NEW YORK (MainStreet) When most people hear about pairing food and drink, they're likely to only think about wine, not beer, even though over 13 million barrels of craft brew were sold last year in America alone. And according to beer aficionados, beer is better than wine at Thanksgiving.
"Thanksgiving is tailor made for beers," says Julia Herz, craft program director at Brewers Association and publisher of craftbrews.com. "Today's foodies, chefs and restaurants have all come of age and realized beer has major attributes when it comes to pairing."
For the frugal-minded, $10 can buy an outstanding six pack with over two-and-a-half times the liquid found in a 750 mL wine bottle, meaning you can share more with friends and family, for less. By contrast, it's not so easy to find as many excellent wines at a $10 price point.
Even if you're not familiar with beer beyond enjoying a craft brew here or there, fear not. We talked to six beer experts and asked them to identify ten craft beers to pair with fixings at the Thanksgiving table, from the turkey to the dessert.
1. Spaten's Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse
Scott Griffiths, author of America's Best Beers (Little Brown, 1994) former craft brewer and CEO of the men's salon franchise 18|8, recommends Spaten's hefeweizen for a brew that goes with lighter meat dishes. It's medium bodied, not too bitter and has a hint of lemon.
"It's great with ham and turkey breast white meat, or with a light stuffing, or scalloped potatoes," says Griffiths. "It's good if you're not going full-octane with heavy gravy and dark meat."
Price: $8.99 a six pack
2. Schlafly Pale Ale
Schlafly Pale Ale has a sweet caramel and biscuit-like malt that complements the caramelized skin of the bird, says Michael Reinitz, a certified cicerone, beer judge and beer educator. This pale ale has a "floral, herbal English hop character" that pairs well with herbed components at the table. "The beer's delicate bitterness and effervescence should work nicely to balance the rich gravy that may be served with the turkey," Reinitz says. "Schlafly even uses a hop variety called Pilgrim in their pale ale, so you really can't go wrong."
Price: $8.99 a six pack3. Fuller's London Porter"One of my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes is sweet potato casserole, the kind with lots of brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and of course a toasted marshmallow topping," says Reinitz. To balance the richness of this traditional dish, Reinitz recommends a personal favorite of his, a Fuller's London Porter. This brown porter has "big chocolaty and caramel flavors" that complement the dish."The beer's roast character and bitterness will provide the perfect balance to the casserole's intense sweetness," Reinitz says. "Finally, the carbonation, a feature that makes beer a superior food-pairing beverage, will work to scrub your palate clean between bites of this rich, buttery dish."Price: 11.99 a six pack4. Castelain Blond Biere de GardeThis beer will go with the whole Thanksgiving table, says Michael Agnew, a certified cicerone and author of the blog, "A Perfect Pint." This Castelain "has lighter honey flavors, with little hints of toast that pull out the flavors in the turkey," Agnew says. "It has an earthy undertone, medium-medium low bitterness, leans to the sweet malty side, and has a kind of mushroom-y background note. The light notes get at the caramelized turkey skin and pull out the sweetness of the light meat."Price: $12 for a 20 oz. bottle5. Founders Dirty BastardSure, you could go safe with regular pumpkin ale to complement that pumpkin pie, but pairing beer is supposed to be exciting. Instead, Agnew suggests getting interesting with a Scotch ale like Founders Dirty Bastard."A Scotch ale is really malt-forward, lots of caramel, with just the slightest hint of dry roastedness at the finish," Agnew says. "The caramel really pulls out the roasted brown sugar flavors of the pie."Price: $9.99 a six pack6. Golden MonkeyFor heavier dishes, Herz recommends a more alcoholic beer such as a Belgian Tripel or Belgian strong ale. These beers typically run around 7 and 10% alcohol, so take that into account when you reach for a second (or fifth)."When you pair dishes with more butter, denseness and fat with beers bigger in alcohol, the less likely you'll have those [beer] flavors get washed away by the other [food] flavors," says Herz.A popular example of a strong Belgian style ale is Golden Monkey by Victory Brewing. Its 9.5% alcohol by volume won't wash away easy.Price: $9.99 a six pack7. Davy Brown AleA complement to any Thanksgiving dinner table, an American brown ale will go well with a variety of foods, says Herz. An American brown ale has hops that calm down rich food components, like turkey fat that drips down into the gravy. These ales are great at Thanksgiving, Herz says, because "the 'browned' flavors on the tablecaramelized flavors, smoked and baked flavors, from the turkey skin to the stuffing to the gravy," pair with the brown malt flavors of an American brown ale. Additionally, "it goes great with acidic berry dishes, like cranberry, and also with chocolate dishes," says Herz.A gold winner in its American brown ale category from the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, the Davy Brown Ale by Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. would sit well at the table. For those that can't find it, consider the Indian Brown Ale by Dogfish Head.Price: $9.95 a six pack8. Spaten's Oktoberfest"An Oktoberfest keeps things seasonal and features a soft toasty malt balance and dry finish that works perfectly with roasted meats and veggies, brown gravy, and bread," says Chris Cohen, a certified cicerone and beer consultant. This beer will comfortably run the gamut of the Thanksgiving table, from the turkey to the sweet and savories on the side. Plus, since it's "an easy drinking lager, it won't scare off friends and relatives" who buy the cheaper, mass-produced beer, says Cohen.Price: $8.99 a six pack9. Anchor Brewing's Christmas AleWhile we don't necessarily recommend playing Christmas songs at Thanksgiving, a hint of Christmas at the table is welcome, especially in beer form."Anchor's Christmas beer is a mildly toasty brown brew that features herbal pine aromas and flavors of holiday spices like ginger, allspice, and nutmeg," says Cohen. "This is the ultimate holiday beer and will pair nicely with spiced-up Thanksgiving desserts."Price: $10.99 a six pack10. Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier DunkelYou may have to locate a specialty beer store to find this one, but Nicole Erny, one of only seven master cicerones, thinks it's worth it. "The toasted bread malt flavors are pleasant with everything," says Erny. She recommends pairing a dunkel such as this with roasted rosemary sweet potatoes or carrots. "The bread-crust-like flavors build into the carmelization on the potatoes. The clove notes act like an extra spice to the dish, and the fruity flavors from the yeast are a natural match to the sweet flavors." Finally, "the rosemary brings a cooling herbal quality to contrast the ensemble."Price: approx. $11 for a 500 mL bottle--Written by Craig Donofrio for MainStreet