Whether it’s a traditional turkey with 50 of your closest relatives or a vegetarian spread for two, there’s no escaping the trappings of the Thanksgiving meal. It’s a holiday that revolves around food as much as it does family.
Of course, there are also traditional beverages — a certain type of wine with dinner, a classic digestif after the meal or simply coffee with dessert. However, in many cases beer is still the fizzy water variety, and it’s paired with the afternoon football games rather than the meal itself.
Here in Asheville, we can do better. We can bring craft beer to the dinner table, and we can show some of our relatives how wonderfully it can pair with food. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, what follows are a few recommendations from my own family and friends.
My sister Holly O’Hearn lives in West Asheville. She bartends and serves at The Admiral and Bull & Beggar, so she helps people pair beers with food day in and day out. Her first recommendation is Hi-Wire’s Bed of Nails Brown. “The brown is one of my favorite local beers anytime, but it definitely compliments fall foods,” says O’Hearn. “It’s medium-bodied and malty, and its nutty finish is awesome with [a wide variety] of flavors. … I could practically pour it onto mashed potatoes!”
She says Wedge’s Community Porter is another great pick, and a favorite at The Admiral with the fall and winter menus. “People enjoy it with almost everything, but it’s a particularly good beer with hearty dinners. It has some maple notes to it, and it’s nice and malty without being too rich. … That’s important for Thanksgiving since it won’t fill you up on its own,” says O’Hearn.
Her last suggestion is Catawba’s Red-iculous Red IPA. “I think it can be tough to pair IPAs with food, as they can be quite potent,” says O’Hearn. “But this beer is delicate for an IPA: very floral, citrusy and not too bitter.” She says for most it should prove plenty interesting without being overpowering. “Plus its beautiful ruby color will stand out on the Thanksgiving table,” says O’Hearn.
My friend, neighbor and fellow homebrewer Matt Kane also recommends an IPA, and one clearly meant for the holidays: Celebration Ale from Sierra Nevada. For him, the beer has come full circle. “It’s been my Thanksgiving Day beer for 15 years,” says Kane. “It started when I lived in Austin, but then when I first moved to Asheville my wife and I couldn’t find it because of the ABV limit.”
That’s right: even though the beer is just 6.8 percent, in the days before Pop the Cap, it was deemed too strong for our fair state. The law finally changed in 2005. This year, Celebration is not only legal and available statewide, its brewery is just down the road in Mills River.
Certified cicerone and Thirsty Monk beer buyer Matt McComish faces a unique challenge come Thanksgiving. He and his fiancée are longtime vegetarians; they’ve spent years finding the perfect beer for their nonmeat main. “One of my favorite beers to pair with tofurkey is Fantôme Saison,” says McComish. “The funkiness and sourness cut through the salt overload that is a tofurkey, and it helps give life to that round ball of soy protein.” But the beer goes beyond fake meat as well. “Its higher carbonation is similar to Champagne, and the bubbles cleanse the palate,” says McComish. “The fruity undertones perfectly complement side dishes like cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes.”
Last but certainly not least, my mom and my wife both recommend dark ales this Thanksgiving. My mom is a big coffee drinker, and she fell for Highland’s Thunderstruck Coffee Porter on her last trip to Asheville. She told me it tops her list for Thanksgiving but that she wants another taste of that beer no matter the season. My wife, Heather Kinlaw, recommends a classic that’s always welcome at the table: Green Man Porter. “It strikes just the right balance between flavor, aroma and drinkability,” says Kinlaw. “It’s complex and interesting, but the less adventurous members of my family enjoy it as well. Plus, I know it’ll work with everything from stuffing and potatoes to pumpkin pie. You always have to think of the pies.”