Bird and Brew

Martin Johnson - How to pair beers with Thanksgiving.

As a foodie and a beverage fanatic (and no, the two are not necessarily connected, for instance there's a fried chicken place near me that used to go to great lengths about how they sourced the birds and then how they brined them; then they offered the beer equivalent of rotgut to accompany their delicious meals), I'm on a lot of great mailing lists. For instance, few things I like better than starting my day reading some poetic waxing about the red wines of the Tuscan countryside. Lately my inbox is stuffed with wines for Thanksgiving mailings. I wondered well, where are the beers for Turkey Day companion mailings? After all, beer is a better food pairing than wine (and yes, I love both but...). So maybe this post can be filed under if you want something done, do it yourself. Here's my guide to pairing the holiday meal with beer.

The first thing everyone should realize is that cooking the Thanksgiving meal is going to take longer than anticipated. Unless the kitchen crew has formal kitchen experience, then it is hard to keep a meal this big on its original schedule. Thus, the first beer I'd recommend is to accompany the munchies that keep the guest's stomach quiet. This, for me, is where an IPA comes in. For one, it's likely to be familiar, secondly, I'm a grouch about hops. I loves me some hoppy beer but I don't think it's a great meal pairing. The hops vie for supremacy versus other flavors. 

On the other hand, when paired with charcuterie or creamy cheese or even an Aged Gouda, I think IPAs are the perfect beverage. My decades on a cheese counter have led me to believe that cured meats and cheese are the best pre-dinner munchies. Also, I've noticed that when I drink an IPA, it whets my appetite for more food, and of course, more beer.

For the meal itself, I'd go in either of two directions: something clean and crisp like a Helles Lager or a sour. 

The logic for the lager is simple, there are a lot of gently sweet and complex flavors in the holiday meal like sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, and some iterations of stuffing.The lager will contrast and balance them. Turkey is dry and savory, thus, a sour or a great Gose will balance those flavors really well. Cider also works in this context but I'll wait to expand on that when the spinoff show Cider Geeks premieres.

For the finish, I favor an Imperial Stout. These beers are dark and heavy and have coffee and chocolate overtones that will pair nicely with dessert. 

Also for any avid beer geeks, they will function as a warm up for Black Friday, which isn't a day to race to the store for sales, but a day to race to the beer aisle for the release of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. It's annual release on Black Friday is just more proof that no matter what my wine related emails claim, Turkey Day and the weekend to follow are made for beer.

The Author:

Martin Johnson is a beer buyer and merchandising manager for Westside Market East Village in New York City.When not selling or drinking beer he writes about jazz and beer for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate, beer for Eater and about a variety of cultural and culinary topics for The Root.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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