Food & Wine

Give thanks for California's craft brews

Courtesy of Derek Wolfgram
A high-alcohol, spicy beer complements a Thanksgiving feast.

The approach of the Thanksgiving holiday seems like the perfect opportunity to highlight the versatility of beer as a beverage pairing for all kinds of food. From roasted turkey to pumpkin pie, there is a beer appropriate for every course of your Thanksgiving feast.

If you enjoy the acidity and carbonation that sparkling wine provides to cut through the richness of holiday meals, look no further than The Lost Abbey Saison Blanc. The beer is highly carbonated and crisp with a very dry finish. Saison yeast often produces a peppery spice aroma, which in this case is accentuated by the addition of white pepper during the brewing process. The Lost Abbey also added golden raisins to the Saison Blanc, which are difficult to perceive directly in the flavor or aroma but certainly contribute to the overall complexity of the brew. If you like champagne with your Thanksgiving dinner, try this instead.

At the holidays, many breweries break out the cloves and cinnamon to brew spiced seasonal holiday ales. Not AleSmith Brewing – it celebrates the winter holidays with YuleSmith (Winter) Ale, an impressively hoppy imperial red ale. While I tend not to pair hoppy beers with food (other than hamburgers or pizza), the piney hops of YuleSmith are supported by a subtle caramel sweetness. I would hesitate to call this beer “balanced,” as the hops are clearly the star of the show, but there is enough complexity to pair well with a fall feast. The malt backbone complements the richness of roasted meats, gravy and other Thanksgiving fare, while the resinous hops provide a pleasant contrast and clear the palate for more decadence.

North Coast Brewing Co.’s Brother Thelonious Belgian-style Abbey Ale manages to be simultaneously dry and sweet, largely due to the relatively high levels of attenuation and the fruity esters produced by the Belgian yeast. The yeast interacts with Belgian candi sugar and caramel malts to produce aromas and flavors reminiscent of sweet cherries, dried plums and caramelized figs. Relatively light in body for such a high-alcohol beer (9.4 percent alcohol by volume), Brother Thelonious has a bracing alcohol bite, particularly in the finish. The rich flavor profile pairs equally well with desserts like pumpkin pie and with savory fare like turkey legs or sausage stuffing.

One seasonal brew that seems custom-made for Thanksgiving dinner is The Bruery’s Autumn Maple. The nose is dominated by pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg, with hints of ripe pear esters from the Belgian yeast. The eponymous maple flavor is not pronounced, but the flavor is moderately sweet, likely from unfermentable sugars in the yams that The Bruery includes in the mash. The spices create an unmistakably autumnal flavor profile. With a little more acidity or bitterness, the beer would pair even better with savory foods. Where this brew really shines is with spiced desserts like pumpkin roll or apple pie. There is noticeable alcohol heat from the 10 percent alcohol by volume – this brew may be even better after a year in the cellar.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Cheers!

Derek Wolfgram is chief communications officer for the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club, which meets the first Friday of each month at a home in Los Altos Hills and welcomes both new beer enthusiasts. For more information, visit

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