First Draft: Leave the wine corked and serve beer for Thanksgiving |
Food & Drink

First Draft: Leave the wine corked and serve beer for Thanksgiving

Next Thursday will present no shortage of culinary decisions, not the least of which will be what to drink.

Don’t limit your choices to wine. A lot of people believe it to be the only elegant choice for special occasions. But beer, particularly for a late-harvest meal like Thanksgiving, offers many more options to complement the food.

From dark chocolate to tart raspberry, floral hops, vegetal spice and toasted bread, beer offers a spectrum of flavor to pair with every dish of the most complex meal many of us eat.

“In my opinion, beer is a better pairing than wine,” says Patrick Santillo, manager of the Cafe at the Frick. “There’s just a lot more flexibility involved in pairing beer with food.”

Santillo has been organizing beer dinners at his restaurant for years. The problem he confronts each time is not one of limited options, but rather how to narrow the choices to a beer that can make each dish sing. What do you pair with a cherry salad, a smoked scallop creme brulee or espresso braised beef short rib? Santillo has considered all of these questions.

I reached out to Santillo to get his take on some Thanksgiving staples. Here’s what we came up with:


There are a lot of options with the main event. Your beer choice could depend on whether you favor white or dark meat, but Santillo says something delicate and crisp would go best.

“I would probably stick with something along the lines of a pilsner or pale ale or white IPA,” he says.

Going with something on the malty side also is not a bad idea. There’s a French ale that would be perfect, a malt-forward complex style known as Biere de Garde, which has a mellow toasty and caramel flavor with some of the complex fruit and spice notes of a farmhouse ale. The only problem is finding one. Not many breweries make it.

Instead, you might consider a malty German bock or dunkel, a rich, dark lager that can be chocolate and nutty and would hold up well with the fatty dark turkey meat without overwhelming its delicate flavor.

Suggestions: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Deschutes Chainbreaker white IPA, Ayinger Dunkel, Church Brew Works Pious Monk Dunkel


Here’s where you look to Belgian farmhouse ales or an English brown ale. The saisons would pick up the vegetal and herbal notes in the stuffing. In fact, saisons will pretty much go with anything on the Thanksgiving menu. They are complex, yet dry, and tend to be well-carbonated, which is good for scrubbing your palate clean between bites.

Dupont is a particular favorite of Santillo’s, and I’ll go one further. The Belgian brewer releases a holiday saison called Avec Les Bons Voeux that is outstanding. It’s big, though, at 9.5 percent alcohol by volume. So, pour small glasses.

Suggestions: Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux, Goose Island Sofie


This can be a divisive dish. Personally, I can’t stand cranberries, but I know people who wouldn’t attend a Thanksgiving without them. And so, it naturally must be paired with a divisive beer.

“This would be something a little different,” Santillo says. “Maybe a Berliner Weisse or another sour beer.”

The spritzy straw colored Berliner Weisse looks like a delicate beer, but its lemony tang will hold up to the sharpest tartness any bowl of cranberries could dish out.

As for other sours, I’d consider something fruity, like a Flanders Red, which features currant and cherry flavors.

Suggestions: Weihenstephan 1809, Rodenbach Grand Cru, Petrus Oud Bruin

Green bean casserole

Green beans slathered in cream of mushroom soup and topped with fried onions: It may not be elegant, but you know you love it. It pairs well with turkey and rolls, but which beer?

“I think I would do something more on the crisp side,” Santillo says. “Maybe a kolsch or Belgian white ales. You’re going to get some nice coriander and orange-peel flavors.”

Suggestions: Allagash White, Dogfish Head Namaste, Reissdorf Kolsch

Pumpkin pie

Now it’s time to cap off the meal with pie. You don’t have room for it, but you don’t care. It’s time to indulge in something spicy and rich, and that includes beer.

Spiced beers — yes, that includes pumpkin beers — would pair well with pumpkin pie. And the coffee notes in a good porter or stout could complement it, too.

Santillo says the chocolate notes of a brown ale might be tasty. “Rogue makes an incredible hazelnut brown ale that would be absolutely delicious,” he says.

I’d recommend a dark pumpkin beer, like a pumpkin porter or stout.

Suggestions: Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar, Elysian Dark O’ The Moon

Chris Fleisher learned his lesson last Thanksgiving and will drink beer from a small glass this year. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or [email protected].

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