By Cliff Mori
Man time flies…. It seems like just last week I was getting excited about the first changing leaves. Then they all blew away with the post-Halloween snowstorm, I looked away for a minute, and here we are at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the official start of the holiday season, though in my family we start the season with the Asheville holiday parade. So yes, I’m already drinking bourbon-spiked egg nog and watching Christmas movies. Don’t judge.
Thanksgiving is the main event this week and is an amazing time to gather a lot of people, a lot of food and a lot of drink under one roof. And it’s a time to cook a bunch of random things that you only eat once a year, unless of course root vegetables covered in marshmallows is a staple in your diet. With all of these specialty foods come some questions about what to drink with them. Here are some great local beer ideas for your feast.
While everyone is waiting for dinner, you need to have some snacks. A simple meat and cheese plate is a great way to start your guests and both pair really well with beer. Choose a Saison. Saisons are known for their peppery, slightly lemony yeast character, tend to have some rustic graininess underneath and finish really dry. All of this brings out the salty and fruity characteristics of rind washed and other funky cheeses. I’d recommend grabbing a growler of Wicked Weed’s Reticent Saison. This farmhouse ale is a throwback to the more rustic beers of the Belgian and French countryside and will work wonderfully with some Connemara or Ellington from Looking Glass Creamery. Set out some 3 oz taster glasses and a growler to serve 10 to 20 guests, (more beer if your gang likes to drink).
Thanksgiving dinner is all about savory. Almost every dish is a display of umami, that basic taste that gets its name from the Japanese word for “good flavor.” With savory foods, I find it best to find a comfortable savory counterpart, but one that will neither overpower the food nor get lost amongst it. Though everyone’s Thanksgiving Day spread varies, turkey and stuffing are guaranteed to be on every table. Both have this savory, buttery, slightly herbal flavor profile and need a malty beer that is bitter enough to cut through some of the fat but won’t take away from the flavor of the meal. This year, I would choose Hi-Wire’s Bed of Nails Brown Ale. Bed of Nails Brown has rich malt flavors of caramel, chocolate, coffee and nuts, but finishes dry, making it an excellent pairing with savory meals.
The outlier on the table of savoriness is cranberry sauce. Slightly tart, slightly sweet, cranberry sauce can take its own beer to pair with if you’re feeling adventurous. I’ll pair my cranberry sauce with Catawba Brewing’s White Zombie. White Zombie is a Belgian Wit beer, which means that it has a crisp refreshing character from the wheat it’s brewed with, but is also spiced with orange peel and coriander. The spices and acidity in the beer will make the cranberry sauce really pop and should bring out some of the sweeter fruitier flavors of both.
Dessert hour is a big deal in my family, and while each year sees a changing array of baked goods one staple remains -pumpkin pie. With its sweet buttery crust, spiced custard filling topped with fresh whipped cream, pumpkin pie calls for a special partner. This year, I’m going to pair mine with Highland Brewing’s Black Mocha Stout. Black Mocha Stout lends just the right amount of roasty bitterness to offset the sweetness of the pumpkin pie. The beer’s bready maltiness combined with flavors of unsweetened chocolate and coffee provide a perfect complement to the bready flavors in the crust, the sweetness of the custard filling and the whipped cream top. Be warned that if you go too big in the alcohol department with your beer, you might overpower your dessert. Black Mocha Stout is subdued enough to let the pie really shine.
Of course these are just a few ideas of how to incorporate local Asheville beer into your Thanksgiving Day plans. No matter what you do, pair your meal with beverages that make sense. Our local brewers produce some amazing partners to food, and I encourage you to experiment and find your own combinations. Enjoy!
Cliff Mori is the owner and operator of BREW-ed, which offers brewery tours and a variety of beer training in Asheville. He was the first Certified Cicerone in Western North Carolina (the beer equivalent to the wine world’s sommelier), then began working for the Cicerone Certification Program by traveling around the U.S. proctoring exams. Cliff also teaches a variety of beer-related courses at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.