October is a big month for indulging, with not one, but two separate holidays that revolve around eating and drinking with family and friends.
Halloween is still a few weeks off, but I am still feeling the effects of Thanksgiving, with a turkey coma that lasted the entire next day.
Rather than toiling in the kitchen over a hot stove all day, my Thanksgiving duties are the beverage pairings. The traditional wisdom is to pair Chardonnay with turkey, but I like to throw caution to the wind and imbibe dangerously.
I feel that I can be honest with you, the faithful reader, and let you in on a dirty little Thanksgiving secret. Chardonnay and turkey go well together because they are both fairly bland and unassuming. A more flavourful wine would overpower the turkey, while a more flavourful meal would make a light Chardonnay seem limp and washed out.
Furthermore, it is all well and good to pair a specific wine with the turkey, but what about everything else on the table? The stuffing is generally flavoured with a melange of spices and seasonings, while the sharp flavours of the cranberry sauce make a light white wine seem thin and reedy.
This year, I threw caution to the wind and decided to forego wine entirely, and arrange beer pairings with each Thanksgiving dish, with a different beer to complement each of the different victuals.
Since turkey is the main course, I made sure to choose a beer that would not scare away the macrobrew drinkers at the table. I happened to see the Fahr Oktoberfest Lager on sale at Co-op last week, and picked up a few six-packs. Made in the German Märzen style, this beer pours a deep amber into the glass, and the malt-forward grainy flavours are reminiscent of stuffing, with very little hop bitterness to distract from the turkey.
While this beer style is most commonly enjoyed while wearing lederhosen and gobbling bratwurst in Munich, the Fahr Oktoberfest Lager is brewed right here in Alberta, in the small town of Turner Valley. The brewmaster grew up in a small village in southern Germany near the French border, and now makes the freshest and most authentic German beers this side of the Atlantic.
The stuffing and candied yams paired nicely with a glass of Big Rock Scottish Heavy, a full-bodied brew with notes of toffee and peat that complemented the spices in the stuffing and the sweeter flavours of the yams.
The Scottish Heavy style typically weighs in at 7% ABV or even higher, so I made sure to provide short pours for everyone at the table to ensure they would be lucid for the next course.
Mashed potatoes tend to be fairly bland, but I like mine cooked with minced garlic and white pepper, finished with a generous dollop of gravy on top, so the Thanksgiving potatoes at my dinners tend to be a bit more flavourful, meaning they can stand up to a more interesting beer.
I paired the potatoes with the Chinook Saison Ale from Calgary’s Banded Peak Brewing. The Saison style is also known as a Belgian Farmhouse Ale, and would traditionally vary in flavour and composition as different ingredients were available in centuries past. The Chinook Saison has a dry finish with spicy notes, sort of like a spicy pale ale. The distinct hop bitterness cut the fats from the gravy, while the spicy finish added a kick to the potatoes.
Dessert is often the hardest dish to pair with beer, and pumpkin pie is no exception. The simplest pairing might be one of those pumpkin ales that are ubiquitous this time of year, but I do not care for pumpkin in my beer or my latté, so I had to be more imaginative.
The Gentleman’s Stout from Medicine Hat Brewing fit the bill perfectly, with strong flavours of burnt chocolate, toffee, caramel and roast coffee. Made with flaked oats for a thick and creamy mouth feel, the burnt chocolate flavours in the Gentleman’s Stout pair nicely with the spicy textures of the pumpkin pie.
All of these brews are made right here in Alberta, and are widely available at your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant. Don’t wait until next year’s Thanksgiving; give them a try today!