With the variety, richness and sheer volume of a Thanksgiving meal, craft beer lovers have a panoply of choices for beer pairings. Whether you’re seeking light and crisp brews or big, intense flavors, you’re sure to find the perfect pairing for your Thanksgiving feast.
For your consideration, I’m suggesting four very different California craft brews you might enjoy this holiday season.
• St. Florian’s California Common Lager (Windsor) won a bronze medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival for its excellent representation of the style. (The best-known example of a California Common is San Francisco’s Anchor Steam.) Slightly hazy and reddish-amber with orange highlights and a medium, off-white head, the beer reveals an aroma of earthy, woody hops, a touch of toffee and caramel, and a slight hint of bright berry esters.
The flavor is bright and refreshing with earthy hop bitterness and flavor, smooth maltiness and a long, crisp, dry finish. Light bodied with spritzy carbonation, this beer will not fill you up, and the hint of caramelization will nicely accentuate the browned flavors in roasted meats or stuffing without overwhelming them.
• Stone Brewing Co.’s Stone Vertical Epic 08.08.08 (San Diego) is a Belgian IPA with West Coast hops, originally released in 2008 but recently reissued as part of Stone’s 20th anniversary. I never used to enjoy hoppy beers with turkey dinners, but I’ve learned to appreciate the combination since Harry’s Hofbrau in San Jose turned into a craft beer destination a few years ago.
The aroma has bright pear esters and spice from Belgian yeast, and light floral and lemon zest notes from the hops, with just a touch of tartness. The interplay between the yeast and hop bitterness is sharp and spicy on the palate, with pine and under-ripe mango from the hops, warming alcohol and bright carbonation. The dry finish is somehow crisp yet also long-lasting, and the hop bitterness persists from start to finish. The bracing bitterness, crisp dry finish and high carbonation will cut through rich flavors in the same way a crisp white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, or even Champagne, does.
• Anderson Valley Brewing Co.’s Pinchy Jeek Barl Bourbon Barrel Pumpkin Ale (Boonville) boasts a complex, layered aroma, with pumpkin-pie spices (primarily cinnamon), caramel malt, maple and vanilla notes from the Wild Turkey barrel aging. The flavor is similar to the aroma in its complex blend of elements: The first impression is malt sweetness, followed by a spicy, earthy hit of nutmeg, then a combination of spice and syrup on the finish, with minimal bourbon or oak on the palate.
While surprisingly thin for an 8.5 percent ABV barrel-aged beer, that fact actually enhances drinkability and prevents it from coming across as cloyingly sweet. Pinchy Jeek Barl is definitely a brew to serve with dessert, especially pumpkin pie, pecan pie or cheesecake.
• AleSmith Brewing Co.’s AleSmithWee Heavy Scotch Ale (San Diego) pours a deep mahogany color with a dense beige head. The aroma is slightly sweet, with strong toffee and caramel notes and a subtle hint of roastiness, as well as a distinct alcohol presence (not surprising given its 10 percent ABV). Caramel flavors, with a distinctive raisin and cherry fruitiness, are followed by a moderate earthy hop bitterness, which then gives way to licorice notes on the semi-dry finish.
Given its ABV and the caramelization, AleSmith Wee Heavy is not overly sweet, though it is full-bodied. This is a big, characterful beer that holds its own when paired with any (or every) course of your holiday feast.
Happy Thanksgiving, and cheers!
Derek Wolfgram is chief operating officer for the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club, which welcomes new and experienced beer enthusiasts. For more information, visit sudzers.org.