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It’s turkey time and that means like many if you, I am on my way to the store to pick up those last few items. Whether you need a handful of fresh ingredients for your own culinary endeavor or will be shopping for beverages or appetizers to take to your host, I encourage you to consider a place for beer at your Thanksgiving table. My suggestion: Saison.
The internet is overrun with advice about pairing different beers with typical Thanksgiving fare. This week Kelly Magyarics at Washington Life posted some of the more practical advice I’ve seen on the topic. ChurchKey beer director Greg Engert suggested that she and her readers think of parts of the Thanksgiving meal as either light or dark, and pair each item with beer according to those categories. Magyarics writes,
Engert prefers the brighter, mellower flavors of white meat, which call for brighter styles of beer like Pale Lager, Saison, Belgian Golden Ale or Tripel. For darker meat’s heightened intensity of flavor, richness and earthiness, he recommends darker beers like Dark Lager, Brown Ale, Belgian Dark Ale or Dubbel. (If, like me, you like a nice slice of the breast drenched in rich gravy, followed by some lusciously decadent fatty dark meat, Engert says that Amber Lager, Altbier, Irish Red Ale, Scottish Ale and Biere de Garde lie somewhere in the middle.)
Engert likes to categorize the sides pretty much the same way. “Light” sides (and really, this term is relative on Thanksgiving…) include the starchy, buttery, sweet and mild dishes on the table—stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, corn and bread. “These enjoy the spicy-herbal addition of beer’s aromatics.” “Dark” sides are richer and earthier (think cranberry sauce, green beans and root vegetables like winter squash and turnips, and need something next to them that’s a bit richer and maltier, perhaps with dark fruit and spice notes.
Easy enough, but let’s get real. Who really breaks from tradition to serve their Thanksgiving meal in courses? The typical American Turkey Day dinner involves loading your plate with the usual suspects and eating your way through all their diverse colors, consistencies, and flavors, going from item to item. Some even go the extra step of mixing all the food up into a unattractive but delicious mess. This poses a challenging situation for pairing the meal with beer.
Unless you plan on getting super anal and sipping from one of several beers after each orchestrated bite, you are going to need to pick and stick with one beer that can compliment the entire feast. At least that’s what I am doing this year. My routine has been to reserve the beer for earlier in the day during all the cooking, hanging out, and noshing on appetizers and then to switch to wine (yes I said the w-word) when it’s time for the big meal. But this Thanksgiving I am going to bust open some Saisons and see how they do.
Saison, or farmhouse ale, is a beer style that originated in northern France and the French-speaking part of Belgium. These refreshing beers are delicate in flavor and relatively low in alcohol (although some range up to 8 to 9%). Flavors vary from beer to beer, as an original Saison was any refreshing summer beer made at a particular farm for its workers. But modern farmhouse ales have some typical characteristics; most are fruity and earthy, have some tartness and are brewed with spices or herbs. These qualities make Saisons excellent choices for pairing with a wide variety of foods…like the ones you will see on your Thanksgiving table.
There are many excellent farmhouse ales that are easy to find, with Saison Dupont from Belgium the most classic and revered example of the style. Esquire recently posted a list of their favorite farmhouse ales, which I agree with except for the inclusion of Chimay Grand Reserve, a strong, dark Belgian Trappist ale not usually categorized as a Saison. Personally, I will be uncorking some Stillwater and Jolly Pumpkin bottles to share with friends and family tomorrow.
What beverage will you be pairing with your Thanksgiving meal? (Or will you forget the turkey and be drinking your dinner like we suggested last year?)