Members of the Fredericksburg Area Brewing and Tasting Society (FABTS) gathered at Kybecca on Saturday to discuss, and taste, "beers to serve with Thanksgiving dinner." Members brought in beer to share and offered up their suggestions on how to pair the beers with the Thanksgiving feast. Though a small gathering with just about 10 members present, the discussions, and beer, were plentiful and folks walked away with some good ideas for their holiday festivities.
The session started off with the beers to serve with, or as, appetizers. Suggestions included Anchor Steam Beer, Oude Gueuze, and Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock. Three distinctly different beers, they offer sweet and tart flavors that will leave the pallet ready for dinner without filling you up. The tartness of the Oude Gueuze (a blend of old and young lambics) was met with mixed reactions. Though I do think the experience of sipping this as an appetizer would be different from just a small quick taste followed by other beers.
The quintessential Thanksgiving food is turkey. Turkey meat is relatively mild in flavor so the beer served with it shouldn't overwhelm, but still cut through the fatty oils that may coat the tongue. Saison was a popular offering. We tasted Saison Dupont, Victory V-Saison, Ommegang Hennepin, and North Coast Le Merle. Though all Saisons, each offered a slightly different flavor profile. I've never had the Le Merle before, but I particularly enjoyed this offering from North Coast with its balance of citrus tart and yeasty funk. Ch'ti Ambrée, a Belgian Pale Ale was also in the lineup for turkey pairing.
Next we moved on to some beers that work especially well with the dark meat part of the turkey, or other darker meats that are often served at holiday meals. A couple of smoked beers started of this portion of the tasting. First up, Lyle Brown's Smoke Out, officially known as Starr Hill Smoke Out. The beer has a light smoke flavor in a malty, golden bock. This was followed by Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen. The Aecht Schlenkerla is smoked bacon in a bottle. The smoke aroma and flavor is VERY upfront and probably best paired with a smoked meat, else you risk losing milder food flavors to the smokiness of the beer.
Other beers suggested for pairing with darker meats, and not to forget, the turkey stuffing, were Red Hook Late Harvest Autumn Ale and Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale. Gouden Carolus Classic and Koningshoeven Dubbel were some fine non-domestic suggestions to round out this section.
Next we moved on to the dessert portion of the tasting. Quatre-Centième Brassin Commémoratif from Unibroue in Quebec was suggested as a digestif. Brooklyn Local 1, also a Belgian Pale Ale, but from a U.S. brewery, was also offered. Moving on to other beers to have with Thanksgiving day dessert, we tasted two pumpkin beers. New Holland Ichabod Ale has a pronounced pumpkin flavor backed by mild spices. Many of those present remarked that this was their favorite pumpkin beer. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale is more heavy on the nutmeg and clove spices. I describe it as more pumpkin the pie than pumpkin the gourd. Tommyknocker Imperial Nut Brown Ale was enjoyed next, with its sweet maple syrup flavor and noticeable alcohol warmth.
Continuing with the dessert theme, we moved next to the chocolate beers. Boulder Obovoid Oak-Aged Oatmeal Stout has an earthy bittersweet chocolate flavor. This limited release from Boulder Brewing gets my vote as my favorite beer of the session. I need to look for this one. (And I did drop a hint to Matt at Kybecca.) Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence Stout and Young's Double Chocolate Stout are two beers made with actual chocolate. For my tastes, the chocolate flavors overcome the beer aspect. James described Young's as "Yoo-Hoo for grownups." To close our discussion of Thanksgiving beers, we finished as we had begun a few hours earlier with a sour beer. Duchesse De Bourgogne is a Flanders Red Ale from Belgium. Joe decreed this one of his all-time favorite beers. As with the Lambics, Flanders Red is an acquired taste, one that I admittedly am still working on appreciating fully.
Finally we enjoyed two homebrewed beers. We had another tasting of Dave's Smoked Pumpkin Honey Ale. We have been treated to several sessions with this beer over the past year as Dave ages the original batch. The beer is still very tasty and was well-recieved as usual. Hopefully Dave will do another batch this year. Joe shared his "Big Bad John" Barleywine. This strong, bold, ale is still young by Joe's estimation but was very tasty. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though it did elicit a shocked "woo" from one taster. I look forward to tasting this as it continues to mature.
I left the meeting with a few new ideas for Thanksgiving dinner beers, along with a shopping list of beers I wanted to explore more in-depth. And that's really what these tasting sessions are all about. The next FABTS meeting is December 13 when the theme will be "Holiday Beers." This appellation covers the wide range of special beers that brewers release during the Winter. I'll need to peruse Don Russell's "Christmas beer" book a bit more before that meeting.