Wine & Spirits: Brews You Can Use…for Turkey Day

Why stress over what kind of wine to uncork this Thursday? Rustico Beer Director explains how beer is not only bubbly and refreshing, but it can be complex and able to pair with the diverse ingredients found on Thanksgiving tables.
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Greg Engert is the Beer Director for ChurchKey, Birch and Barley and Rustico. Photo credit Powers and Crewe.

Greg Engert is the Beer Director for ChurchKey, Birch and Barley and Rustico. Photo credit Powers and Crewe.

Every year wine and food writers and other culinary experts tout the best bottles to pair with turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. It’s a lot of pressure for hosts. Thanksgiving dinner’s dishes have such an eclectic array of ingredients, it’s all but impossible to find the perfect wine to go with everything. (For the record, I tend to open up a bunch of different offerings: crisp, earthy and aromatic whites, along with lighter and more robust reds, and let guests find their own great matches.)

Whether you can’t do without that Zinfandel or Gewurz this year, or just want to offer friends and family something else to sip, why not set up a galvanized tub filled with some appropriately autumnal brews? I asked Greg Engert, Beer Director (and expert on all things barley, malt and hops) for ChurchKey, Birch & Barley and Rustico’s two locations (the Ballston one recently opened,) for his take on pairing suds with spuds (sweet potatoes, that is,) and everything else that’s on the table this Thursday.

“Beer always provides a natural source of sweetness,” explains Engert. “It tends to be lower in alcohol than most wines, but still shows herbal, spicy and fruity flavors resulting form fermentation.” And, as he points out, beer is bubbly. All of these make it a natural accompaniment to Americans’ annual November feast.

The new Ballston location of Beer-centric Rustico.

The new Ballston location of Beer-centric Rustico.

Now, while it’s true that the serving platters on the table are comprised of a wide variety of ingredients that tend to be rich and sweet, Engert does point out that flavors are generally mild with regard to intensity. So it’s smart to shop for beer that’s neither too intense on the palate nor too high in alcohol. “Brews with nice sweet notes and a spicy, herbal component mirror the nuances on the table.” Any residual sweet flavors of bread, toast, caramel and roast in beers that are medium-bodied and moderate in alcohol will play nicely with the Turkey Day spread.

Let’s start with that turkey. Roasted, grilled or deep fried, people often vehemently divide themselves into either the white or dark meat camp. Engert prefer the brighter, mellower flavors of white meat, which call for brighter styles of beer like Pale Lager, Saison, Belgian Golden Ale or Tripel. For darker meat’s heightened intensity of flavor, richness and earthiness, he recommends darker beers like Dark Lager, Brown Ale, Belgian Dark Ale or Dubbel. (If, like me, you like a nice slice of the breast drenched in rich gravy, followed by some lusciously decadent fatty dark meat, Engert says that Amber Lager, Altbier, Irish Red Ale, Scottish Ale and Biere de Garde lie somewhere in the middle.)

Engert likes to categorize the sides pretty much the same way. “Light” sides (and really, this term is relative on Thanksgiving…) include the starchy, buttery, sweet and mild dishes on the table—stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, corn and bread. “These enjoy the spicy-herbal addition of beer’s aromatics.” “Dark” sides are richer and earthier (think cranberry sauce, green beans and root vegetables like winter squash and turnips, and need something next to them that’s a bit richer and maltier, perhaps with dark fruit and spice notes.

Belgian Chimay White works well with turkey white meat.

Belgian Chimay White works well with turkey white meat.

Engert thoughtfully provided one of his favorite producers in each category. All beers are readily available in the Metro DC area:

Pale Lager: Hofbräu Original (Germany)
Amber Lager: Brooklyn Lager
(New York)
Dark Lager: Negro Modelo
(Mexico)
Irish Red Ale: Smithwicks
(Ireland)
Scottish Ale: Belhaven Scottish Ale
(Scotland)
Biere de Garde: Trois Monts or Schlafly Biere de Garde
(rarer style…France and Missouri)
Altbier: Long Trail Ale
(Vermont)
Brown Ale: Newcastle Brown Ale (England)
Belgian Dark Ale: Unibroue Maudite
(Canada)
Dubbel: Chimay Red (Belgium)
Belgian Golden Ale: Duvel
(Belgium)
Tripel: Chimay White
(Belgium)
Saison: Saison Dupont (Belgium)

Oh, and don’t forget about beer with dessert. “Pies dominate with their bready, biscuity, flaky sweetness,” he explains. “Beer is obvious as a liquid pie crust counterpart,” since it’s born as liquid bread, so to speak. Pumpkin, apple and sweet potato are ubiquitous, so fruit- and spice-tinged holiday brews always work, like Anchor Our Special Ale from California, Harpoon Winter Warmer from Massachusetts, and England’s Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.

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