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Food & Wine

Beer first and last : Pairings highlight Thanksgiving meal


Derek Wolfgram/ Special to the Town Crier
Cleophus Quealy Beer Co.’s Cranberry Weisse pours a celebratory purplish-pink color and brings a lemony tartness to the glass.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s time to start planning your beer pairings for the family feast.

Like any beer/food pairing, there are two main approaches you can take – flavor profiles of your brews either can be complementary or contrasting with the food. For Thanksgiving, that either means something light, crisp and refreshing to cut through the richness of the meal, or something big and strong that can hold its own with the intensity of the dishes. Following are two examples of each pairing strategy.

Local classic

Not only for Thanksgiving, but any time, I think the single most versatile beer on the market for food pairing is a classic: San Francisco’s Anchor Steam, brewed by Anchor Brewing Co. Anchor Steam beer is balanced in every facet – caramel malts provide a degree of complexity without being sweet; Northern Brewer hops contribute a pleasantly mild, earthy, bitter bite; and the warm-fermented lager yeast creates interesting red-fruit esters and a crisp finish. The 4.9 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) is light enough to enjoy without feeling full, but the flavors are intense enough to stand up to just about anything.

Anchor Steam goes great with burgers, pizza, Mexican food, Asian food and, of course, Thanksgiving. For each course, from turkey through pumpkin pie, enjoy an Anchor Steam. Japan’s Sapporo Beer purchased Anchor Brewing last summer.

Tart and natural

San Leandro’s Cleophus Quealy Beer Co. produced a natural Thanksgiving beer with its Batch 116 Cranberry Weisse. The tart Berliner Weisse, with cranberry, lemon and spices, pours a purplish-pink color with a thin white head. Both the aroma and flavor reflect a lemony tartness, which likely results from a combination of lactobacillus fermentation and the lemon added to the brew. The cranberry flavor and aroma are very subtle, but the light acidity of this 4.5 percent ABV brew would definitely cut through the heaviness of a big meal.

Barrel-aged beers

Firestone Walker Brewing Co., based in Paso Robles and owned by Belgium’s Duvel Moortgat, releases several barrel-aged beers annually, and its 2017 Stickee Monkee Central Coast Quadrupel came out in May. The beer pours a thick, murky brown color with a low off-white head, and the aroma is a complex blend of earthy sweetness, complex malt and alcohol. The substantial 12.5 percent ABV is apparent on the palate, as are notes of dried figs and cherries from the dark caramel malts and Mexican turbinado brown sugar. The beer is slightly sweet, but very unusual, with enjoyable flavor elements suggesting tobacco and leather providing a unique balance.

The bourbon-barrel aging adds complexity without drawing attention to itself, and the potent blend matches the depth of Thanksgiving flavors.

Intense chocolate flavor

Shortly after MillerCoors purchased San Diego’s Saint Archer Brewing Co., Saint Archer launched its “Tusk & Grain” series of heavy-duty barrel-aged beers. One release in the series is the Barrel Aged Wee Heavy Scotch Ale aged in bourbon barrels with hazelnuts and cacao nibs. Similar to the Stickee Monkee in appearance, the aroma is dominated by semisweet chocolate character, with hints of vanilla from the bourbon barrel aging. It lacks the rich malt complexity and caramelization expected from a Scotch Ale, but it’s definitely enjoyable. The flavor is mildly sweet, somewhat boozy (as expected in an 11.3 percent ABV brew), and intensely chocolaty, with a silky mouthfeel and a relatively sweet finish that showcases the nutty flavor.

If this beer showcased more of the characteristic Scotch Ale maltiness, I would absolutely pair it with turkey and stuffing. However, with the emphasis on cocoa, I think this would be most at home next to your slice of pecan pie.

Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.

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