Monday, November 14, 2011

GIVE THANKS FOR GREAT BEER


I love Thanksgiving. I fucking LOVE Thanksgiving! It is the epitome of gluttony that all other gluttonous holidays presume to challenge. Halloween is good and gluttonous, but all that candy will make your stomach convulse and cause you to clean up more of the house than you had intended to that night. Christmas, a holiday that is supposed to be a high religious observation, has turned into a materialistic orgy of spending. It's a close cousin to gluttony, but doesn't have that physically revolting aspect to it. Yeah, there's a big feast, but does anyone post Facebook pictures of their plate, overflowing with the Christmas dinner? No. I guarantee I'll see at least a dozen photos where the good china is completely obscured by heaping mounds of potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce with a large hunk of turkey on top, the whole thing smothered in gravy. There might even be a vegetable or two poking out from somewhere. For gluttony, Thanksgiving cannot be beat. End of argument.

The day starts off with a parade full of lip-syncing celebrities and high school marching bands from around the country that are just learning how cold New York can get in November. And there's always the wonderful possibility that they'll lose control of one of the balloons, sending it careening into a building's fa├žade, deflating it and smothering the creepy-ass clowns marching underneath. All this while you're drinking your coffee and having a light breakfast to make room for the Gobble Day feast. But in the afternoon, while the cooking is going on, we have football. Most years it's a Dallas Cowboys game and a beat down of the Detroit Lions by anyone and everyone. This year the Lions are supposedly a good team and facing the Packers. That could be the game to watch, at least until dinner is served. Time for food! And the food is epic: birds exceeding twenty pounds, mounds of stuffing with all sorts of mouth-watering ingredients, bowls piled high with mashed potatoes that are soon to be swimming in sinful turkey gravy, cranberry sauce (from the can or freshly made, doesn’t matter), butter-slathered rolls and don't even get me going on the desserts. I wonder if the spike in shopping on Black Friday compares to the spike in visits to the cardiologist.

All this food is awesome, but we need drink to go with the day's schedule. We have coffee for the parade…that is sacrosanct. Besides, I don't drink beer before 11AM, or is it 10AM? Doesn't matter; I need my coffee. But once the games begin it's drink on! Some households have Thanksgiving dinner early so there's no need for lunch. We still have ours close to the traditional dinner time…that's usually because I've underestimated the bird's cooking time…so appy-type snacks during the first game are served in lieu of a true lunch. Football and appies? That screams for a lager of some sort, but nothing that will weigh you down or get you so snookered that you stuff the bird with the sweet potatoes. Think of your beer selections throughout the day just like a beer tasting or sample flight. You start off with the lightest and lowest ABVs first and work your way up in ABV, body, IBU and flavor. No, I am NOT suggesting a "light" beer to start. Just wipe that out of your mind. No NASCAR beers!

I do have one rule on Thanksgiving: every beer I drink will be brewed in the US. Thanksgiving is an American holiday and drinking imports is a slap in the face of those intrepid pilgrims who fled religious oppression in Europe. So for the football games I'll probably go with a pilsner of some sort: lighter-bodied, low-ish ABV, but still flavorful. Possibilities: Full Sail Session Lager, Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, Victory Prima Pils, Troegs Sunshine Pils, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Sierra Nevada Glissade, Oskar Blues Mamas Little Yellow Pils. If I could get it where I live I'd go with the Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, but I'm probably going to settle for the Sierra Nevada Glissade.

I understand that there are so many other beers that could be mentioned for any role within this post, so I attempted to stick to those available in the Garden State.

If you love to cook, like I do, and you grew up watching Julia Child you knew that some of the wine went into the cooking and some of the wine went into Julia. That's perfectly swell when you're doing a television cooking show where a bunch of other cooks are preparing the ingredients and precooking the finished dish. In my opinion, drinking while preparing a big meal is not the best idea. You're going to have a very minor buzz from the football game beer, adding onto that while managing a very sharp chef's knife could ruin the holiday with an emergency room visit. I, for one, don't relish sitting in the emergency room, hand wrapped up in bandages, next to the moron who got his head stuck in the cavity of the turkey because he thought he could wear it as hat. Too much beer can do that and one time when I was marveling at a similar moron, I realized I was sitting next to a mirror. So, I will go well off-form here and suggest that you drink water as you cook. You'll need the hydration for the beer to come as well as to survive the heat of the kitchen as the oven does its job and every burner throws flame. Save your alcohol tolerance for the main attraction.

The cooking is done and the good china is on the table along with the good silverware and crystal ware. You know, all that stuff on your wedding registry that kept you from getting that BBQ set-up that could accommodate two whole pigs and three sides of beef. The bird is out and everything else has been put into serving vessels so that pictures can be taken. Why? I don't really know. Has anyone ever gone back and looked at pictures of the turkey from prior years? The sink and kitchen counter are nowhere to be found under teetering columns of pots, pans, utensils, cutting boards and mixing bowls. They can wait because it's time to eat! And drink, of course. I've made some mistakes in the past with pairing a beer with Thanksgiving dinner. My usual mantra is "drink what you like", but that doesn't really work here. One year I poured a strong Belgian brown. Not only did it overpower much of my dinner in flavor, but the high alcohol content, paired with the tryptophan, made it really hard for me to help with the cleanup…or at least that's what I told the Geisha. Another year I poured a DIPA, which had the same effect: could barely taste the food and it knocked me for a loop.

So this year I need to find something with a flavor that will compliment all the dishes without overpowering them and also allow me to make it to dessert in good enough shape to be able to bring another beer into the mix. I don't want to repeat the beer from the football game, as it would disappear entirely and taste like nothing against the feast, but I've learned my lesson with too much flavor. Right off the bat my mind goes to Bluepoint Toasted Lager. It has a slight nuttiness that should pair well with much of what I serve on Thanksgiving and a light enough body and low enough ABV to get me through dinner. Let's face it, with all the food we eat, one will NOT be enough. Other options would be ambers that don't bring a large hop load to your palate. New Belgium Fat Tire would work as would many of the malt-forward American-brewed Oktoberfests. I'd lean toward Weyerbacher's Autumnfest here as it's a bit lighter and approaches the American Amber Ale style more than a true Oktoberfest, but the Toasted Lager will be my choice this year.

I mentioned getting one more beer in, didn't I? Oh yes, if they can have dessert wines then there HAS to be dessert beers. I could go one of two ways here. I could either choose something that compliments most desserts, like a coffee Stout, or find a beer that is a dessert within itself, like a frambois. What did the girl at the end of Trading Spaces say? "Why can't we have both?" We could, and then we'd sleep really well, but I will probably go with just one, even though I'll discuss both here.

At the end of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, Santa Claus makes his entrance, symbolically ushering in the holiday buying frenzy. Christmas is the next holiday on the radar (along with Hanukah) and it's time to prepare. Trim up the trees, deck the halls, get your gift shopping done and prepare for that upcoming feast. So why not symbolically usher in the holiday season with a holiday beer at the end of the meal? Many of them will be released by that time and they're as varied in execution as summer beers and pumpkin ales. Some will be spiced, some will have fruit, most will be strong, but you can be assured of one thing: with the multitude that are being brewed you will find one to your liking. And you should be able to find one with the correct flavor profile to pair with whatever dessert you're serving. I have a Heavy Seas Yuletide from 2009 set aside for this year, but The Geisha will have me go out and get Harpoon's Winter Warmer (hopefully they won't be as heavy-handed with the spice this year) and I'll more than likely have more in the beer fridge to choose from. Southern Tier Old Man Winter, Weyerbacher Winter Ale, Sam Smith Winter Welcome and Saint Bernardus Christmas Ales tend to be staples and that selection gives me a nice range of beers to choose from.

But then there are those beers that are desserts unto themselves. A well-aged barleywine, an old ale or a bourbon barrel-aged stout can take the role of a snifter of brandy with ease. Belgian-style Quads are like having liquid bread in your chalice. Imperial Stouts deliver chocolate and coffee flavors with each luscious sip. If fruits are more your style then you've got options there as well. Most lambics available in this country are blended with fruit, like frambois, kriek, peche, etc, but there are some fruit beers that don't deliver the sour pucker that many lambics do. Dogfish Head Fort is a strong raspberry ale that would be delicious as a reduction over vanilla ice cream or enjoyed from a snifter. New Glarus also does a raspberry ale and one made with Wisconsin cherries. If you crave that pucker then Allagash Interlude, Ommegang Ommegeddon or Weyerbacher Rapture should do well without having to look to Belgium for the funk.

The point is that you've got many choices when it comes to beer with Thanksgiving and you can do what you want. I for one will be trying to stick the "rules" I outlined here and will now bullet point for quick reference and reminder.
- In the AM, get your coffee on…it will be a long day
- All beer should be domestic to honor this very American holiday
- Start off light-bodied and low alcohol content, especially if you're cooking
- If you're cooking, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
- Your dinner beer should not overpower the meal or your alcohol tolerance
- For dessert all bets are off…drink what you like
- Give thanks for good health, good fortune, good friends, family (good or otherwise) and great beer

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