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Craft Beer Pairings For Your Thanksgiving Dinner. Part 1

Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  As you head to the grocery store to pick out your prized bird, overload your shopping cart with sweet potatoes and attempt to learn the real difference between stuffing and dressing, DON’T FORGET THE BEER!  It’s just as even more important than the pumpkin pie!

There’s an ongoing debate about beer vs. wine with food pairings and I’m not going to rehash it on here.  But let’s be honest, beer is waaaay better suited to go with your turkey dinner than those old smashed grapes will ever be.  But with beer, comes a few tough questions: Where do we start?  What do we buy?  What will pair best with my desert?  What about leftovers?

Relax my friends.  The holiday’s are already stressful enough.  I’m going to make this as easy as possible for you with a list of quality beer recommendations from local Colorado breweries that you should be able to easily find at most respectable Denver-area liquor stores.  Grab a pen and paper (and a beer of course) and let’s break it down.

Appetizers

I admittedly haven’t been to many Thanksgiving meals outside of my family, but both my family and my wife’s side of the family have a tradition of serving shrimp cocktail for an appetizer.  We’re also a big fan of artisan cheeses and meats.  So for the first round, I’ve chosen one of New Belgium’s newest Lips of Faith offerings, Biere De Garde, which pairs nicely with both seafood and cheese.

Brewed in collaboration with Brewery Vivant, out of Grand Rapids, MI, this 9% ABV offering pours a clear, orange color with a 2-finger, creamy, white head.  Plenty of orange, lemon, apricot, yeast and peppercorn throughout the aroma.  The taste is very much on the farmhouse side of the spectrum with moderate tartness, spices and earthy notes throughout.  The dry finish and high carbonation will have you thinking champagne.  A nice start to the meal that will be sure to awaken your taste buds.  Readily available at all liquor stores in the Denver-area for $8 / 22oz. bottle.

Alternative suggestions: Boulevard Tank 7, Jolly Pumpkin Oro De Calabaza, Brewery Ommegang Hennepin

The Main Course

Warm up over, stomach stretched, palate cleansed, let’s move onto the main course.  Assuming you’ll be going with a traditional turkey dinner, I’ve got two (very) different approaches you can take.  The first is that you go with something on the lighter side that will subtly complement your meal.  The other is that you go big and bold and add a new layer altogether to the meal and we’ll discuss this approach a little later.

On the lighter side, I’m recommending Deceit from Funkwerks out of Fort Collins, CO.  This awesome little brewery up North, specializes in Saisons, and was named Small Brewing Company of the Year at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF).  They took home 3-medals at GABF this year, one of which was a gold for this particular beer in the Belgian-Style Experimental Ale Category.

Deceit is a Belgian-style Tripel that pours a slightly cloudy, golden, straw color.  The 3-finger tall head has notes of clove, Belgian yeast and lemon.  Lots of tropical fruits, spices and just a touch of hops round out the flavors in this tasty brew.  A dangerously drinkable 9.4% ABV beer that goes down much too easily.  Deceit bottles were released for the first time on November 1st and they’re beginning to pop up at stores all over town.  I really enjoyed this one and know you will too.  A 750 mL bottle will run you about $12.

Alternative suggestions: Funkwerks Saison, La Chouffe, Tripel Karmeliet

I was only going to suggest one on the “lighter side”, but I can’t help myself, so I’m going to hit you with two.  The second is Tivoli Helles Lager.  This was a beer that basically went extinct when Denver’s Tivoli Brewery closed their doors back in 1969.  Fortunately, earlier this year, the Tivoli family collaborated with Bill Eye, head brewer at Prost Brewing, to bring this one back from the grave.

The 5.1% ABV Helles Lager pours a clear, straw color with a 2-finger, white head.  Plenty of biscuit, fresh grains, plus some floral notes and a touch of bitterness.  Hey, if it came from the Prost brewhouse, you know it’s good.  This is a great beer to introduce family members to craft beer.  You know the ones that “Don’t drink dark beers” or claim they “Get gas from microbrews!”.  Insert Grandpappy voice here: “Damn kids and they’re new fangled beers!”.  Yeah, those are the ones that you just might be able to save and convert to craft beer by introducing them to a refreshing lager like this Helles.

The only drawback to the Tivoli Helles is that it’s not available in bottles, so you’ll need to get your butt over to Prost and grab a growler to take home with you.  Wait, that’s not a drawback at all.  In fact, that’s great news!  Now you’ve got an excuse to make a trip over to Prost for a Maß of one of their delicious creations while picking up a growler of great beer for your Thanksgiving feast.  Maybe you can convince your better half that you’re going “grocery shopping” for beer.  Just a thought and if you get busted, you never heard it from me…

Moving on, let’s talk about the other end of the flavor spectrum, and how we can add a big, bold beer to bring a completely new, unique and independent layer to the dinner table.  In the past few years, I’ve gone with beers like St. Bernardus Christmas Ale and The Bruery’s 2 Turtle Doves with the main course.  These are complex, spicy, Belgian-style beers that have worked well at the dinner table.  A very different approach, but for those that like to experiment with pairings, I think this is a fun option.  For this round, I’m going to recommend Dry Dock Brewing’s Wee Heavy.

This popular Scotch Ale has pulled in back-to-back medals at the prestigious World Beer Cup.  Look for big, sweet caramel flavors and plenty of malt to make up the base of the beer.  There’s also a bit of dark fruit, chocolate, spices and smoke in the flavor as well.  This 9.5% ABV beer is a slow-sipper, but I’m intrigued by this pairing and looking forward to trying it this year.  This is Dry Dock’s Winter Release and it’s on shelves all over town these days.  Plan on spending around $8 / 22oz. bottle on this one.

Alternative suggestions: Oskar Blues Old Chub, Great Divide Grand Cru, Odell Isolation

But Wait, There’s More!

We’re off to a good start, but the best is yet to come.  DESERT!!!  To quote the Kool-Aid Man, “Oh yeah!”.   Coming up in Part 2, we’ll discuss beers to pair with desert, the perfect nightcap brew and even what to drink with your leftovers while the rest of the world wrestles over  TV’s and iPad’s during the nonsense we like to call “Black Friday”.  Stay tuned.

Cheers!

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