Thanksgiving is a weird holiday – it’s basically like a dress rehearsal for how everyone is going to get along at Christmas. It’s also the trope-iest time of year - everyone makes the same jokes about eating too much food, watching football, and dealing with extended family members you haven’t had to deal with since last holiday season. References to turkey, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce abound. This year, why not shake things up a little by pairing beer with your Thanksgiving dinner?
Here’s some history on Thanksgiving a lot of people may not know: Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863, right in the middle of the Civil War. The driving force behind making Thanksgiving a national holiday was Sarah Josepha Hale. While you may not recognize her name, you are undoubtedly familiar with some of her other work, namely as the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Some families in New England informally celebrated the “holiday” as in they had Thanksgiving-type meals, but Sarah Josepha Hale felt Thanksgiving should be a nationwide tradition.
Another reason for making Thanksgiving a national holiday? To show off women’s cooking skills. That reason is also why Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday – hosting a giant meal on Thursday gave women enough time to clean up and do it all over again for Sunday dinner. Um, thanks, Sarah Josepha Hale?
Now you have some Thanksgiving history factoids to share with your family in the event you need to deescalate a heated political debate during Thanksgiving dinner, let’s talk about what beers you can pair with your dinner.
In researching beer styles to pair with Thanksgiving dinner, I ran into a lot of incongruous advice. For one thing, a lot of articles and websites listed beers to pair with each Thanksgiving course. I guess if you’re attending Thanksgiving dinner with the Rockefellers, then you’ll be eating your Thanksgiving dinner course by course. At every Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever attended, Thanksgiving dinner is a free for all where everyone seems to be vying to be the next Joey Chestnut. There’s no civil salad course or turkey course or fromage plate – if your family is anything like mine, Thanksgiving dinner is a no-holds-barred, Wild West-style glutton fest where everything is crammed together on one plate.
For another thing, other sources paired beers with the separate flavor components, such as a porter with turkey, a dubbel with ham, and a quadrupel with sweet potato pie. Realistically, no one is going to have three separate beers laid out in front of him or her to switch between while eating. Also, table space during Thanksgiving dinner is at a premium and your cousin who is sandwiched in next to you isn’t going to appreciate the valuable real estate your multiple glasses of beer are going to take up.
What we need is one beer that is going to carry you through the entire meal. I found most of the information to be a bit overwhelming and not grounded in reality. Once again, after reading what I found online, I turn to my beer pairing mentors, Julia Herz and Gwen Conley, authors of Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros, for guidance. Their recommendation for Thanksgiving dinner? A Belgian tripel.
The Belgian tripel is a dry, sometimes spicy Trappist ale that has a toasted biscuit-like malt flavor along with noticeable (but not overpowering) bitterness. It can be fruity and earthy at the same time, with high carbonation. It is brewed with Belgian candi sugar, which makes the mouthfeel almost light and contributes to its deceptive alcohol content. Deceptive as in you can’t really taste the 7.5%-9.5% (+) alcohol content, but you suddenly find yourself caring much less about your racist uncle’s political rants.
According to Beer Pairing, a tripel’s maltiness will complement the mild white meat of the turkey, while its spicy Belgian yeast will complement the dressing, gravy, and mashed potatoes. The fruity and earthy esters will also complement most side dishes, such as sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. Because carbonation helps scrub the palate, a tripel’s high carbonation will cleanse your palate throughout the meal and make the entire meal seem lighter and brighter.
There are a lot of tripels to be found and the good news is that you can find them in both large format (22 ounce) bottles and regular 12 ounce six packs, depending on whether you’re in the mood for just one or want to share a bottle with the cool members of your family. I suggest Allagash Tripel, New Belgium Trippel, Victory Golden Monkey, and Flying Fish Exit 4. If you want to go authentic Trappist, then pick up a Westmalle Tripel.
In closing, in case your Thanksgiving facts and high ABV beer didn’t loosen everyone up, here are a couple Thanksgiving jokes that will be sure to make everyone groan:
Who is not hungry on Thanksgiving?
The turkey because he’s already stuffed!
Why did the farmer have to separate the chicken and the turkey?
Because he sensed fowl play!
And because the happy husky is my spirit animal: