It is no surprise that, in terms of food and drink related articles, the present season has columnists focused on the classic Thanksgiving Day fare consisting of those traditional holiday standbys: turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, amongst other, age-old family recipes of the high fat and starch variety. And of course, no feast would be complete without the perfect wine to accompany the perfect bird and pumpkin pie. But something about this formula is beginning to taste as stale as unprepared Stove Top.
One could spend hours trolling Internet sites and reading wine magazines in search of a tantalizing sparkling wine to serve as an aperitif, the perfect pinot noir to pour with dinner, or a rich yet affordable dessert wine to accompany the pumpkin pie. One could spend days researching the subtle nuances between the turkey-pairing options of red versus white, not to mention the lengths that are taken (and, in many cases, the standards that are lowered) trying to honor the preferences of family members.
But instead of agonizing over the cringe-inducing combination of white zinfandel and brown gravy, perhaps it would be more productive and in line with the holiday spirit to just take a load off, prop the feet up, and relax. That’s right, no matter how many persnickety family members are coming over to judge your meal–and therefore your success as a human being–relax. Take a deep breath, embrace the pioneering attitude of your forefathers, and turn the bow of your ship toward that uncharted island. In other words, serve whatever the heck you want.
It is in this true spirit of individuality—in the spirit of spirit itself—that food and beverage pairing should be approached. Of course there’s a prevailing science behind it, (or a theory at least,) which consists of a few basic principles. Mainly and most simply, one should not overpower the other. But the beauty of enjoying food and beverages, whether separate or together, is the subjectivity of the palate. Palates, like snowflakes, are completely unique. No two are exactly alike. And it is because of this that everyone should enjoy the process of pairing whatever it is that pleases.
And on that note, what about beer? Anyone who enjoys the process of tasting wine or scotch should naturally appreciate all of the exciting prospects the craft beer industry is bringing to the beverage table. Gone are the days when we had to settle for swilling thin, watered-down yellow beer from brown bottles. Gone are the days when beer was considered a drink only for the blue collar working man. These days, beer is for everyone. Beer is exciting and fresh and complex and versatile! And it often makes a great companion for food.
The traditional Thanksgiving meal is perfect for beer. And its range from savory and salty, (think mashed potatoes and gravy,) to tangy, (cranberry sauce,) to meaty, (turkey of course,) to warm, sweet and spiced, (pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes) makes it a diverse partner with enough substance to stand up to many different styles of drink. For example:
Rogue American Amber Ale from Newport, Oregon. Nothing says America like this bottle of beer. A man dressed appropriately in a blue work shirt holds up a fist, indicative of hard work, industry and the rogue ideal of individuality. An American flag waves in the background. This brew represents the American work ethic in a manner meant to make us all proud. Big, bold and fearless, this ale aims to impress. As promised, it delivers a pour of rich amber color, mostly opaque, with a quickly dissipating head. The body style is medium-big, mouthfeel is rich and smooth, and carbonation is lively. The smell is slightly coppery, with subtle toasty notes. Hop flavors dominate with hints of toffee, malt and burnt sugar. This beer would rule with sweet potatoes.
Next up, Cigar City Brewing Maduro Brown Ale out of Tampa, Florida. This brewery has been churning out some serious brews recently, showing strong craftsmanship true to the styles it represents. The brown ale is no exception. On first pour the nose exhibits intense chocolate aromas. Color is deep amber-brown as the name indicates, the head is also quick to dissipate, but the carbonation is rich and creamy. Body is medium-heavy once again, with chocolate notes persisting through more subtle nuances of coffee and nuts. This beer would be killer with pecan or pumpkin pie, or take the advice on the bottle and save it for after dinner, paired with a cigar.
Last but not least, Sea Dog Apricot Ale from South Portland, Maine. This wheat beer actually pours an apricot color, adding a lively visual to its fun-loving flavor profile. This beer appeals to those preferring sweeter characteristics of course, but it also provides good contrast to salty sides like the ones listed above. While the wheat based body-style provides structure, the acidity from the apricot makes it tangy enough to cut through those heavy Thanksgiving starches. Also delicious with turkey, this beer would probably make really good gravy if anyone is adventurous enough to try.
And if you just cannot bring yourself to diverge from wine with your meal, another spirited selection might be Boomtown Syrah, 2007 from Columbia Valley, Washington. The label evokes the hustle and bustle of boom town life, such as in those cities that arose from the deserts and dust of the American southwest during the gold rush craze. And while many may be predisposed to the idea that a syrah would not pair well with a protein like turkey, this bottle might just change your mind. Although characteristically fruity, this wine shows fine structure, velvety tannins, and a clean finish. With enough backbone to hold up to those big, gloppy starches, the unctuous mouthfeel and juicy fruit of this wine would also be lovely with a drier protein like turkey.
You can give this a swirl at Eola Wine Company for only $9 a glass or $36 a bottle if you drink it there, or bring it home for your own pairing experience and share it with those for whom you’re most thankful. All of the beers above are also available at Eola, for an extremely reasonable $5 a bottle.
No matter what you’re most thankful for this holiday season, remember to tip your hat to the spirit of diversity and the many flavors of America itself. Whether you’re going traditional and noshing on turkey, or trying something completely different and new, stay true to yourself and remember the spice. Variety truly is the spice of life.