavors. Here comes the most important role for beer all day. We need beers to pair with everything that has been set before us.
My suggestion? Grab two completely different beers and pour them in separate glasses and drink them BOTH during the meal. This time around, I have chosen Pepper in the Rye from Brewery Vivant and the Leroy Brown from Big Lake Brewing.
Pepper in the Rye is a Rye Ale brewed with green peppercorns that comes in at 6.3% ABV. It’s a pretty amber brew that comes in a one-pint can. The aroma gives notes of strong orange peel, a light touch of lemon, some light barnyard funk, a big dose of those green peppercorns that actually make me feel heat in my nostrils, a bit of spicy rye, and bread crust or biscuit notes.
The beer tastes pretty much the same as it smells. Bright spice notes of the green peppercorn are present, especially as it warms up. I detect cracker-like notes from the malt, and the earthy hops hang out way underneath the more robust characteristics. The Pepper in the Rye is a tart and brisk brew with spice forward bitterness to balance it all out. Alcohol warmth is present and smacks my tongue around just a little. Tartness ensues into the finish to create an overlapping effect to the other mouthfeel-oriented sensations.
It’s well balanced yet quite complex. The Pepper in the Rye is going to use its alcohol warmth, its tart character and its spice-forward bitterness to cut fat and sweet flavors just like what we experienced with the Country Ale. The tartness will balance out yet accentuate saltiness. Try pairing this beer specifically with your stuffing, vegetable casserole dishes like green bean casserole, and ANY of those vegetarian dishes I mentioned. Pumpkin orzo with sage paired with Pepper in the Rye? Forget about it!
We need some malt to sooth salt and resonate with savory meat flavors and sweeter dishes such as sweet potato casserole. Let’s keep it easy-going, malty and delicious with the Leroy Brown from Big Lake Brewing.
The Leroy Brown is an almost clear and medium to light brown brew with pretty ruby highlights. It’s aromatics lend notes of chocolate, nutella, nuts, and soft breadiness. The flavor gives me notes of toasted biscuit, nuts, and milk chocolate, all on a layer of delicious bread notes. Mouthfeel with this beer is one of the best parts. Quite smooth, approachable, and simple. I feel that many Brown Ales these days tend to roam into porter category or have higher alcohol levels than I’d like, but this one hits the mark. Pair this lovely number with your turkey, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, glazed carrots, gravy, or your mushroom and farro pie.
It’s that time. Your belly aches from too much food and so you’re sitting far away from everyone so you can groan and fart in peace. Perhaps you’ve taken a nap at this point and aren’t sure if you want to go home to finish passing out or keep up your buzz and drink more beer.
For those of you who are willing to rally and end your day with a bit of dessert, look no further than pairing your pumpkin pie with Griffin Claw Brewing Company’s Three Scrooges Winter Ale brewed with orange peel, honey, and spices.
The Three Scrooges comes in at a manageable 6.5% ABV. It’s a hazy and dark amber beer with strong spice and orange peel aromatics. Get notes of sweet bread, caramel, nutella, cinnamon and raisin? Me too.
It seems to be a trend with the chosen beers, but the flavor is not as punchy as the aroma. It’s subtle but still quite pleasant. I pick out flavors of toast, milk chocolate, light marshmallow, orange peel, and a honey/toffee character.
The Winter Ale is smooth as hell with a tight and dry finish and a touch of alcohol warming. Pumpkin pie, for me, is too often paired with more pumpkin or sweet allspice forward beers. I’d wager that this traditional dessert will pair quite well with the Three Scrooges Winter Ale because of its subtle sweetness and little pop of bitterness and acidity from the orange peel. It’s subtle enough to highlight your pumpkin pie without sweetening the ensemble up too much that you can’t finish the last bite. Layered and lovely, I think these two will get along just fine.
So there you have it. A Thanksgiving meal and a few beers to help you along your journey of palate happiness. Should you feel the need, as I expect you will, to cap off the evening with one last beer, please grab yourself a snifter and pull out your big and bold brews. English Barleywines, Wee Heavys, Imperial Stouts and a variety of beers brewed with fruit truly shine in these moments.