Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Brown Ale for Thanksgiving

I'm back to blogging after taking some time off to prepare for the Craft Beer Institute's Cicerone certification exam - just in time to talk about beer to serve with Thanksgiving dinner.

I know what you're thinking: Thanksgiving is a special celebration so you should pull out the wine, right? 

Don't think that you have to, because there is historical precedent for serving beer instead. Do you think that the Pilgrims ran down to the corner store for a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau? No, they did not. They drank the beer that they had brewed. 

Honor the Pilgrims by serving beer!

There are plenty of great beer choices for Thanksgiving dinner, but I'm going to suggest something that isn't terribly sexy, esoteric, or beer-geeky: Brown Ale.

The trick to pairing beer & wine with a Thanksgiving meal is to remember that you are not just pairing with the turkey - you are pairing with all the other dishes on the table.

This includes the stuffing, the mashed potatoes with gravy, the yams with tiny marshmallows melted on top, the side dish that your sister read about on Serious Eats, your brother's roommate's friend's overdone brussel sprouts, and that green bean casserole that your Aunt makes every year.

A great Thanksgiving beer has got to play well with all of the flavors on the table.

Hoppy beers can be tricky to pair with food that doesn't have bitter flavors. The beer can't be to heavy, because everyone is going to gorge themselves on all of the delicious food, and the beer can't be too alcoholic, because everyone is going to overindulge.

The ideal beer to serve at Thanksgiving would be medium bodied and have flavors that accentuate the roasty, earthy flavors that abound in this fall harvest celebration.

Here is where Brown Ale comes in.

During the Industrial Revolution, a beer style called porter was popular with the working class. It was the first mass produced beer. 

Advances in brewing technology lowered the cost of production, and brewers rushed to make as much porter as fast as possible. The results were of varying quality.

In the early 1900s, Mann's produced a Brown Ale as a reaction to "vinous flavored vatted porter". Mann's Brown Ale was sweet, had low alcohol, and most importantly, was bottled to insure consistency.

In the 1920s, Newcastle Brewery began producing a drier version of Brown Ale and really popularized the style. Oddly, the man responsible for this was named Colonel Jim Porter.

In America, Brown Ale really gained awareness in the 1980s as homebrewers embraced the style and gave it a twist by replacing earthy, herbal English hops with citrus and pine flavored American hops.

Few beer styles are named for their color.

The term brown is rather generic. Brown Ale can range from dark amber to reddish-brown. This is a medium bodied beer with light toffee, caramel, and nutty aromas and little hop flavor. Sometimes it is called Nut Brown Ale, but this refers only to the color, as no nuts are used in brewing the beer.

Brown Ale smells sweet, but tastes dry, and it has a nutty character rather than a caramel one. The nutty aromas and lack of bitterness make it a good choice for the Thanksgiving table. 

This beer is also a good match for the cheese plate. You are serving a cheese plate, aren't you? Do it - it will tide everyone over while you get the rest of the meal ready.

Alpine cheeses like Compte or Pleasant Ridge Reserve go well with Brown Ale, which also goes nicely with aged sheep's milk cheeses like Abbaye de Belloc or Manchego. 

Here are two easy-to-find English Nut Brown Ales to try:

And here are some delicious American Examples:

Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar is an anomaly, as it actually uses nuts in the brewing of the beer. The Rogue Brewery is in Oregon, and hazelnuts are Oregon's state nut. Oregon leads the United States in hazelnut production.

For another beer brewed with nuts, keep an eye out for Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale. 

I can't wait to see how it pairs with pecan pie.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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