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thanksgiving

Despite what some of you may think, there are those of us around Thanksgiving that are not daydreaming about wolfing down turkey for the feast. Some of us are looking for an alternative to the traditional centerpiece and main course, and I figure it’s only fitting that we get some beer to pair with our new entrees as well. Thankfully, Michigan provides some killer beers for us to pair it with.

thanksgiving

I wanted you all to know that, yes, there is such a thing as stuffing stuffed pork chops. It’s exactly what it sounds like—in that our beloved stuffing is in fact jammed right into your juicy chops for an extra level of enjoyment. The pork lends its meaty flavors to the stuffing, while the stuffing itself creates an almost “inside-out” sandwich like effect. I’m thinking that we’ll want a beer to resonate with, or connect matching flavors in both the food and beer, for this dish. Cedar Springs Brewing Company offers up the Küsterer Munich Dunkel, and I think it would be the perfect accompaniment. The bready and slightly nutty flavors along with the subtle chocolate aromatics of the beer will match with the obvious “breadiness” of the stuffing. The clean and balanced profile of the beer, as well as its carbonation, can cut through some of the fats from the pork. This creates a balanced back and forth between both the beer and food, because the beer acts as an extension of the stuffing flavors to connect the pairing. Though the beer is not bottled or canned, be sure to grab yourself a growler of it on tap at the brewery or from local bars carrying their product.

thanksgivingHoney glazed ham is a personal favorite of mine, and it finds quite the companionship when paired with beer. Because of its sweeter flavor, and its powerful salty and savory deliciousness, we’ll need a beer that matches in intensity. I’m proposing Odd Side Ales’ Barrel Aged Sweet Potato Souffle Rye. It’s big, bold, boozy, and—quite literally—a sweet potato pie tasting beer. When lining up its sweetness (though not cloying in any manner) with the honey sweetness of the ham, you find a tasty similarity. Even the honey and the sweet potatoes will find harmony together! The rye and spice characters from the beer are then highlighted by the sweetness and create the added layer of difference or complexity to the pairing. The alcohol warmth will cut through the fat, meld with the sweetness, and make your insides feel hot and happy. I mean, hey, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard of booze and ham having a relationship together (rum ham anyone?) so let’s see what the delicious fuss is about. This is one of those pairings that can create a lot of interesting flavor combinations, so sip slowly, savor every bite, and enjoy the layers.

thanksgivingSausage stuffed butternut squash is a new one for my list, and of course it sounds oh so perfect for beer. With the combination of potential herbs and spices in the sausage, and the sweetness of the squash, this portion of the meal would be quite happy with Stormcloud Brewing Company’s 228 Tripel. It’s a Belgian Tripel, built ‘to style’, that would tackle just about any combination of sausage or squash types that one would want for this dish. Squashes tend to lend a subtle sweetness that can be whisked away with the drier, more highly attenuated and more highly carbonated body from the Tripel. It can also contrast and create layers with the various spices and herbs that are in the sausage, depending on which variety you choose. Pepper, sage, garlic, and beyond, the Tripel’s yeast and their resulting phenols and esters will highlight and enhance the spices you encounter. The Tripel is a beer lover’s ultimate pairing tool, especially when a multitude of flavors are present. In this situation, with a couple of unknown creative opportunities with the recipe (again, type of sausage and squash), all you have to worry about is cracking it open and enjoying it, because this beer will be able to stand up to the job regardless.

thanksgiving

Though we see this next dish on many occasions, it can make a seamless transition into your Thanksgiving meal as well. Beef short ribs are savory little niblets of awesome that can be absolutely crushed and enjoyed thoroughly with the Penetration Porter from Kuhnhenn Brewing Company. We’re once again encountering salty and savory characteristics in our entree, so let’s take a new route and join it with the roasty, toasty, citrusy, and bitter brew that is the Penetration Porter. The roasty bitterness of the beer will cut through the meat’s fats, as the toasty bits will gain a friend along the charred and crispy edges of our beef. Add that layer of citrus to gain a roast and orange citrus tasting blend, and the meal has officially transformed.

thanksgivingGoing on the ‘gamey’ realm, duck can make for a delicious alternative bird to the traditional turkey. I recommend doing a roast duck with a cranberry glaze, and pairing it with Greyline Brewing Company’s Schadenfreude German Wheat. The soft and pillowy mouthfeel from the wheat is going to coat the duck and embrace it. The cherry glaze is going to find a home in that wheat and allow itself to be highlighted by it. Those roasted, caramelized edges on the duck will contrast beautifully with the sweet cherries, and the higher carbonation from the beer is going to absolutely clear our palate between each bite so we can keep diving into more food and never stop because it’s Thanksgiving and we must press on. Be sure to grab the Schadenfreude from Greyline Brewing’s taproom, which offers 32oz sealed crowlers of their beers as they are not in bottles and cans for distribution.

You see? Turkey isn’t the end all be all for Thanksgiving. Go a different route if you are so inclined, and we’ll just keep providing ways in which you can enjoy it thoroughly with our favorite beverage. For this day of thanks, I just want to be sure you all have some suggestions for imbibing on those fine hours of gluttony. It seems to only make sense.

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Wench is gearing up for Thanksgiving. After careful consideration, she’s got a few things she’s thankful for — all exclusively beer related, of course. It’s never too early to get into the Thanksgiving spirit, so here’s the Wench’s Thanksgiving confession:

10.  Water, malt, hops and yeast.

9.  People who have figured out that beer has flavor and seek it out wherever they go. This number is ever growing.  Just ask the Brewer’s Association, which recently announced that while overall U.S. beer sales were down an estimated 1 percent by volume in 2010, Craft brewer dollar sales were up 15 percent in the first half of 2011. Craft brewers currently provide an estimated 100,000 jobs in the U.S. and 1,753 breweries operated for some of all of 2010, the highest total since the late-1800s.

8.  Whoever figured out that hops were a great way to preserve the ale headed to Her Majesty’s troops in India. If this is a myth, please allow me to continue to believe in it. I need my urban legends.

7.  The new trend to put craft beer in cans.  We have similar plans but are willing to let others with deeper pockets than mine one work out the kinks.

6.  All my friends and family (you knew this was coming) who’ve slogged this road with me for the last year as we tested the waters of the craft lager business in our corner of Michigan and found it FINE. I get nearly daily requests — from raw rookies to savvy business people — wanting to know “how to do it.”  If I knew that kids, I would already be a zillionaire. What I will tell you is this:  Believe in your product, find a niche and fill it, and learn how to use social networks after you hire the best brewer you can afford.

5. The inherent, seemingly inexplicable, yet undeniable sense of camaraderie in this industry. I’ve said it a lot. I seriously doubt that there are many other businesses that are more sharing or helpful with newbies, and with each other. I feel utterly supported not only by the incredible organization of the Michigan Brewer’s Guild, but also by my fellow in the brewing biz itself. I can pick up the phone and dial any number of people to assist me/us with anything from the new keg tagging law thing (that I am still sorting out), when I’m fresh out of stainless steel in 1/6 barrel formats, or when we want to do something silly, like tap a huge pumpkin full of beer on Halloween weekend. These are people doing the same thing we do: making and selling craft beer, i.e. they are my competition. But that’s just not how we view it. And I am grateful and hope to do the same for others (and them) someday.

4.  That I can still fit into my Beer Wench costume. That makes me grateful for Bikram yoga. But only after the 90 minutes of hot room torture is done each day.

3.  The fact that the macros are cannibalizing each other and making some sort of freakish “human centipede” style massive, and ultimately unsustainable behemoth of a BEER COMPANY. Within its belly you will find glimmers of quality. But you gotta dig through a lot of semi-digested dreck to get to it. In the proverbial meantime, craft brewing and established brewers will continue to innovate, expand and grow, bringing even more beer drinkers into the fold.

2.  The pioneers.  Those that went before and paved the way—but I want to thank personally a couple of Michiganders:  the amazing team of Matt and Rene Greff from Arbor Brewing/Corner Brewery who have done more for the craft brewing scene in Ann Arbor and in Michigan at large than just about anyone. And Larry Bell. He has created a juggernaut of a brewing company with core values that stick and brews that you can find nearly from coast to coast. Cheers to you!

1a.  My colleagues: Matt , Trevor, Jim and Earl.  Thanks for bringing me to this dance boys. May our steins runneth over.
b.  My brewers: Oliver and Karl. Thanks for your patience — the educational opportunities you never let pass us by unacknowledged.
c.  My staff:  Travis, Dan, Tanya, Allen. Thanks for listening, learning and making the Tap Room the hottest damn beer bar around.
d.  Mr. Wench. For all the rest.

The Wench is gearing up for Thanksgiving. After careful consideration, she’s got a few things she’s thankful for — all exclusively beer related, of course. It’s never too early to get into the Thanksgiving spirit, so here’s the Wench’s Thanksgiving confession:
10.  Water, malt, hops and yeast.
9.  People who have figured out that beer has flavor and seek it out wherever they go. This number is ever growing.  Just ask the Brewer’s Association, which recently announced that while overall U.S. beer sales were down an estimated 1 percent by volume in 2010, Craft brewer dollar sales were up 15 percent in the first half of 2011. Craft brewers currently provide an estimated 100,000 jobs in the U.S. and 1,753 breweries operated for some of all of 2010, the highest total since the late-1800s.
8.  Whoever figured out that hops were a great way to preserve the ale headed to Her Majesty’s troops in India. If this is a myth, please allow me to continue to believe in it. I need my urban legends.
7.  The new trend to put craft beer in cans.  We have similar plans but are willing to let others with deeper pockets than mine one work out the kinks.
6.  All my friends and family (you knew this was coming) who’ve slogged this road with me for the last year as we tested the waters of the craft lager business in our corner of Michigan and found it FINE. I get nearly daily requests — from raw rookies to savvy business people — wanting to know “how to do it.”  If I knew that kids, I would already be a zillionaire. What I will tell you is this:  Believe in your product, find a niche and fill it, and learn how to use social networks after you hire the best brewer you can afford.
5. The inherent, seemingly inexplicable, yet undeniable sense of camaraderie in this industry. I’ve said it a lot. I seriously doubt that there are many other businesses that are more sharing or helpful with newbies, and with each other. I feel utterly supported not only by the incredible organization of the Michigan Brewer’s Guild, but also by my fellow in the brewing biz itself. I can pick up the phone and dial any number of people to assist me/us with anything from the new keg tagging law thing (that I am still sorting out), when I’m fresh out of stainless steel in 1/6 barrel formats, or when we want to do something silly, like tap a huge pumpkin full of beer on Halloween weekend. These are people doing the same thing we do: making and selling craft beer, i.e. they are my competition. But that’s just not how we view it. And I am grateful and hope to do the same for others (and them) someday.
4.  That I can still fit into my Beer Wench costume. That makes me grateful for Bikram yoga. But only after the 90 minutes of hot room torture is done each day.
3.  The fact that the macros are cannibalizing each other and making some sort of freakish “human centipede” style massive, and ultimately unsustainable behemoth of a BEER COMPANY. Within its belly you will find glimmers of quality. But you gotta dig through a lot of semi-digested dreck to get to it. In the proverbial meantime, craft brewing and established brewers will continue to innovate, expand and grow, bringing even more beer drinkers into the fold.
2.  The pioneers.  Those that went before and paved the way—but I want to thank personally a couple of Michiganders:  the amazing team of Matt and Rene Greff from Arbor Brewing/Corner Brewery who have done more for the craft brewing scene in Ann Arbor and in Michigan at large than just about anyone. And Larry Bell. He has created a juggernaut of a brewing company with core values that stick and brews that you can find nearly from coast to coast. Cheers to you!
1a.  My colleagues: Matt , Trevor, Jim and Earl.  Thanks for bringing me to this dance boys. May our steins runneth over.
b.  My brewers: Oliver and Karl. Thanks for your patience — the educational opportunities you never let pass us by unacknowledged.
c.  My staff:  Travis, Dan, Tanya, Allen. Thanks for listening, learning and making the Tap Room the hottest damn beer bar around.
d.  Mr. Wench. For all the rest.


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