5 Beer Pairings, 1 for Each Thanksgiving Meal Course

We reached out to Tørst’s certified cicerone Brendan Woodcock for the best pairings for each course of our favorite meal of the year.

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The taps at Tørst. Photo credit: Vicky Wasik

Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year, and not only because, in the midst of my family’s preparations for their holiday feast in 1984, my mother was whisked to the hospital to deliver a fully cooked Niko from her proverbial oven (she still affectionately refers to me as her “turkey baby”). It also provides the ultimate invitation for gluttony, which I will always graciously accept with open arms and wide eyes.

Thanksgiving is the Voltron of meals, a commanding beast formed by the harmonious assemblage of several hearty dishes, each available in excessive amounts, with the potential to comatose an ambitious individual until Christmas — and that ambitious individual is me. Our annual gathering is always hosted at my parent’s house, but this year, I have another responsibility aside from achieving a state of foodbaby in my favorite pair of sweatpants: choosing several beers to pair with our meal. This is a stressful task; Thanksgiving’s hodgepodge of flavors evokes a seemingly infinite amount of brew-and-chew combinations. What goes best with mashed potatoes, an amber ale or a pilsner? Do I want to contrast the sweetness of corn and yams with tartness, or compliment them with maltiness? I quickly realize my ponderings could easily lead to arriving with 63 beers, each designated to marry a different item on our skyscraper-high plates.

According to Brendan Woodcock, a Certified Cicerone (similar to a sommelier, but designed for expert beerologists), however, meticulousness isn’t necessary to achieve a symbiosis between beer and food. “Beer is very forgiving,” he says, “and often successful pairings aren’t about exact matches of every flavor, but rather about versatility.”

Woodcock is one of two Cicerones responsible for curating the beer pairings at Luksus, a tiny Scandinavian-style restaurant concealed in the backroom of Tørst in Greenpoint. Both pertinaciously beer-dedicated establishments are the creation of Daniel Burns, whose bespectacled and bewhiskered chefness has graced the acclaimed kitchens of The Fat Duck and Noma, and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø (who we profile in our holiday issue), the popular gypsy brewer behind Evil Twin Brewing.

Luksus was the first beer-only restaurant awarded a Michelin star (in its newest guide), this accomplished after only being open since last July. The pairings are optional: After Burns develops a five-course tasting menu (in terms of plates, the number is closer to 11 or 12), Woodcock helps to create “another component of taste to enhance the whole experience of the meal” with beer. He provided several examples during our chat, even spending several minutes merrily deconstructing Bayerischer Bahnhoff Berliner Weisse’s success alongside cured mackerel, delivering phrases like “the beer’s tart finish offsets the fish’s oilyness.” After this, he helped us tackle  suggestions for Thanksgiving, divided here into five general sections.

1. For the game: Stillwater Artisanal Ales Classique, farmhouse ale

Dry, crisp, and light-bodied, Classique is great for kicking back and “watching the game” — any game on this day, as beer shows no favorites. This clocks in at 4.7% ABV, right in the range of many mass-market lagers, which it will appeal to drinkers of. Like your Budweiser or Coors, it also has rice and corn in the brew. Quite a faux pas in the craft beer world, rice and corn are usually the hallmarks of the biggest global brewery conglomerates, which use these ingredients to lighten the body of the beer and create alcohol without adding any flavor. Although the Brewers Association still excludes some mid-sized American brewers because of their use of rice and corn in their beers, historically in the United States these were staple products that grew easier and more plentifully than barley; everything from rice, to corn, to sugar, to pumpkins were in original American beers. Classique is a throwback to that era, hence its label as a “Pre-Prohibition Ale.”

Because of its light body, crisp finish, and versatility, Classique pairs well with a broad range of classic gametime foods: from crudite to charcuterie, chips and dip to guacamole, to whatever’s available on a commercial break — including more Classique.

Find this at: Hops & Hocks, 2 Morgan Ave., Bushwick, 718.456.4677; $2.00 for 12-ounce can.

2. For the snacks: Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille, Kriek Lambic

Meaning “Old Aged Cherry Lambic From Old Beersel,” a town on the outskirts of Brussels, Belgium, this is as flavorful to drink as it is hard to pronounce. Lambic beer such as this Kriek, or a lambic with cherries, sits first in the open air while it cools, and then sits for up to three years in barrels before it is blended to taste. That’s a lot of sitting, which is often how I feel while I’m waiting for dinner to be ready. This causes me to snack. And when I snack, I need a beer.

In the case of this beer, Oud Beersel add local cherries to the barrels they age the beer in. The resulting product takes on the color of those cherries as well as much of their flavor. Ruby red in body and beginning with an aroma of tart fruit, a hint of almonds, and a rustic tinge, Kriek quickly transitions into pleasant acidity on the palate with a tenacious puckering finish. The cherries that are added to the beer while it ferments are added whole, so the stems and pits contribute some tannic astringency on the finish that keeps this beer a sipper despite it’s moderate 6.5% ABV.

Because of its light-medium body, Kriek works to add a fruit component to light salads and its acidity is great with the earthiness of stuffed mushrooms. It can also balance the dairy in soft cheeses — or cheese pakoras, if you want to expand your Thanksgiving horizons — scrubbing them off the tongue with carbonation. If you want to get super-fancy, Kriek is also frequently cooked with; I’ve made Kriek jelly for crackers on several occasions.

Find this at: Campbell Cheese & Grocery, 502 Lorimer Street, Williamsburg, 718.387.2267; $15.75 for 22-ounce bottle.

3. For the dinner: Baladin Nora, spiced Egyptian-style ale

Thanksgiving usually means, conservatively, five or ten different dishes on the dinner table. That’s overwhelming. At Luksus, we have the luxury being able to approach pairings one dish at a time, but when our chef Daniel Burns creates a dish too complex, we need to dive into our reserve ammunitions: farmhouse-style ales. For both Thanksgiving and these situations at Luksus, my go-to is Baladin Nora — it’s my “kitchen sink” beer.

Described by Baladin’s brewer Teo Musso as an ancient Egyptian ale, Nora pours orange-amber with a pillowy white head. The beer features a Belgian yeast strain that adds fruit and spice, and benefits from additions of ginger and citrus peel as well as intentionally vaguely described “eastern spices” that likely range from coriander to grains of paradise to caraway and aniseed. But that’s not to say that Nora isn’t balanced and well-rounded. A firm wheat-breadcrust and honey malt base centers all those spices and herbs, while low bitterness hops restrain the beer from stretching beyond itself. Its 6.8% ABV also lends a subtle warming sensation.

Okay. Now for the good stuff. This spiced ale works with ANY preparation of turkey, cutting through glazed and fatty roasted versions, or brightening up overcooked and dry versions that still somehow appear year after year. Next, mashed potatoes and gravy will meet its high level of soft carbonation, while the herbs in the beer bring out any preparation of stuffing — sage, celery, carrots or otherwise. The ginger and fruity notes combine to enliven the cranberry sauce that really only one or two relatives eat anyway. Versatility is the trick, and Nora can handle everything from asparagus to ambrosia, so it’s a great choice for the dinner table.

Find this at: Tops Hops Beer Shop, 94 Orchard Street, Lower East Side, 212.254.4677; $20.99 for 750-milliliter bottle.

4. For the dessert: Captain Lawrence Brewing Golden Delicious, American-style tripel aged in apple brandy barrels

A New York original, Golden Delicious hails from Elmsford’s own Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. Brewmaster Scott Vaccaro has become known locally for some of the best barrel-aged beers produced in the region — especially Golden Delicious, his Belgian-style tripel that is dry-hopped with zesty American hops, then aged in apple brandy barrels. The base beer starts hazy golden with a fluffy white head and a rich, “bread pudding” malt body. It has aromas of pear, banana, and orange. Then the beer spends time in oak, which imparts a round mouthfeel and a firm vanilla flavor, plus a bit of sweet apply character from the barrels’ former use in brandy production. Though its attached to a 10% ABV, it drinks much softer than its strength.

As one might suspect due to the name, Golden Delicious would pair perfectly with apple pie. But it can handle pumpkin and pecan pies, too, or whatever sweet pastry is on the table. I’d even throw a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, since it harmonizes with the oak flavors in the beer. Lastly, Golden’s carbonation will scrub the tongue clean and ready it for the next bite — or three. On Thanksgiving, you always want to be ready for that.

Find this at: Astoria Bier & Cheese, 35-11 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria, 718.255.6982; $4.25 for 12-ounce bottle.

5. For the nightcap: Evil Twin Brewing Imperial Biscotti Break, imperial stout brewed with coffee beans

A perennial favorite at Tørst, Imperial Biscotti Break from Evil Twin Brewing fits firmly in the nightcap category with a full body, thick viscosity, and a slow-sipping 11.5% ABV. Evil Twin’s gypsy brewer and one of the brains behind Tørst, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, moved from Copenhagen to Brooklyn in 2012 and wasted no time in partnering with some of the best breweries in the United States to produce his beers. Biscotti is brewed in South Carolina at Westbrook Brewing Company, but fortunately for the New York market Evil Twin’s local loyalty means the city usually gets enough.

Dark and rich, the beer’s aroma carries dark chocolate, almonds, coffee beans, roasted malts, and enough sugary sweetness to offset all that roast. The taste follows suit, with silky burnt sugars leading the way across the palate. It finishes smooth, with its depth of flavor balanced by a bit of heat. Best served a few ounces at a time, in a brandy snifter or similar glassware, this beer is definitely one to share and savor. Which is perfect, because it is Thanksgiving, after all.

Find this at: Murray’s Cheese, 254 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, 212-243-3289; $15.99 for 22-ounce bottle.

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Niko Krommydas has written for Tasting Table, BeerAdvocate, Munchies, and First We Feast. He is editor of Craft Beer New York, an app for the iPhone, and a columnist for Yankee Brew News. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.