Hops for the Holiday: Thanksgiving

by Jeff Harding
Antoinette Bruno
November 2011

The dirty little secret among sommeliers is that after a long night of selecting wine, decanting, pouring for guests and stocking the wine cellar, nothing makes for a better wind-down than a nice cold beer. And with the variety of craft beers now available, the kaleidoscope of flavors and styles can keep any palate-savvy professional satisfied. We thought we’d pick the brains of some beer aficionados and get some suggestions on how to incorporate a few craft beers into Thanksgiving dinner, and offer some at your restaurant, with a few recipes for specific pairings in case you want to do any taste testing.

Celery Root Soup, Kiwi, Honey Roasted Cashews, and Chicory Gelée by Chef Andrew Brochu of Kith & Kin

An autumnal Celery Root Soup from Chef Andrew Brochu of El Restaurant in Chicago starts the meal with a dose of high-end comfort food. Its earthy, rich flavor suggests a saison-style beer, traditionally brewed in the cool winter months and given to workers the following harvest season. Beer Sommelier Jon Langley of NYC’s DBGB suggests Hof Ten Dormaal’s “White Gold,” whose earthiness and spice, balanced with a creamy texture, highlight those qualities in the soup.

A heartier beer like a Flanders Red Ale is called for when pairing Roasted Tesa with Cabbage and Apple Salad, by Chef Alex Yoder of Olympic Provisions in Portland, Oregon. Sommelier Paul Einbund of Frances in San Francisco suggests the Duchesse De Bourgogne from Brouwerij Verhaeghe, which has a touch of sweetness and a red spice character that works well with the Tesa, and its fruity acidity matches the fruit and cabbage.

Duck Confit Brioche, Air-cured Duck, Pickled Eggs, Fiddlehead Ferns, and Sea Beans by Chef Andy Arndt of Aquariva at the Avalon Hotel & Spa

At Portland’s Aquariva, 2011 Portland Rising Star Hotel Chef Andy Arndt serves Duck Confit Bread Pudding, a savory take on a classic rustic dessert for which Langley would pour a robust, malt-driven beer. Ithaca Beer Company’s Cold Front is a wheated farmhouse ale with an herbaceous finish that cleanses the palate between bites and balances the richness of the brioche and duck confit. As an alternative, Einbund suggests San Francisco’s own 2011 Farmhouse Pale from Almanac Beer Company. Brewed with plums, it’s bright enough to cut the richness of the dish and spicy enough for the bold flavors of the duck confit.

Turkey dinner with all the fixings is notoriously hard to pair with just one beverage. One option is to highlight the main dish or common threads like gravy, or to show off (or compensate for) perennial side-dish disasters like Aunt Hilda’s Green Bean Casserole. But beer offers an exciting alternative to wine, and the bubbles and acidity make it a little easier to pair with the whole meal. StarChefs.com 2011 Rising Star Beer Sommelier Michael McAvena of The Publican in Chicago recommends Flemish sours, which have low bitterness balanced by pleasant balsamic vinegar-like acidity and a mild cherry sweetness. In particular, he recommends Allagash Brewing Company’s Interlude. Drier than other sours, with a peppery spice, it has enough acidity to cut through any fat in the turkey, marries with the gaminess of the dark meat, and serves as a counterpoint to rich gravy. The malt in the beer resonates with the bread in the stuffing, the cherry sweetness matches any cranberry sauce, and it plays nice with sweet potatoes. If only every family got along this well at Thanksgiving.

Caramel Pot de Crème, Cafe Dolce Sauce, and Meyer Lemon Confit by Pastry Chef Amanda Rockman of The Bristol

Does beer go with dessert? Try Amanda Rockman’s Caramel Pot de Crème, Café Dolce Sauce, and Meyer Lemon Confit served at The Bristol in Chicago with JW Lees Vintage Harvest Ale, and you’ll know that it does. Langley explains that this fairly sweet and gently carbonated ale is brewed in sherry casks, which imparts a nutty, oxidized flavor, making the pot de crème even more decadent and silky.

Now, whichever beer you drink while watching the game is up to you.