Cut, Complement, Contrast: Beer at the Table for Thanksgiving Dinner

Area Man Drinks Beer has recommendations for pairing craft beers from the Northeast with your Thanksgiving meal.

By Mike Loconto
Area Man Drinks Beer blog
Twitter: @Neighbeers

Today’s American craft beer can be paired with food on the same level of wine. On this most American of holidays, you may be oriented toward a Cabernet from Napa or a Merlot from Washington State. But here, in the Colonies, you may want to consider something even closer to home for your dinner pairing this Thanksgiving.

Chefs led by Adam Dulye of the Monk’s Kettle in San Francisco, as noted in the last issue of the print-only Beer Connoisseur magazine (“Grilling with Adam Dulye”), have increasingly suggested pairing beers with food according to the 3Cs: cut, complement and contrast. Briefly, beers that cut through a dish tend to highlight flavors in the food by neutralizing fatty elements. Beers that contrast with a dish tend to elicit flavors that you may not have otherwise noticed. Complementary flavors in a beer and a dish tend to draw out similar elements and emphasize the dominant characters in each component of the meal.

To put these techniques in context, let’s talk about six craft beers from the Northeast (four from Massachusetts, one from New York and one from Maine) to pair with your Thanksgiving meal.


With guests arriving and football on the television, you are probably serving a platter of cheese, crackers and vegetables. This is also the start of a long day and lots of eating, so let’s begin with a beer that is hoppy enough to cut through all the cheddar and brie. The Valley Malt BSA from Notch Brewing in Ipswich is a session beer at 4.4% alcohol by volume, and is made with malt grown in Massachusetts and roasted at Valley Malt in Hadley (BSA is for ‘brewer-supported agriculture’). This year’s iteration is a lightly-hopped farmhouse version of a Belgian Pale Ale, and you’ll keep your wits about you in preparation for the main course.


When you run out of the can of cranberry jelly (you will), what will you use to contrast the hearty, herbal flavors of a stuffing or the earthy mashed potatoes on your plate? Try something with a fruit profile. The Ever Weisse, a Berliner Weisse brewed by Night Shift Brewing in homage to their hometown of Everett, features kiwi and strawberry notes in a light, wheat-based ale. Beers in the Berliner Weisse style are sour, and so the Ever Weisse will play off the tamer, earthen flavors of a potato dish – and complement the stuffing with its wheat base.

If you absolutely must replace the loss of your dear cranberry jelly in kind, Chelsea’s Mystic Brewery recently brewed a cranberry saison in limited release for the holiday season. Three Cranes is named for a Tavern that once stood in Charlestown from 1629-1775 and is brewed using cranberries harvested from a small Massachusetts bog. This is the only beer that I am recommending that I have yet to taste, and am looking forward to trying it along with my dinner on Thursday. You may also want to consider serving this one alone as guests arrive, to get everyone in the Pilgrim mindset.

Talking Turkey

This may be a biased recommendation because I fall squarely within the dark meat camp when it comes to turkey, but I want a beer with dinner that can cut through the fatty tissue – and also complement the herbal brine typical on holiday birds. Hayride Autumn Ale from Baxter Brewing Company in Lewiston, Maine is an outstanding beer on its own (I am, in fact, drinking it as I compose this tome) and a great candidate for the main course. A rye beer aged in oak and spiced with ginger and peppercorns, this is a beer with a lot going on but somehow everything works in unison. The peppercorns in particular will cut through the meat with some mild heat, and the spicy mixture of the rye and ginger should highlight the herbs used in preparing the meal without overpowering each bite. 

Digestion, Desserts and the Cowboys Game

By the time dinner is cleared, you and your guests will need something to cleanse the palate while also providing a sweet finish to the meal. Harpoon’s Baltic Porter is a seasonal release from the Leviathan Series - small-batch, big beers high in alcohol content and flavor. These are for those of us sleeping over, hitching a ride or taking the T: the Baltic Porter clocks in at 9.5% ABV, but is a deceptively smooth, dark beer with coffee, chocolate and black licorice notes.  Enjoy it as a digestif, a contrast (and substitute for coffee) to your slice of pumpkin pie, or to cut through the dulcet tones of John Madden as you fall asleep in the living room Barcolounger.

Finally, no Thanksgiving meal would be complete without pumpkin. Pumking from Southern Tier Brewing Company in upstate New York is an imperial pumpkin ale and one of the few pumpkin beers that I will recommend without reservation (I generally dislike the over-the-top spice rack nature of most pumpkin beers). Pour this brew in a snifter, let it warm a bit and dig in. It is another high-alcohol beer at 8.6% ABV. In fact, I think one of the reasons I like it is because the alcohol tamps down much of the nutmeg and cinnamon, while working with hints of vanilla and a creamy pumpkin base to largely replicate what a slice of pie would be in liquid format. This is a big beer, and deserves to be contemplated slowly at the end of your meal, perhaps even in place of your dessert.

What is everyone else drinking this season? Share with your Neighbeers in the comments below. With many things for which to be thankful this year, I truly appreciate your readership. Cheers and enjoy the holidays.

We have a rich craft beer constituency in West Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts, New England and beyond, and I want to provide it with a voice and a forum through this blog. Send me your thoughts on the blog, event postings and ideas for future stories or reviews at neighbeers at gmail dot com or through twitter @Neighbeers. And comments below, good or bad, are always appreciated.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michael Loconto November 21, 2012 at 02:21 PM
I have to give some credit to my sister-in-law, who is also bringing some Portsmouth Brewery Kate the Great to our Thanksgiving Dinner. She waited in line for three hours on a cold March morning in the seacoast and has let the brew age for eight months. Kate is great.


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