Imitate the Pilgrims and have beer with your turkey

By Kerry Cyganiewicz

Did you know that the reason that the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth was because they were running out of beer? It’s true. During the trip over, they drank beer because it was safer to drink than water during the long voyage. Another little known fact is that pumpkin beer originated because barley wasn’t available when they landed. Those are some handy tidbits to share when people ask why you are serving beer instead of, or in addition to, wine with your Thanksgiving turkey.

Turkey is prepared in three main ways: roasted, deep fried, and smoked. I have listed some suggestions to go with each style below. Cheers!

Roasted Turkey

Alagash White Ale, Alagash Brewing Company, 5% ABV

This is a traditional Belgian White Ale, brewed close by in Maine, that won a gold medal at the 2010 World Beer Cup. It is brewed with coriander and Curacao orange peel for a slightly tart, yet refreshing, ale. I like to refer to this as a gateway beer. If you like Blue Moon or Shock Top, you are going to love this. It is an excellent segue to other types of Belgian ale. Its flavor profile goes well with lightly seasoned, roasted birds.

Eureka, Tree House Brewing Company, 3.9% ABV

This is an American blonde ale, brewed in Brimfield. I chose this ale for a variety of reasons. It is an enjoyable, short road trip to Brimfield this time of year. I like supporting local businesses, and this just happens to be one of the better breweries in the country, in my opinion. Eureka is a refreshing, clean-tasting pale ale. It is not bitter and has some notes of fruit and lemon from the hops, which are specially sourced from New Zealand. It is bold enough to go with a properly seasoned bird, yet simple enough not to steal the show.

Skull Splitter Scotch Ale, Orkney Brewery, 8.5% ABV

Thorfinn Hausakluif, the seventh Viking Earl of Orkney, is featured prominently on the label. His nickname was ~ you guessed it ~ Skull Splitter. This is reminiscent of a fine single-malt scotch. It is peaty, malty and warm. There is no effort to hide the alcohol at all. It should be savored over time so that the subtle nuances can be appreciated as it breathes and warms. This is an excellent choice if your turkey is liberally seasoned or if you want something to serve that is as much a conversation piece as it is an excellent beer.

Smoked Turkey

Saint Botolph’s Town, Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, 5.9% ABV

This is an English brown ale from here in Massachusetts. There is little to no hop presence, just delicious toffee, slight chocolate and nuttiness without being sweet. There is a bit of creaminess in the mouthfeel of this beer, so it’s an excellent beer to prove people wrong when they say things like, “all dark beer is bitter, thick and strong.” A worthy pairing for a smoked turkey on the lighter side.

Founders Breakfast Stout, Founders Brewing Company, 8.3% ABV

Who doesn’t like breakfast for dinner occasionally? I know, not on Thanksgiving. This wonderful American imperial stout is brewed with chocolate, Sumatra and Kona coffee and oats. It is pitch black, with a large head that stays longer than it takes you to drink it, and it should take you 30-60 minutes to pick up on all of the changes this world-class beer goes through as it approaches room temperature. With sweet malt, coffee, chocolate, molasses and slightly floral hop notes, this stout’s aroma reminded me of a fall walk in the woods. This is one of the better choices for a properly done smoked turkey.

Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewing Company, 7.2%

A disclaimer for this beer: Read the back label of the bottle before you buy it. If you are scared, or deem yourself not worthy, put it down and make another choice from this list. This beer will stand out against almost any food you can think of and still be pleasant to drink, with dark fruit, alcohol warmth, sweet malt and angry hops. The hop aftertaste is like that bitter ex; it just won’t go away. It is complex and sophisticated, like it says on the label. As it warms, it becomes even more evil. This is going to be my choice for the fifth year in a row.

Deep Fried

Hennepin, Brewery Ommegang, 7.7% ABV

Named after the first European to see Niagara Falls, this Belgian saison/farmhouse ale is perfect for those that would have preferred wine. There are notes of pepper, straw and citrus, just to name a few of the flavors lurking about. There is an underlying funk that some might describe as medicinal, earthy or even damp barn. It is quite complex and will have people wondering just what it is they are drinking. It would fit in nicely with a fried turkey, without overwhelming the subtleness of a lightly seasoned version.

Sculpin, Ballast Point Brewing Company, 7% ABV

There are many American IPAs to choose from. What makes Sculpin special is not so much its individual attributes but how they work together. There is a solid malt backbone present, but it does not overwhelm. There are plenty of hops giving off pine, citrus, melon and citrus notes. The bitterness of the hops is nicely offset by the malts. This is a well-balanced IPA that will cut through any fried turkey, but not be the main focus of the dinner.