Monday, November 21, 2011

Operation Drumstick

I'm going to be laying low into this week's holiday, but I thought I'd give my ideas on having a beery turkey-day. I'll be back at it next week, but this should keep you going until then!

Thanksgiving is hands-down, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. Some might argue Christmas or Easter, but for my money, nothing rings the bell, like a good old fashioned turkey day. I love to eat just marginally less than I love to drink beer, so when a holiday comes around that is essentially based around the dinning room table, I'm on board. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams, gravy, green bean casserole—just typing the list sets off my most basic of Pavlovian responses. Along with all that amazing food, the right kinds of beer on turkey day is the icing on the cake—or in this case the whip cream on the pumpkin pie. Because I'm talking about an feast of epic proportions, however, there needs to be a bit of beery strategy before diving in. You've got to asses the situation and plan your tactics accordingly.

Turkey in the straw?
Before I get into all that, I want to say, I realize that the U.S. is amongst the minority of countries who celebrate Thanksgiving, and that a good bit of you out there, don't give a rat's pah toot about it. My strategy, nonetheless, is still effective against über-meals under any circumstances—holiday or otherwise. So remember this in situations such as: birthday dinners, weddings, bar or bat mitzvah and retirement gatherings. As the boy scouts say, be prepared.

At this point you're probably saying to yourself, "yada, yada, yada—another beer and food pairing." It's not that simple, because everybody has there own food traditions when it comes to holidays, like Thanksgiving. Besides, I'm not much for the "this dish with this beer" approach—that might win the battle, but I need to win the war. What I'm going to do is take a clue from military strategist and split the feast into three assaults—First, the "softening-up" phase during the appetizers, next the main objective– Thanksgiving dinner, and lastly dessert, and the final "mopping-up" operations. I'll look at the challenges of each situation and suggest a few beers that will best work with the attack. Since the "Thanksgiving" I'm talking about is the U.S. incarnation, I'm going to stick with American brews. So, grab you helmet and an extra napkin—this might get messy.

So there you are, like a shavetail officer leading his first combat mission. Your first culinary battlefield is laid out before you—veggie and relish platters, shrimp cocktail, deviled eggs, cheese platters and artichoke spinach dip. We can't jump right in here, we need some finesse—Old Rasputin would end up finishing you before you even started. We've got to asses the situation, weigh our options and get through to the next rally point. We're running the gambit on flavor and texture with this food. The shrimp and relish dish bring a mineral brininess; while the cocktail sauce and deviled eggs heat things up, lastly the cheeses and artichoke dip are rich, gooey and just a tad salty. I say take inspiration from the crisp crudités and go for a light lager or even a cider—my picks are NoCal's Lagunitas Pils or Middlebury, Vemont's Woodchuck Amber cider. Like the veggies, they have a fresh lightness that can cut through all those disparate flavors like a Bangalore torpedo through barbed-wire.  Now, that we've gotten through the baptism by fire, take a look around you at your unit—how's everybody doing. How's Gramps looking? Is that second glass of White Zinfandel getting to Aunt Peg, yet? You're doing fine—check your gear and get ready, that first assault was just the warm up—it's about to get serious.

The appetizers are going to feel like a walk in the park next to dinner. There's nothing light about a turkey dinner with all the fixins', it's a whirlwind of flavors and textures—roasted, sweet, creamy, herbaceous, sticky, buttery and starchy. If there was a lot going on earlier, it's going to get really chaotic when the turkey comes out. Don't forget, you're going to get flanked from the left and the right when stuff starts getting passed around the table, too. We're going to need a good position in defilade for this attack—something that can compete with a full-on, armored assault of flavor. I'm going with IPA. Just like turkey day's ubiquitous cranberry sauce, American IPAs have a slightly sweet, citric and astringent quality that can level the odds. My two recent go-to IPAs have been Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery and California's Bear Republic Racer 5 IPAs. Both beers have a great, sharp bitterness, a mild maltiness and the perfect blend of the classic American C hops (Centennial, Cascade, Columbus and Chinook), giving them both the right amount of citrus zing to push back the onslaught that is Thanksgiving dinner.

You're hardened now, a Thanksgiving veteran. The dinner has been wiped out, but the platoon has taken some heavy losses. Your Dad is sound asleep on the couch, with the button on his pants undone, and your Mom is like the walking wounded doing the dishes in the kitchen—but you can't stop now. You've got to contain and neutralize the enemy, and they're hold up in a sticky area called—dessert. Mount up grunt, you've got point.

Dessert—the last patrol. Mop this up and you'll be free and clear—but don't do anything stupid at this point. A spiced up winter brew or something cloying and sweet is going to pin you down and knock you out. Pumpkin and apple pie, bread pudding, ice cream—all spiced, creamy and rich. It's been a tough assault, I know you're thinking "Why not just go with a cup of coffee?" To that I ask, "would Patton just go with a cup of coffee?" Hell no and you won't either! Coffee is good inspiration, though, what about a beer that emulates coffee, like a Robust Porter? Two beers jump out at me for this job—New Hampshire's Smuttynose and Pennsylvania's Stoudt's. Both of these Porters are defiantly black and roasty, they put even the most gourmet coffee bean to shame. Their bittersweet flavor and smoothness is perfect to go up against mountains of pies, puddings and cakes. They'll keep all that sticky sweetness at bay without losing any ground.

A quiet stillness falls over you. It's over and you've won. Tired relatives slowly pull their coats on and head for the door. The kids trudge upstairs for bedtime and the embers of the evening's fire crackle over the low drone of cars leaving your driveway. You wipe the crumbs from the corner of your mouth and do a silent perimeter walk through the house. All is clear and quiet as you take your last sip of beer. You can rest now, soldier, but don't forget, Operation Mistletoe commences in thirty-one days.

To those who celebrate it, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving. 


  1. I like your choices for appetizers and main courses; Lagunitas Pils and Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA are among my favor beers and I like the style-course match.

    For dinner afters, I am providing a bottle of Odell Kriek, Gold medalist in 2011 GABF Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category. A dessert beer with a sour twist which should pair well with sweet desserts.

    Happy hols.

  2. Jack - I haven't had the Odell's.—I'll see if I can find it. I almost suggested sour beer for dinner. They, like the IPA, share some similar charteristics to the cranberries. My only concern is that some American Sours can get up there in ABV. A couple of pops during apps, followed by a 9 percenter might put on the old sleeper hold before the pumppkin pies gets out.

    Don't eat too much and have a great holiday!