Thanksgiving beer pairings

By Ron Swarner on November 24, 2014

Cruelly sandwiched in between two much cooler holidays, the fourth Thursday in November has always been a bit of a letdown for me. Maybe I just had to draw one too many handprint turkeys and write too many lists of things to be thankful for when I was a kid. I promised myself that I wouldn't write anything this cheesy, but right now I've got an early deadline bearing down on me like a Mack truck.

To most folks, beer makes a Thanksgiving appearance during the afternoon football games rather than the big meal. Here in the South Sound, we can do better. We can bring craft beer to the dinner table, and we can show our relatives how wonderfully it can pair with food.

But pairing beer on Thanksgiving can be tricky. For starters, a turkey has both light and dark meat. There's also usually a sweet cranberry sauce and a savory stuffing along with a veritable smorgasbord of sides, rendering the heaviness of a porter too much, and snuffing out any flavor from light session ale. To address the conundrum, I dropped by Pint Defiance Specialty Beers and Taproom for assistant manager R.J. Adler's suggestions for the best holiday pours. Sundays at Pint Defiance are traditionally a four-beer tester flight tagged with a theme. This past Sunday, Adler skipped the sampler and poured full pints of beers he suggests for a Thanksgiving meal.

With a world full of comparable options, Adler chose four beers he thought people should know, based on four courses of a Thanksgiving meal: cheese, starter dishes, the main meal and dessert.

First Course: Unitroué Ephemera Cranberry (Chambly, Quebuec, Canada, 5.5 percent alcohol by volume)

"Brewed in the tradition of a Belgian White ale, this top-fermented beer provides a perfect warm-up for your palate to prepare it for a Thanksgiving feast," says Alder. "It pours a slightly cloudy blonde color releasing a flowery bouquet of red berries. The flavor is slightly sweet with a minor tart acidity that wakes up the taste buds but leaves little linger. The Unitroupe pairs nicely with soft cheeses."

Second Course: Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale (San Marcos, California, 6.7 percent ABV)

"This Farmhouse Ale traces its roots to the small rustic breweries of Southern Belgium," says Alder. "The word ‘Saison' comes to us from the French language and it means ‘season.' Lightly spiced with organic ginger, orange peels, black pepper and grains of paradise, the flavors complement holiday starters such as savory salads, barbecue beef or pork, or spicy dishes."

Main Course: DuPont Avec Les Bons Voeux (Trourpes, Belgium, 9.5 percent ABV)

Nov. 13 marked the official day (and night) of the Coast to Coast Toast. Vanberg & DeWulf, who founded the Coast to Coast Toast three years ago, was the first company to specialize in importing Belgian beers to the U.S. The principals of Vanberg & DeWulf (Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield) have been tireless champions for Belgian beer and now "honorary Belgians" all from independent family-run producers. Those who participated in the Coast to Coast Toast, which included Adler raising and tipping a DuPont Avec Les Bons Voeux - know this Vanberg & Dewulf imported brew to be worthy.

"Since 1970, the (Brasserie Dupont) brewery has been brewing a special beer to give as a New Year's present to their best clients - the name of this beer translates as, ‘With the best wishes of the brewery DuPont'," says Adler. "This strong pale ale pours a coppery blonde with a frothy white head introducing aromas of fresh baked bread, delicate lemon and a mild herbal happiness. It pairs excellently with turkey, salty dishes and rich food, with a subtle warming sensation from the alcohol and a clean, crisp finish that prepares the palate for the next bite."

Dessert Course: Kasteel Winter (Ingelmunster Begium, 11 percent ABV)

"Kasteel Winter is a unique departure from the stars winter ales known for their potpourri of cinnamon and clove," says Adler. "This Belgian Strong Dark pours a chestnut brown with a nose of rich, warm coffee, toffee and dried fruits. The mouthfeel is rich and sweet like that of melted candy thanks to the addition of Belgian chocolate and coffee. This brew could be a dessert on its own but pairs great with rich, earthy-dry desserts, dark chocolate and mint."

By far, the Kasteel Winter was the favorite beer at Pint Defiance Sunday, with the Dupont coming in second, followed by the Unibroue and finally the Lost Abbey ale. Those who agreed with Adler and purchased the four beers for family and friends Thursday might just drink dessert first. The Kasteel Winter is that tasty.

Adler suggests letting the last two beers warm to room temperature to bring out four flavors. As I interview him, he cupped the glasses housing my Dupont and Kasteel, refusing to let me taste them before reaching the optimum temperature.

And what does Adler suggest you drink during the football games before the big meal?

"I suggest a session beer that's not going to ruin your palate," he says. "Maybe a Northwest-style pale ale, such as a Bale Breaker Field 41 Pale Ale or a Goodlife Sweet As Pacific Ale."

PINT DEFIANCE, 2049 Mildred St. W., Tacoma, 253.302.4240