Thanksgiving 2014: Craft Beer Pairings (That Your Cranky Uncle Might Like)

In Beer News by The Guys

Some years we’re more than happy to let the rest of the family bring over whatever beer and wine they like while we’re slaving away in the kitchen prepping turkey, casseroles, stuffing (not dressing) and maybe even a ham or two.

Other years, we’re obsessing about the right beers to have before, during and after dinner. Plenty of other folks can give you suggestions on what pairs best with what dish. That’s easy.* We’re taking the holiday as an opportunity to do some craft beer covert ops, and put some brews in front of family members that they just might try while gorging on roasted bird and starches a-plenty.

We’re not trying to be snobs or twist anyone’s arm into something they don’t want to try  — life’s too short to really put up a fight like that on a holiday, and generally we’re too stuffed to exert any extra effort other than cracking open a beer or three. Okay, seven. Besides, we spend enough time at the bar arguing the merits of one hop varietal over the other and bickering over brettanomyces characteristics. It’s the holiday, we don’t need to bother with that type of hyperfocused inanity.

Since, however, Thanksgiving is a holiday focused entirely on intaking a whole ton of food, it stands to order that no other day has more food-related thought put into it. As we are a collective of beer dorks, naturally our thoughts turn a little past food and into our particular beverage of choice, and how to share it with the people we care about the most. And our family too.

There’s still time to hit the store. Here’s a few thoughts on beers that are good with food, that your folks might like.


— Ben —

Turkey time is upon us and more and more people are ditching wine pairings with their feasts in favor of beer. But let’s not push the vino totally aside. Rather, as an ex-wino myself, I like to let wine pairings push me towards suitable beer pairings that appeal to all palates.

Earthy and tart Burgundian Pinot Noir is always at the top of everyone’s must-have turkey wines. In the beer world, I can’t think of a better beer to equate to Pinot Noir than a Flanders Red. These Belgian sours are tart and complex beers that are aged in oak barrels and usually blended across previous vintages. Rodenbach Grand Cru is a quintessential Flanders Red. In the nose this beer is staggeringly complex with notes of tart balsamic vinegar, dark cherries and heady spices.  With bracing acidity, this beer would be a perfect match with salty gravy and stuffing and will quench the thirst of everyone from your Franzia drinking aunt to your pretentious, hipster brother-in-law.

This beer is so deliciously approachable, just tell your Uncle it’s a Blue Moon and let him taste what a wheat beer should taste like.Ben

Oaky and spicy chardonnay’s are often recommended as a good pairing with Thanksgiving fair. In the beer world, I equate these characteristics with a nice Bavarian-style hefeweizen and I couldn’t think of a better hefeweizen than Sierra Nevada Kellerweis. This beer is overflowing with aromatics; spicy clove, ripe banana and toasted wheat. In the mouth this beer is incredibly creamy, yet has a surprisingly dry and tart finish, making it a great pairing with thanksgiving fare. As well, this beer is so deliciously approachable, just tell your Uncle it’s a Blue Moon and let him taste what a wheat beer should taste like.

Wine experts are always talking about finding “like” characteristics and pairing them together. Lakefront Brewery Riverwest Stein Beer is a lager that is loaded with dark caramel, earthy hops, and a crisp nuttiness.  I find this combination to be a killer companion to Turkey day foods, which often have that caramelly-earthy-nutty vibe.  Not to mention, Riverwest Stein is easy-going enough to not rock the boat; any Miller-Bud-Coors drinker could easily appreciate this flavorful lager.

— Karl —

Light & Bitter Division: Half Acre Daisy Cutter or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Honestly, my first instinct (and generally my only instinct when it comes to pairings and wide appreciation) was to go with Saison Dupont. Since Ryan called dibs on it first, I’m going to pivot to a couple of classics, which serve two purposes — if your family member of choice doesn’t like either of these, then they’re probably not quite craft-minded yet, and they also go really well with a variety of things. My family lays out a pretty nice spread of cheese and crackers before the meal, which is where I’d probably start these off with (“hey Uncle Bob, how’s work, nice cheddar, hey have you tried this? Might like it”) but I also like these bitter brews up against a slice of pecan pie, carrot cake, even a macaroon or two. Bookending any meal with a Half Acre beer is never a bad thing. These are light enough to be thirst quenching, but big enough to provide a little late-November warmth.

Bookending any meal with a Half Acre beer is never a bad thing. Karl

Dark and Hearty Division: Founders Porter, Boulder Brewing Shake Chocolate Porter

Come on, did you really think I wasn’t going to go with Founders Porter here? Grab a piece of French Silk Pie, swap out your mom’s cup of decaf coffee and give her a pour of this rich, creamy, roasty, aggressive porter. Is it an entry-level beer? No, and if I had to choose a backup that’s comparable I’d likely go with a Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald as it’s a little less abrasive. But consider Founders Porter akin to learning to swim by being tossed into the deep end of the pool. It might be scary at first, but you’ll figure it out…or you won’t. If that doesn’t fly, Boulder Brewing’s Shake might be able to sneak past people’s palates without them even knowing it’s a beer. Ridiculous levels of sweetness, rich creamy syrupy chocolate backed up with a gentle whiff of chocolate wheat. Pour it into a glass, toss a scoop of ice cream in there, hand it to your newly legal to drink little cousin and ease them onto a better path.

Path of Least Resistance Division: Great Lakes Christmas Ale

I’m gonna be honest — I wasn’t able to wait for the day after Thanksgiving to crack into a GLBC Christmas Ale. And you know what? I’m glad I didn’t. Because it’s great. As good as ever, especially in comparison to this year’s relative dud of an Anchor release. (Dull, dim flavors of spearmint and pine, minimal spices, abrasive finish, just not a lot of fun in comparison to other years.) Gingersnap fresh and spiced just right with clove and pops of orange peel, hearty but still surprisingly light on the palate, partner this up with a big plate of everything and some cranberry sauce. Toast, popcorn and jelly beans would work too.

— Ryan —

Saison Dupont: This earthy, slightly hoppy and spicy saison is an ideal choice to flip the wine drinker to craft beer — if not just for a day. A large-format, cork and cage bottle will all but void any thoughts of beer as flavorless — which still does happen. The frothy, pillowy head coupled with the clouded yet golden color and “active” carbonation makes for an eye-catching beer. It isn’t too hoppy, although there is a nice hop presence, and the earthy, herbal and spicy notes will both challenge a wine drinker’s palate and compliment that sausage stuffing.

Great Lakes Elliot Ness: A good amber ale is hard to find. (File this under “sentences I never thought I’d type.”) And while this is actually an amber lager, the challenge is the same: making an amber in color beer both approachable and enjoyable. It can prove problematic for some, and I’ve had plenty of watery amber in color beers to prove it, but it doesn’t seem to be a challenge for Great Lakes. Crisp yet smooth with touches of caramel and raisins, Elliot Ness is sweet but not overly so and has just a mild hop bite in the finish. This one is perfect for the relative who doesn’t like craft beer because, “it’s all too hoppy.” It also would go quite nicely with a slice of pie for dessert.

Anything in a Growler: There is something about bringing unfamiliar beer in a glass jug that piques someone’s interest. Sure, they may not drink craft beer but there is a certain lure to the growler that people can’t seem to shake. Offer up the back story of the brewery or the line you waited in to get it filled and perhaps you’ll have them hook, line and sinker. Be sure to make a good choice when filling that growler, especially if you won’t be sitting at the beer geek table. Steer clear of anything overly hoppy, like a double IPA, or super-boozy like an imperial stout. Instead, look for something unique or simple: you can rarely go wrong with a lager, pilsner or brown ale. If you want to go big lean sweet over hoppy; i.e. an English Barleywine over an American Barleywine.

— Steve —

Bell’s Oberon – Gonna ease Uncle Tim into this with one of my favorite summer-time wheats. An easy drinker, with a light citrus touch and a small bite of spice. Tasty, refreshing and just enough kick of the little things that make craft beer so enjoyable. What’s that? Yes, it’s been on shelves since April and this is November. Yes, it’s past its official shelf life. No, he’ll never notice. And shame on you for keeping it in your fridge past Labor Day anyway.

Sun King Popcorn Pilsner – He loves popcorn. Sits in his recliner and eats it every night. Here’s his intro to craft beer. And it’s all Hoosier. Indiana’s Riehle Popcorn Farm delivers the seeds, popped by Indiana’s Just Pop In, this German Pilsner by Indiana’s Sun King is light, with a noticeable buttery corn aroma in the grain. He’s gonna recognize it right away. Could easily be his go-to beer, paired with his favorite bowl of popcorn. Because as he’ll tell you, you can never have too much popcorn.

Small Town Not Your Father’s Root Beer – Seriously, how many root beer floats did you make with these people when you were a kid? Now is the time to return the favor by introducing them to the grown-up version. It’s sweet, just like the kind they made with you, and even the 10.7% ABV version doesn’t hit you with alcohol, shockingly. Of course, whether you share that version or the 5.9% ABV version will depend on whether you really like them and want to progress to Imperial Stouts or whether you just want them to go home.

*Olde English 800 with everything, duh.

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Written by many, compiled by one, this is a collaborative post with contributions from at least two writers at Guys Drinking Beer.