Why did the Pilgrims land on Plymouth Rock? Simply put, they ran out of beer.
In those days, beer was safer to drink than water and it carried nutritional value as well. When the Pilgrims turned up in Massachusetts instead of the intended Virginia, they disembarked there to make some more beer. (Or so the story goes.) Beer was undoubtedly part of the first Thanksgiving, though certainly not as we know it today. Without hops, the Pilgrims resorted to herbs, spices, spruce or berries to flavor it. And it probably sucked.
Fortunately in 21st Century New Jersey, we don’t have to settle for second-rate beer to complement our Thanksgiving Day meal. Drinking the water, well, that’s still a little questionable. Actually, that’s an unfair dig because Jersey water has great mineral qualities for making beer. (Anheuser-Busch didn’t just drop a brewery in Newark by accident.)
Enough about water and Pilgrims. My job is to suggest New Jersey beer pairings for your Thanksgiving feast. I figured I’d suggest a good pre-meal snacking beer, one for the big show, and a post-meal sipper. Easy as pumpkin pie, right? Wrong. The Garden State is home to so many regional breweries now it’s almost impossible. How can I recommend a Cape May Brewing beer to someone in Bergen County? That’s just cruel. Plus, there’s no doubt I will miss an outstanding beer and be pilloried for it.
So I’ll offer my thoughts on beers that most Jerseyans will have a reasonable chance of finding plus a couple of “if you can get ’ems” as I see fit. Here we go!
If you want to get your hops on, do so before the main meal. I’m not talking palate-wrecking double IPA’s here, but something that will open up your taste buds. How about a nice crisp pilsner or a balanced pale ale?
Flying Fish Red Fish:Piney hops and a strong red malt backbone make this a very versatile beer. It’s one of my go-to beers and is as comfortable with chips and salsa as it is with an aged cheddar.
Cricket Hill East Coast Lager:As crisp and clean a lager as you’ll find in New Jersey. Perfect for opening up your palate.
If you can get it: Kane Head High IPA:It’s bold with a citrus smack and a dry finish. A great way to start the festivities.
Now for the main event. The typical Thanksgiving meal is ripe with roasty, caramelized flavors. There are two ways you can go here. First, complement those flavors with a malt forward, toasted grain beer. Think brown ales or a nutty Belgian Abbey. The other strategy is to go with contrasting flavors. Cranberry sauce is used to refresh your palate during the course of the meal and beer can do the same if it has a little acidity. Saisons and Sours can do the trick here, and I’d never turn down an earthy, funky Biere de Garde either. However, finding a New Jersey brewed example is a challenge.
Climax Brewing Nut Brown Ale:The biscuit notes and earthy malt in a traditional English Brown provide a worthy complement.
Boaks Two Blind Monks:Raisin and caramel flavors combine in a beautiful dark ruby color. It’s as complementary to your eyes as it is to your taste buds.
If you can get it: Carton Brewing BDG: It tastes like bread crust. Enough said.
Did you save room for dessert? How about a dessert beer? Now is the time to bust out that pumpkin beer, barrel-aged barleywine or a silky milk stout. It may surprise you, but beer actually pairs better with dessert than wine does. These beers usually pack an alcohol wallop and have a large, sweet malt character. So pour a snifter and see what goes best with that pumpkin pie!
River Horse Hipp-O-Lantern Imperial Pumpkin:Chewy, creamy pumpkin goodness. It’s brewed with molasses, too, so this can accompany either pecan or pumpkin pie… or both!
If you can get it: Kane Brewing Malus: A Belgian Strong ale brewed with apple cider. If you are more of an apple pie person, this would be your beer.
Like the plethora of side dishes at your Thanksgiving table, New Jersey offers plenty of choices when it comes to beer. I’ve only offered a rough guide. Go out, get creative and have fun picking your pairings!
What beer goes with the leftovers? Well, I’ll just leave that up to you.
Peter Culos is the editor of “Beer Bites,” a monthly feature about breweries, bars and good beer in the Garden State. A graphic designer by day, and a lifelong New Jersey resident, Peter was first introduced to the novel idea that beer could actually have flavor during several visits to the UK. He’s been riding the craft beer bus ever since. It has been called the ultimate social lubricant and Peter’s philosophy on beer is, “I’d rather split my last good beer with a friend than drink the whole thing by myself.” Besides beer he also likes history, dogs, Jeeps and painting. In the past, he has written a History and Art blog for the Weider History Group and occasionally contributes to his own blog, history-geek.com. Life is short. Drink good beer.