Food & Wine

Medal-winning California brews enliven your Thanksgiving feast

Derek Wolfgram/Special to the Town Crier
Santa Clara Valley Brewing Co.’s Dry Creek Blonde Ale netted a bronze metal at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival.

Autumn brings two wonderful events that provide a showcase for beer – Denver’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in September and Thanksgiving in November.

I always enjoy choosing beers to complement the rich flavors of a Thanksgiving feast, and I decided to make my selections this year from award-winning brews from the 2019 GABF. This year’s GABF competition included nearly 9,500 beers from approximately 2,300 breweries, entered into 107 categories, from which 318 medals were awarded. Of those, 68 medal-winning brews from 55 breweries hailed from California, so plenty of local choices exist for your meal pairings.

When pairing beers with Thanksgiving dinner, the best options fall into two categories. The first category includes beers with caramelized, roasted, malty and/or slightly sweet notes that complement the rich browned, roasted character of the meal. The other option is to select beers with extremely bright, crisp or sharp flavors that cut through the richness of the food and provide contrast and refresh the palate in between helpings.

Rich, complementary characteristics

Sudwerk Brewing Co. in Davis earned silver for its Märzen Amber Lager in 2018 and progressed to gold in the 2019 American-style amber lager category. If you’re looking for just one beer to enjoy at Thanksgiving, this is the one. Pouring a crystal-clear orange-copper color with a moussy, long-lasting ecru head, the aroma was relatively subdued, with a perfect balance between spicy Noble hops and toasty, bready malts. The flavor was similar to the aroma, but more intense – rich maltiness balanced spicy hop flavor and moderate bitterness, all of which carried through into the long-lasting finish.

Kernville’s Kern River Brewing Co. took home the award for Brewery Group of the Year, with four medals, more than any other brewery at GABF, including a silver medal in the brown porter category for Brown Claw for the second consecutive year. Dark brown in the glass with ruby highlights and a dense tan head, Brown Claw had a classic porter malt aroma of cocoa and caramel. On the palate, you might expect cocoa and caramel to be sweet, but this was pleasantly dry with a firm hop bitterness that extended well into the finish.

Bright, contrasting flavors

Santa Clara Valley Brewing Co. in San Jose brewed the bronze medal Kolsch-style ale this year, Dry Creek Blonde Ale. The beer was brightly clear and golden in color with a medium white head and an aroma nicely balanced between light, crisp malt and herbal, noble hops. A mildly spicy hop bite up front gave way to delicate malt. Impressively flavorful for 4.5% alcohol by volume, the beer featured a crisp, dry, lightly bitter finish that would make it a pleasant pairing for watching football as well as enjoying with your meal.

Coronado Brewing Co. in San Diego took home a bronze medal in the highly competitive American-style IPA category with its Weekend Vibes IPA. I don’t typically pair IPAs with food other than burgers or pizza, but the bright, fruity bouquet of this beer – including sweet orange, pineapple and mango notes – will provide a pleasant contrast to cut through heavy food. Coronado hit the trifecta with its blend of Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe hops, which provided moderate bitterness and a big tropical fruit flavor. Bright light gold in color with a rocky white head, the beer had a long-lasting bitter finish to cleanse your palate for the next dish.

Farmer’s Reserve No. 5 from Alameda’s Almanac Beer Co. scored a silver medal in the mixed culture brett beer category. I always like to include one sour ale in food pairing columns, and the bright acidity and underlying earthy funk of this beer made it a great candidate. Murky gold with a short-lived white head, the beer was oak-aged with a blend of strawberries, raspberries, cherries and nectarines. None of these fruits stood out in the aroma or flavor, but all contributed to a complex tart dried apricot character, followed by a dry, funky brett finish.

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

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