Hophead: Do Right By The Pilgrims And Have Beer With Your Thanksgiving Meal

If barley be wanting to make into malt
We must be content and think it no fault
For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips
Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips. --Anonymous colonist, 1630

Though some dispute the story, many beer lovers cling to the legend that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 because they ran out of beer. Even if a shortage of beer wasn't the only reason the colonists chose not to continue farther south, I like to think that the dwindling kegs at least played a part in the decision. Whatever the case, the poem above shows how determined they were to drink beer--or something like it.

As for what drink should be served with the meal, an anecdote that Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver shared during his cooking demonstration last month put it nicely. Wine sommeliers' most commonly asked question, he claims, is what to serve with Thanksgiving. The answer, of course, is beer.

So not only is beer the more traditional refreshment with the holiday meal, but it tastes the best.

I asked Oliver and also Libertine owner Simon McDonald what beers they recommend.

In an e-mail reply, Oliver wrote "French-style farmhouse ales, dark abbey ales (like Brooklyn Local 2) and doppelbocks all work very nicely!"

His book The Brewmaster's Table, which lovingly describes the pleasure of drinking "real beer" with good food, offers a few other possibilities. The book is arranged by beer style rather than food type, but a reference chart in the back has recommendations for various foods.

For turkey, he mentions dunkel, hellesbock, Belgian strong golden ale, weissbock and saison. Baked ham calls for Irish stout, pilsner, Dortmunder, hellesbock, Oktoberfest marzen, tripel, Belgian strong golden ale or English brown ale. Oysters call for Irish stout, pilsner, helles, Kolsch, gueuze or Flanders red ale. And pumpkin pie is best complemented by spiced ale, cream stout, imperial stout, oatmeal stout or strong Baltic porter.

McDonald went a step further and created a full menu--which is sure to make any food and beer lover envy his family.

Starter - Appetizer Cheese/Chartucurie Plate
Stone IPA. The super hoppiness of an IPA pairs well with the strong flavors of pungent cheeses and smoked meats

Chimay Red or Spaten Optimator. Most people would suggest a light lager orpilsner with turkey, but I get bored with them as there are so many and so "everyday drinking beers" that I think for a celebration you should try something a little more adventurous. If you want to get more floral,and light but still maintain full-bodied, you can always go with Celis Gand Cru.

Schnieder Weiss or Pinkus Organic Hefe Weiss. The orange peel and coriander notes always pair well with pork.

Green Bean Casserole
Westmalle Tripel. A classic Abbey Ale with a lot of fruit flavor

This is where I would go with a crisp lager or pilsner like Victory Prima Pils or Bitburger that contrasts nicely with all that starchiness.

Sweet Potatoes
Young's Double Chocolate Stout - especially if you are the type that adds marshmallows and syrup to turn yams into a sort of dessert course

Real Ale Full Moon Pale Rye complements the starch and vegetable combo well.

Pumpkin Pie: Anchor--Our Very Special Ale 2009 (their Christmas beer) gets people in that holiday mood with it super rich spices.  If you can track down a six pack from a couple of years ago, I would use that as they mellow out over the years but the flavors become a lot more complex.

Chocolate Cake: Left Hand Milk Stout or Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine. Especially go with the barleywine if we are talking a super rich and dense cake

Pecan Pie: Youngs Winter Warmer or Brooklyn Brown Ale would pair well with the nuttiness in this dish

Digestif - Finisher
New Belgium Lips of Faith or Lindemans Gueuze. The super-expensive Lips of Faith almost drinks like a wine or an after-dinner drink, and the base flavor for Lindemans fruit beers is actually really sour, and also is a unique flavor to leave guests with.

As for myself, I'm going to try to stick with American-made beers, though I may relent and pick up a bottle of Affligem Tripel--a wonderful abbey ale that I enjoyed last night. But New Belgium's Tripel would make a fine domestic substitute. Also, I'd like to get some Hennepin Saison and for dessert some kind of dark stout--Brooklyn's Black Chocolate or the Oskar Blues Ten FIDY, depending on which I can find.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Whatever you drink, enjoy the holiday--and please share your recommendations in the comments.

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Jesse Hughey
Contact: Jesse Hughey