If your family is anything like mine, Thanksgiving isn’t typically a beer holiday. Thanksgiving is about tradition and (attempted) civility and family. And beer, well, beer doesn’t really fit.
Beer is too often associated with low-brow, hyper-masculine activities like NASCAR, hunting, football and fishing. But any beer nerd worth his or her pretzel necklace will tell you there is a beer for every occasion and every palate, including something as traditional as Thanksgiving. If you’re looking at a way to incorporate beer into your traditional Thanksgiving and still keep it classy, I think I can help.
Thanksgiving dinner actually starts in the morning, when you’re preheating your oven, cutting up vegetables, defrosting your pie crust and watching the parade or pregame show. It’s best to start slow and light, and Easy Street Wheat from Odell Brewing Co. is a great morning beer. This unfiltered, slightly fruity wheat beer is great with toast and eggs and if you spill a little O.J. into your glass, no one will notice. Plus, a little booze in the morning will help numb the pain of Terry Bradshaw yelling about sports and Al Roker yelling about whatever he yells about.
As dinner gets closer to being ready, guests start arriving, we start getting changed out of our PJs and the veggie trays start coming out. I would switch to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. SNPA is a bottle-conditioned pale ale that set the standard for the West Coast hoppy beers. The piney resin and slight citrus of the hops go well with all kinds of hors d’Oeuvres and dips, and the herby aromas flowing from your oven will match perfectly the biscuity malt backbone of this pale ale. And even though it’s pretty hoppy, it’s still very drinkable, allowing you to keep your head on a swivel between the dishes being prepared, guests arriving and all the sports on TV.
When it comes to the actual dinner, it’s hard to ignore the rituals, the carving of the turkey, the toasts to all you’re thankful for, the eating so much you need to unbutton your pants. Opening a bottle of wine is a similar ritual, and it’s hard to compete with a ritual so ingrained in our cultural subconscious. Add to that the fact that wine, with its higher alcohol content and often more complex and sophisticated flavors, pairs so well with Thanksgiving. But, there are beers that hold up to all that, including the ritual. Single Barrel sour ale from Santa Fe Brewing Co. is a large format (read: big fancy bottle), barrel-fermented sour ale with a very light body, yet highly effervescent. Not only will the sharp, fruity acidity and light oak characteristics pair well with the turkey and all the sides, but it will also look good in a fluted glass.
When you’re finished with all the savory delights of dinner and you’re reaching for the sweet standard finish to Thanksgiving, pumpkin pie, pour some Speedway Stout to go with it. This coffee stout from AleSmith in San Diego is a big imperial stout with tons of roasted malt and chocolate flavors that hide the 12 percent ABV. Rich and smooth, this is the perfect beer to end the night.
The unspoken tradition of Thanksgiving is that it doesn’t always go as we plan, and I think that’s part of what makes it so great. Finding things to be thankful for amid catastrophe isn’t easy, but even if your team lost, you burned the turkey or you encounter the inevitable family drama, at least you’ll have something to be thankful for: Really good beer.
Robert Alan Wendeborn puts the bubbles in the beer at Ska Brewing Co. His first book of poetry, The Blank Target, was published this past spring by The Lettered Streets Press and is available at Maria’s Bookshop. [email protected]