The Cleveland Craft Beer Report

Thanksgiving isn't just food, family, and friends. The holiday also is an ideal time to crack open a tasty craft beer to pair with dinner or share with others. Selecting the wrong beer won't ruin the feast, but picking the perfect pairing will make every bite that much better. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when shopping for Thanksgiving brews.

It's a challenge to pair one beer with the range of flavors that end up on a typical Thanksgiving table. But the Belgian saison and French bière de garde achieve the impossible, lending herbal and spicy notes that enhance flavor and promote reinvigoration of the palate. Both styles originated in the European countryside and are often referred to as farmhouse ales. While bière de garde tends to be malty and sweet, saison leans towards lighter and crisper, with a lingering, dry finish.

Traditional examples of farmhouse ale available in Northeast Ohio include Saison Dupont, Ommegang Hennepin and 3 Monts Flanders Golden Ale. More adventurous craft drinkers should also try Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca, which puts a sour spin on the bière de garde; Goose Island's Sofie, a wine barrel-aged saison; or the lemony, hopped-up Brooklyn Soriachi Ace. Few Northeast Ohio brewers regularly brew farmhouse styles, but Columbus-based Rockmill Brewery produces an excellent saison that is available year-round in local stores.

Instead of picking just one beer to pair with the entire feast, consider assembling a flight of several selections to bring out the best in every bite. If turkey is the star of the show, a Belgian dubbel makes it shine even brighter. Flavors of ripe fruit and exotic spice complement turkey, while well hidden alcohol recalibrates the palate between bites. Westmalle Trappist Dubbel, Trappistes Rochefort 6 and Maredsous 8 all are versions of the style that are available locally. A few Cleveland brewers craft tributes to this classic style, including Buckeye's Ho Ho Ho and Indigo Imp's Candi-Man. Avoid extreme hops with turkey as the bitterness from a big IPA will drown out the subtle flavors of the bird. If ham is on the menu, consider a Belgian triple. If Belgian ales don't sound good, consider a German schwarzbier or even a pilsner. Not only will the carbonation and refreshing crispness counter those rich foods, but the drive to Black Friday midnight sales won't be compromised.

Pairing beer with a favorite side dish also can be a rewarding endeavor. Brown ales and dopplebocks work wonderfully with mashed potatoes and gravy. Fat Heads Antagonizer and Market Garden Forest City Brown are two great local options. An American pale ale can dance around the flavors of a spicy sausage or crawfish stuffing, while a malty brew will play better with the herbs and spices of a traditional take. Try a dunkelweizen like Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel or Ayinger Ur-Weisse with classic turkey stuffing or cornbread stuffing. Belgian witbiers and German hefeweizens sing with lighter sides and double as great gateway beers for uninitiated relatives. Local examples include Market Garden Pearl Street Wheat, Fat Heads Goggle Fogger and Cornerstone Wallace Wheat.

Even if there's room for dessert, there might not be much room for beer. Thus, the perfect after-dinner drink should step up the flavor. Willoughby Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter pairs divinely with chocolate pie or cake. Pumpkin pie begs for a stout like Hoppin' Frog Barrel-Aged BORIS, Great Lakes Blackout or Cellar Rats Black Rat. Wind down with Unita Cockeyed Cooper Barleywine or Thirsty Dog Barrel-Aged Wulver Wee Heavy.

Like most aspects of craft beer, taste is subjective and preference plays a part. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to play around with beer and food pairings to discover a celestial combination that makes the time spent with food and family all the more special.

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