Thanksgiving Week is upon us, and my mind is firmly on the family feast that I’ll be sharing back in Michigan with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, grandparents, and friends. Thanksgiving is a big deal for my family, and for a long time, it’s been one of the few times of year that I dependably return to the Midwest and get back to my roots.
My mother (like yours too) makes a fantastic Thanksgiving meal, and she likes to make it herself. Despite my annual offer to help in the kitchen, I often find myself getting out of bed far after she has finished her kitchen work for the day. If I’m on good behavior at home, I’ll get to carve the turkey again this year, but I’ve happily accepted the fact that my role every year at our family gathering is to choose the alcohol. I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Mind you, my father takes care of the wine, and I’m sure he’s read the excellent post from the New Yorkt Times on friendly wines for the Thanksgiving meal. With regard to dessert wines and amari, I’m taking my cues this year from two posts on Serious Eats and will do my best to procure and share some of what they suggest. But when it comes to beer, I let my own knowledge, and a good dose, of habit guide my decisions.
Before I get into what I’ll be doing, I should make a shameless plug: both our Session Brown and Coconut Pumpkin Stout would be perfect accompaniments to many of the dishes at your meal this Thursday, and they are both availble to go as growlers. Since I’m headed to Michigan and refuse to check a bag, I won’t be bringing either of these lovely beers with me. However, if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of our pub, I strongly urge you to share one of these beers at your Thanksgiving! Pictures of Breakside growlers on your Thanksgiving table can be posted to our Facebook page and will be rewarded handsomely.
Now, over the years, I’ve developed a certain routine to my Thanksgiving. I workout, watch the Lions play (ie lose), spend time putting together hors d’oeuvres, and then enjoy our relatively early meal. By the time I settle in for the football game, I’m drinking beer, and I’ve found a progression that I love for the day. So, acknowledging that this is a wholly subjective approach to recommending beers, I give you my suggestions for a beery Thanksgiving:
I like to start with a Wit. I usually find myself drinking Bell’s Winter White Ale. Despite the fact that this beer might seem out of season, I think that the spice profile of a nicely made wit, along with its light acidity nicely sets the tone for the day. Drinking wit in late fall/early winter also highlights one of my favorite aspects of the style: a well crafted witbier has a soft and round mid palate with a touch of residual sweetness to balance the spices, and they are often less summery than they might seem. There aren’t many wits available this time of year in the Northwest, but I think Upright Four would make for a fine starting point to the day. If you want something that invokes the spirit of wit without the lightness, you might also grab a growler of (ahem) Breakside Oude Noire.
By the time that we are gathered in our family room for preprandial drinks and snacks, I transition into German-style alts or American brown ales. We tend to have a spread of summer sausages, mild Midwest cheeses, and other snacks around the room. With the wide range of options, it’s difficult to choose something that will “pair perfectly,” but when all else fails I find that these two styles play nice with just about any fatty hors d’oeuvre. Amnesia’s Dusseldorf Alt is a great Portland-area option on this front.
On that same note, there’s no such thing as a perfect beer pairing that suits all the various meats, sides, and vegetables on a traditional Thanksgiving table, but rustic Belgian/French ales like saisons, biere de gardes and beers with a distinctive Brettanomyces character do well to match the richness of the food and maintain a dry, refreshing finish. I’ve made it an annual tradition to open a bottle of some vintage Jolly Pumpkin beer for my family, and many of those beers are available in Oregon. Similarly, I could see a bottle of Flemish Kiss, the award-winning brew from The Commons Brewery serving the same role at the table.
For dessert and the end of the night, I predictably turn to strong flavored stouts or old ales. A coffee stout, such as Oakshire Overcast or Hopworks Seven Grain Stout does double duty as a closing beer and a substitute for a late night cup of joe. And finally, if I round of my day of epicurean indulgence with beer, it’s likely to be something strong: a barrel-aged old ale, barleywine, or American strong ale. Though, this year, I’m guessing that I’ll be more inclined to move over to one of those amari that I mentioned before.
So there you have it: the unofficial and highly personal Breakside guide to drinking beer on Thanksgiving. What about you? Do you have any strong feelings about beers to have on Thanksgiving day?