Forget wine. Beer pairings are where it’s at for holiday feasts. When done correctly, beer pairs more favorably with food and can enhance the entire meal in ways wine cannot.
But you want to pair wisely so as not to lose the flavor of your beer. That’s a waste of beer, money and calories. So, don’t blow it this Thanksgiving and use these holiday beer pairings that don’t suck.
First, let’s start with some general guidelines.
General guidelines for beer pairings:
- Consider the elements of the dish and the elements of the beer.
- Match intensity with intensity (in other words, fight flavor with flavor)
- Find ways to match similar flavors and profiles (roasted with roasty)
- Find ways to balance out elements (sweet with bitter, sour with sweet, spice with bitterness)
- Don’t forget about the importance of carbonization. It does a nice job of cleaning the fat from your tongue and keeping your palate ready for the next taste.
- When in doubt, go Belgian. (It’s true.)
Beer Pairing: Meat
Elements: spicy heat, sweet pepper flavors, nutty and smokey caramelization, salt and fat (if you’re doing it right)
Beer: American Brown Ale – Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale.
The hops will stand strong with the spices and emphasize those flavors. The caramel maltiness balances the heat while matching the sweet pepper flavors. The carbonation and hops both fight through the fat on your tongue.
Elements: bright herbs, earthy herbs, sweet and smokey caramelization, salt and fat.
Beer: Belgian Pale Ale – Alesmith Lil’ Devil.; Saison – Hill Farmstead Anna, or Crooked Stave Surette Provision Saison.
Hops, yeast and fruitiness play well with and cut through the bright and earthy herbs. The esters will intertwine with the herbs as well. Something with a good malt profile will sing well with the caramelization. The carbonation will take care of the fat so you can keep tasting everything.
Elements: Sweet glaze, sweet and smokey caramelization, meaty umami richness, salt and fat.
Beer: Belgian-style Dubbel – Westmalle Trappist Dubbel, or Val-Dieu Brune.
The caramel and toasty malt flavors match great with a brown sugar glaze and the umami richness. The moderate bitterness helps keep that sweetness of the ham in check. The dryness, higher alcohol content and medium/high carbonation help keep your mouth ready for more.
Elements: Roasty charred flavors, umami richness, earthiness and pepper, salt and fat.
Beer: Robust Porter – Deschutes Black Butte XXVIII (Bonus points: Smoked Porter such as Fat Head’s Up in Smoke Porter).
Bitter malts play well with the roasty charred flavors of the meat while the caramel sweetness comes in just in time to save the day. Hop bitterness helps curb the richness and fat, as does the carbonation. Tones of chocolate make things really interesting and play with the earthiness of the meat.
Beer Pairing: Sides
Elements: herbs, savory, bready sweetness, earthy flavors, pepper, salt and fat.
Beer: American Amber Ale – Bell’s Amber Ale or Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale.
Biscuit flavors go really well with the bready sweet and savory elements. The malt and hop balance each other in the beer and let the stuffing’s herbs do their thing.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Elements: Earthy sweetness, sugary sweetness, roasted caramel, butter and fat.
Beer: Vienna-style Lager – Great Lakes Elliot Ness, or August Schell Schell’s FireBrick
A little sweetness from the lager goes well with the big sweetness of the potatoes and marshmallows. The hops make their presence known just enough to keep the sweetness and richness in check without taking away from the gluttony that is sweet potato casserole.
Beer Pairing: Dessert
Elements: sticky sweetness, roasted caramel, toasted nuts, salt and fat.
Beer: Coffee Stout – any of Terrapin’s Single Origin Stouts, or Sante Fe Java Stout.
You want something that’s not inherently sweet to keep your body happy, but you still want that sweetness. The bitterness of the malts and hops push against the sweetness of the pie — in a good way. The roasted malts pair with the roasted, toasted nuts. You want that higher carbonation to cut through the fat. What is better than pie and coffee?
Rich Chocolate Cake
Elements: Chocolate, cocoa, roasty flavors, malt, sweet and fat.
Beer: Imperial Stout – Great Divide Chocolate Yeti, or Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero (the Ancho chiles would make an awesome contrast to any rich chocolate cake).
Richness meets richness on just about every level here. The cake’s sweet chocolate and cocoa notes are tamed by the Imperial Stout’s bitter chocolate and cocoa notes. The fruity esters bring out the fruitiness of the chocolates. The high alcohol does a good job of balancing the sweet and fats, but is really just a great way to end the evening.
Lemon or Lime Bars (or other citrus dessert)
Elements: Intense citrus, fruity, tangy, sour, sugar and fat.
Beer: Double/Imperial IPA – 3 Floyds Dreadnaught, or Odell Myrcenary
Big and in-your-face desserts need a big and in-your-face beer to keep up. The overly sweet dessert is tamed by the hop bomb which is not harsh but rather refreshing, zesty and interesting. The fruity esters and malty sweetness helps keep the party going. The alcohol cuts the sweet and fat on your tongue and also helps you end the night nicely. You won’t really want to taste anything after all of these flavors.