PHILADELPHIA, November 22, 2011 — As you work through this week’s errands and come across wine on the shopping list, do yourself and your guests a favor and head to the beer aisle instead.
This should not be misconstrued as an anti-wine column. This beer guy loves the wondrous grape beverage and has a long history with it.
But, after years of buying the same Beaujolais Nouveau just because “it’s what we always get,” the suggestion here is to find the right beverage for this epic once-a-year-meal. (With respect given here to my Communities colleague, Laurie Forster, The Wine Coach, she makes some decent recommendations for breaking out of the Beaujolais box with some not-so-typical wines, particularly the enjoyable Prosecco).
The word cornucopia is often associated with Thanksgiving dinner. Beer can also be thought of as presenting a cornucopia of aromas and flavors. With at least four ingredients from which to derive aroma, flavor, and texture to tickle the senses, beer has an advantage over wine from the beginning of Thanksgiving straight away through dessert.
Of course, this is not to say that wine can not go nicely with certain aspects of the Thanksgiving dinner. Once again, case in point, The Wine Coach points out in the comments to her article, “Sparkling wine goes with everything”.
But, most will agree that for a dinner as complex as Thanksgiving’s, wine is difficult to pair with the many facets of dinner. And who wants difficult on top of an already complex day of family, friends, parades, football, dinner, drinks, and a multitude of expectations?
As the world of beer grows seemingly more complex, one style of beer can easily be recommended that will stand up and admirably complement almost every dish put in front of your guests at Thursday’s big meal.
For newcomers to the wide world of beer styles, the Saison style of beer originates from Europe, more specifically Belgium, and is often referred to as one of the most food pairworthy beer styles. Historically, it has been a relatively low alcohol beer, but in its recent popularity surge in the U.S., many Saisons, including the ones mentioned below, fall in the 6%-8% ABV range.
The Saison style of beer can be broadly described as complex, with many of its characteristics owed to the yeast’s hard work. Distinguishing hallmarks of almost all Saisons are crisp dryness and at least a slight tartness. Breaking down various brands of Saison highlights varying levels of earthiness, fruitiness, and spiciness.
Brasserie Dupont’s Saison Dupont (6.5% ABV) is the one by which many brewmasters measure their Saison’s success. The story of this world-renowned beer is well-documented and was recently profiled here in these pages.
Jolly Pumpkin Bam Bière (4.5% ABV) hails from Dexter, Mich. and can be found in nearly 20 states. There’s a reason why Men’s Journal named it a Top 25 beer and, with a relatively low alcohol level and balanced flavors, it will serve as a great starter beer with hors d’oeuvres ranging from cream cheese celery to mushroom caps stuffed with crabmeat or sausage. And, for the curious, Jolly Pumpkin is the name of the brewery and this beer has absolutely nothing to do with pumpkins. If it is a pumpkin beer you are looking for, hold on for the dessert course.
In New York, hailing from opposite sides of the state are Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown and its Hennepin Farmhouse (7.7% ABV) and Brooklyn Brewery with its Sorachi Ace (6.5% ABV). Both are crisp and refreshing, though Hennepin tends more to the spicy side and Sorachi Ace more to the citrus. These crisp and dry beers pack plenty of flavor with both spice, fruit, and earthiness that will complement a wide array of side dishes including vegetables, casseroles, and stuffings. In this case, when fruit is used as a descriptor, do not mistake fruit for sweet; these are beers that finish fairly clean and dry.
Those in the mid-Atlantic region looking to source their Thanksgiving dinner from closer to home, two breweries produce excellent Saisons and can be found rather easily from New York through Virginia. Sly Fox Saison Vos (6.9% ABV) and Victory Helios (7.5% ABV) are both from suburban Philadelphia and provide the right amount of prickly carbonation, spicy hops, and dry finish to measure up and cut through the turkey, gravy, and array of big flavors that get passed around the table.
Then comes dessert. While Saison has been a great recommendation to carry the day from the first “hello” to the second serving of turkey, the dessert course will call for something a bit heftier. That is, of course, assuming that the dessert course will consist of some big flavors courtesy of traditional favorites like pumpkin pie, cheesecake, pecan pie, or apple pie.
Have you read to this point and wondered when the Pumpkin Beer recommendation would show up? Recommending a pumpkin-themed beer may seem the appropriate thing to do and, if so, Southern Tier’s Pumking (8.6% ABV, New York) comes to the head of its class with its deft balancing of pumpkin pie spices and malty goodness that reminds the drinker that it still truly is a beer.
While certain Saisons and some Pumpkin or “holiday-spiced” beers may do an adequate job of measuring up to some of these rich desserts, opting instead for something big and sturdy like an Imperial Stout is often a more reliable route to go. This type of Stout goes by various sub-categories like Russian Imperial Stout, American Stout, and American Double or Imperial Stout. The basic premise is that these beers contain massive amounts of rich malts and their accompanying full flavors of rich chocolate and roasted coffee.
Rounding out dessert with a beer like Oskar Blues Ten Fidy (10.5% ABV, Colorado), Stoudt’s Fat Dog Stout (9.0% ABV, Pennsylvania), or Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout (6.0% ABV, Michigan) will be a great finish to the dinner and the proper prelude to spending the rest of the evening with an easy chair and a football game on the television.
Finally, when discussing the merits of beer with Thanksgiving dinner, the topic of calories is bound to come up, to which we should really ask: “Really? Isn’t that analogous to the Big Mac/Diet Coke discussion?”
Assuming that an alcoholic beverage is already going to be on the table, a so-called average craft beer contains only slightly more calories than the average glass of red or white wine. For the real myth-buster, a Guinness contains almost exactly the same number of calories as the glass of wine. And even though some of these “bigger beers” discussed in this column may weigh in with at least 25% more calories, Thanksgiving is already a day of excess and adding another couple of hundred calories after a couple of beers only amounts to an extra hour or two of exercise in the coming days.
Here’s hoping you all have something tasty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and all holiday season long.
–Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at the Washington
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