It would be really hard for someone to pick a single style of beer to drink with their turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. If you picked pilsner, you might be able to get through your appetizers of deviled eggs or cheese balls, then cruise into the turkey and gravy but would be stuck when it comes to the more spice-driven sides and desserts. An IPA would work well with most of the meal, but what about all the pizazz and ceremony of opening a bottle of wine to go with your main course? How does an IPA or a pilsner – or any beer really – get elevated enough to go with the pomp of a more formal dinner? Surely a nice barrel-aged sour beer could do that, but are you really going to be drinking a $40 bottle of Belgian gueuze through the whole day? For these reasons, I submit my nomination for the single style that can get you through your entire Thanksgiving dinner without a hitch: the saison.
Saison is a French/Belgian rustic or farmhouse-style of beer that is very dry and often fermented very warm – 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Traditionally, saisons, which have a very diverse grain bill that will include rye, spelt, and/or wheat, along with barley (which is usually malted), are also hopped with aged hops and have a mild acidity. The warm fermentation process and unique ingredients results in beers that have a little spice, a little grassy/piney hop character, a nice subtle tartness, and super refreshing dryness. This is just the traditional saison. What is happening to the saison right now in America is really what makes this style able to carry a meal as diverse as the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
To start, most Thanksgiving meals start with fairly bland appetizers that could be paired with almost any beer. But I think the quintessential American saison, Tank 7 by Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City, is a perfect go to for mustard- and mayo-based potato/pasta/chicken salads of my childhood or kale/arugula/spinach pestos, if you’re having some kind of weird healthy Thanksgiving. Tank 7 is also really smooth and easy drinking so you can use it to wash your mouth out if you accidentally try a roasted pumpkin hummus, which is apparently a thing. I call Tank 7 the quintessential American saison because it has most of the spicy/dry characters of a good saison, but is remarkably clean compared to the French and Belgian saisons.
For your main course, you’re going to want to pop a bottle, to remove a cork, and pour a beverage from a respectable package. I highly recommend Deux Amis, a collaboration beer between Lost Abbey in Southern California and Brasserie Dupont in Belgium. This beer is a 750 milliliter bottle with cork and cage top, similar to champagne and it pours with very similar effervescence. The aromas still have a little bit of that Belgian funk to it, but the American hops add a lot of lemon and citrus fruit. The spicy notes in the beer – white pepper, mild clove, and orange zest – can go all matchy-matchy with some of the spices in the dinner itself, and they can complement some of the other spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, rosemary, and thyme. That little bite of acidity will certainly help wash down all the salt.
For the last course, I highly recommend Twist by Prairie Artisan Ales. Twist isn’t so much of a beer, as it is an electric-powered party bus in your mouth. It tastes like a grapefruit and the Kool-Aid Man, meets that gremlin that lives in the telephone lines from “Gremlins 2.” It is seriously one of the best tasting beers I have ever had. It is a dry-hopped farmhouse beer with a good amount of acidity and tons of fruit-forward hop flavor and aroma with none of the bitterness. I think this beer would do great with fruit salads or pies, really elevating the flavors of berry or harvest fruits with spices, or it could let those pumpkin spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar rip by adding a contrast element.
I’ve written about saisons before, but I wanted to do it again because I feel that the style is seeing an explosion in variety, in popularity, and the brewers of saison and farmhouse beers are having serious discussions about what a “farmhouse” or “saison” or “rustic” beer really is. I hope you all consider picking up some saisons for your holidays. It will definitely have a spot in my fridge all season long.
Robbie Wendeborn is the head brewer at Svendæle Brewing in Millerton, New York. He is also a former beer plumber at Ska Brewing.