A beer lover’s guide to Thanksgiving (and other fall celebrations)

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Beer and turkey were meant to be. Here’s how to pair brews with that tasty bird and other festive dishes

The season of gratitude is upon us again. So what are we grateful for? Family, friends, food and good times come to mind — and so does beer, of course!

This year, make beer your fall-feast beverage of choice. Most autumn festivals began as a way to celebrate the harvest. Your favourite brews are made from barley and other cereal grains that farmers traditionally reaped in the fall, so they’re the ideal way to make any spread feel seasonal and, well, festive — no matter what tradition or holiday is the focus.

Beer also plays well with a huge variety of foods, so it has all the versatility you’ll need for a meal that’s full of eclectic flavours — or one that goes on for multiple courses. So which beers should you serve with that killer buffet? Many Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving, so let’s start there.

● Turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes:
When roast turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes are on the table, there’s always a temptation to help yourself to seconds (or thirds). Pairing your bird and spuds with a light-bodied, refreshing beer will keep you feeling satisfied but not too full, even if you do have a couple of extra bites. Pilsner fills the bill: it’s crisp, and its assertive hops are tasty alongside the sage flavour of stuffing. Saison works, too, because its sour zip cleanses the palate between each bite.

● Holiday ham:
This big roast is so easygoing. Lots of beer styles work with it, so you really can’t go wrong pairing smoky slices with your favourite brew — no matter what you like. That being said, sweet beers, like wheat, honey or fruit beers (think cherry), are pig-out perfection. Their sweetness complements the salty brine and hint of smoke in a nice slab of ham.

● Root vegetables:
You may have noticed that the deep, caramel-like sweetness of brown sugar and maple syrup goes well with squash, pumpkin and other fall root veggies. Dark and brown ales have a similar flavour and will match well with all those colourful holiday sides.

● Pumpkin everything:
Why yes, you should do the kind-of-obvious thing and try pumpkin beer with pumpkin pie. Truth is, “pumpkin spice” products, like pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin ales, are not actually pumpkin flavoured. True story! In fact, they’re mainly nutmeg flavoured, which makes sense, because nutmeg is delicious with this sweet squash. Therefore, a pumpkin ale (which is really, at heart, a nutmeg ale) tastes great with pumpkin pie (which is pumpkin flavoured). Funny how that works!

If you’re celebrating Diwali, you’re probably indulging in spiced and nutty sweets known collectively as mithai. These sugary traditional treats have a lot going on, flavour-wise. Try crispy-sweet jalebi, for example, or cardamom-laced barfi, and you’ll experience a lot more than a simple dose of sweetness. So what to pair with mithai for your Diwali celebration? Try dark ales, brown ales, pumpkin spice ales and dark lagers, all of which mirror mithai’s flavours by offering savoury (and even spicy) aromas and a lot of complexity on top of their sweet malt base.

When it comes to the Chinese fall-festival treat mooncake, beer isn’t a typical pairing. But it’s worth trying: dense, sugary mooncakes can create delicious harmonies with brews that are also sweet. They’re even more enjoyable if your beer is tangy, too; this will complement the salty sweetness of the pastry. White beer and stout both fill the bill in different ways. A white (a.k.a. Belgian-style wheat) beer is robustly sweet but light bodied, with a citrusy bite that tones down the cakes’ richness. Meanwhile, a full-bodied stout has plenty of hoppy bitterness to cleanse your palate and get you ready for the next bite.

If you’re a fan of Italian food, risotto — especially mushroom risotto — is probably on your fall-feast table. Stir brown ale in as the cooking liquid and serve it with the finished dish. Its nutty sweetness is a delicious match for the earthy umami flavour of mushrooms. The best part? This pairing will keep working all the way through the winter.

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