With the rise in quality and quantity of craft beers in America, the time has come for them to come sit with us grownups at the Thanksgiving dinner table. If there's a wine to match every course on turkey day, there's also a beer.
I'm not talking about Budweiser with the broccoli or Coors with the cranberries. I'm talking about beers crafted to have complex, varied, distinctive flavors to justify having them with the meal's huge variety of flavors.
In matching beer instead of wine, similar principles apply. As an aperitif, you want the lightest, frothiest lager to whet the appetite without sating it -- a role played by champagne in the wine world. With the main course, a powerful, hoppy, high-alcohol ale will cut through the rich and fatty flavors -- with the bitter hops taking the place of the tannin in wine. At dessert, the beer should be sweeter than the pumpkin pie -- same as with wine.
A problem with beer: It's foamy, and it fills you up. But you can serve it in small quantities. I like to pour it into little three-to-four-ounce cocktail glasses like the ones pubs use for beer-tasting flights. That way you can try a number of flavor combinations.
Here's a course-by-course list of Thanksgiving beers, loosely based on one that
appeared in 2006 in Beer Advocate magazine:
Aperitif: As guests arrive, you hand them something crisp and cold, light as air. They sip and whet their appetites, but don't fill up. The world's lagers are made for this.
• Stiegl Goldbrau Premium Lager, Stieglbrewery, Salzburg, Austria, alcohol not listed: bright golden color, big, creamy head, light flavors of malt and hops; $3.19 per 1-pint, 9-ounce bottle.
• Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, California, 5.6 percent alcohol: amber in color, full-bodied, malty, hoppy, spicy; $1.60 per 12-ounce bottle.
• Lagunitas Maximus India Pale Ale, California, 7.5 percent alcohol: deep amber, brutally hoppy, with flavors of pine and citrus; $3.99 per 1 pint, 6-ounce bottle.
Dinner is served: For the full, complex and fatty flavors of and all-out Thanksgiving main course, you want a muscular beer, with the hops and alcohol to cut through. The category called Belgian-style strong ales works here.
• Collaboration not Litigation Ale, Colorado, 8.99 percent alcohol: dark brown color, sturdy beige head, starts fruity, then the powerful alcohol kicks in. It'll handle Cajun turkey, even red meat; $8.49 per 1-pint, 6-ounce bottle.
• Ommegang Brewery Rare Vos Belgian-style amber ale, Cooperstown, NY, 6.5 percent alcohol: coppery color, fruity, spicy, muscular, flavors of burnt sugar; $5.79 per 1-pint, 9.4-ounce bottle.
• Rogue Chocolate Stout, Oregon, 7 per cent alcohol: Yes, they add real imported chocolate to the brew, plus oats and hops, and it tastes like all of its ingredients, with the smooth power of alcohol and a bitter-sweet finish; $5.79 per 1-pint, 6-ounce bottle.
Digestif: After the meal, when you're mellowing out, watching the game, and need something to settle your stomach. You need something big and rich and soft and sweet.
• Great Divide Brewing Old Ruffian Barleywine-Style Ale, Colorado, 10.2 percent alcohol: smooth, sweet fruit and caramel flavors give way to powerfull hops; $5.29 per 1-pint, 6-ounce bottle.