Friday Froth: Beer Pairings For A Very Merry Thanksgiving

James Gribbon

You can smash that wine bottle against a new ship's prow, because I'm drinking beer this Thanksgiving. I enjoy wine, but the waveform of my interest in it describes a gentle curve approaching zero on this particular day of the year. There's very little you can put on the table in late November that will get my personal circuits firing like a nice beer pairing.

This week's Froth will be a selection of suggested beers for both Thanksgiving hosts and guests, presented in the order you may like them to appear during our country's great feast. I enjoy typing that word. Say it with me: "FEAST!" I wish I had a relative with an eight foot tall fireplace suitable for roasting an entire ox. I hope at least one of you reading this is going to attempt a feat of inadvisable open flame cookery next week. Bonus points if you have to bribe a child so they don't tell a spouse what you're doing. 

A quick note to begin: I wrote a Thanksgiving column back in 2011, and this new post is an update/overhaul. Some may click on that and have a hissy fit because I included Red Hook, but I stand by their variety pack as an easy to find group of options for craft beer timid guests, and Cisco Whale's Tale is still an unassailable malty pale ale. I will frequently refer, and link to, beers I've already reviewed in order to provide a little more insight, and help you decide which ones you may want to pick up before next Thursday.

Hors d'oeuvres

We're just easing into the festivities at this point during Thanksgiving, so it's important we don't wear out our taste buds or appetite too early. Little savory finger foods are actually a great match for any of the goses Imentioned last week. Their mild nature and slight salinity make them excellent to drink while snacking or as anaperitif. Another option for this point in the day is a light, hoppy beer which will provide a satisfying taste profile without being filling or sending any of our guests face first into the centerpiece before they've had a chance to fortify themselves. Holidays are more fun when no one is called upon to scoop mashed potatoes out of anyone else's ear canal. 

Two great hoppy options available in our area are Founders All Day IPA, and Two Roads Lil Heaven IPA. These both feature a light body, an abundance of tasty hops, and less than 5% alcohol. Founders All Day is from Michigan, won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Fest in 2010, and comes in a half dozen, or a 15 pack of cans, so it's a good way to have a bunch of fridge beer without spending a lot. Lil Heaven was first brewed at the end of 2013 as Two Roads' first anniversary celebration beer, and has become a staple in their line. It's canned in six or twelve packs. These last two are particularly good with spicy or salty foods.

Appetizers and Dinner

I have only a vague idea of what may find its way to your plate. It could be sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, or quince with bacon and cipollini onions, like The New York Times thinks we eat. The common thread, however, is that it will be hearty. This means we're going to need beers capable of standing up to the gustatory assault. You're going to need to refresh and reload when you attack those battlements, son. 

We're still at the time of year when Oktoberfest/maerzen beers are available, and these make excellent accompaniments to roast fowl. I have three suggestions (with reviews) right here, but I'd recommend theBrooklyn Oktoberfest above the other two for the gorgeous balance it displays.

Bock-style beers can fill this same role, and Smuttynose has recently released Smuttonator, a heavier doppelbock, in case you'd like the option of having a "bigger" beer for the table. Speaking of the New Hampshire brewery, we may be seeing the first batch of this year's Winter Ale in stores:

"If the ocean was red instead of green, it would look like Smuttynose Winter Ale somewhere towards the bottom of the light's reach. There are caramel and berries in the all-malt aroma, thanks to the Trappist yeasts used in this special brew. ... toasted malts dominates at first, with mild hops on the back end. It's truly a benchmark winter ale, and it's accomplished without the use of spice, which I find to be one of its most likeable traits."

... was what I thought when I first had it. Another outstanding (and unspiced) winter ale is Global Warmer, from Sixpoint. I know for a fact this one has just hit shelves in Connecticut, and it adds a small dose of hops, along with enough alcohol to leave a you in a quiet glow at dinner's end.


If you're going down after this meal, there should be gentle velvet covering the iron hammer which delivers the blow. Vanilla, chocolate and coffee flavors are ravishing beauties when paired with big, brawny stouts and porters, especially in the form of ice cream. Part of the reason is that these flavors already exist in the beers themselves, due to the heavily roasted malts. If you're lucky enough to have scored a bottle of Two Roads Igor's Dream Russian Imperial Stout, Founders KBS or Brooklyn Black Ops, now is the time to bring it out of hiding. If not, two of my other favorites are North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, and Victory Baltic Thunder porter. Large snifters are the best glassware for serving these beers about 8oz. at a time.

Sometimes cakes and pies can bring out a little of the acerbic side of black beers, and in this case I'd recommend pairing them up with barleywines, like the sublime Premeditated Murder, from New England Brewery. (There's also a review of Baltic Thunder in that link.) The natural malty, boozy sweetness inherent in barleywines is complimentary to desserts of this nature, and their high alcohol content cuts the sugar without overshadowing the flavor of the pie itself. I prefer American barleywines to the more traditional English examples of the style, and Blue Point in Long Island makes another gem, Old Howling Bastard (last paragraph). Barleywines are fine in snifters, but work very well from tall, narrow glasses in 4-6oz. servings. 

Everyone should be feeling like they're sitting in front of a crackling fire by this point, post-dinner, even if that tradition has been nixed since Uncle Ed lost both eyebrows and some arm hair that one year. If you follow the outline above, though, I promise: you'll be feeling it anyway. 

Happy Thanksgiving, all.