The holiday table is set. The turkey is ready. The veggies are roasted. All that’s left to do is pour a drink.
Those serving a formal holiday meal to family and friends have traditionally opted to pair the meal with wine. But craft brewers in North Carolina, from the Triangle to the coast, are serving up ways to start a new tradition.
Joseph Wheeler, a brewer at Lonerider Brewing Company in Raleigh, recommends pairing turkey with “something malty,” like a lightly-hopped pale ale or an amber ale.
“Turkey, by itself, is not a strong flavor, so something balanced that wouldn’t overwhelm the pallet would be appropriate,” Wheeler said. “For seafood, I would pair with something light – golden ales, pilsners and light wheat beer come to mind.”
Vegetarians, or for those who simply love perfectly roasted veggies, should reach for a brown ale, he said. “The caramelization that occurs during roasting pairs with the Maillard reaction that occurs in the kettle, and these similar flavors would play well together,” Wheeler said.
Then, for dessert, Wheeler recommends something strong, such as a stout, an old ale or a barley wine to complement the sweetness.
Lonerider Brewing, which launched in 2009 in Raleigh, has its beer distributed in nine states. Known for “ales for outlaws,” its most popular beers include Shotgun Betty, Sweet Josie and Hoppy Ki Yay, but Lonerider boasts a few seasonal brews for the holidays.
“Just in time for Thanksgiving we released our very popular brunch stout called Pistols at Dawn,” said Derek Tenbusch, marketing director at Lonerider. “It is brewed with local coffee and chocolate and it’s a great beer for enjoying as the weather beings to cool. We also just released 6:45 to Raleigh, a single-malt and single-hop (SMaSH) pale ale.”
For Wheeler, brewing special seasonal offerings affords him the chance to try something new and fun.
“For Pistols at Dawn, it was fun brewing with oats and lactose and cocoa nibs,” Wheeler said. “Typically, the holiday beers are more complex, which gives brewers the opportunity to experiment with new ingredients and flavors.
“I love doing course-by-course beer pairings for the holidays because it’s fun to show off the vast variety of beers that are available to people and to highlight their flavors with different foods. Just like a paired wine dinner, a dinner paired with beers around the holidays is a fun way to show off our craft.”
Brian Mandeville, head brewer at Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery, recommends pairing the holiday turkey with something “spicy, fruity and with a touch of sweetness,” like a Belgian Tripel.
For roasted veggies, opt for “American Brett forward beers with restrained acidity, which work really well to drive up the richness and savoriness of roasted vegetables, while providing enough complexity to bring something new to the dish," Mandeville said.
If seafood is on the menu, Mandeville suggests Belgian-style witbiers.
“Their light bready bodies provide a pleasant background to the spice and subtle citrus the yeast provides, and this combination works to accentuate the sweetness in lobster or crab and cut through oily fish while still being restrained enough not to dominate more delicate fish like haddock,” he said.
And for dessert? “Stouts and porters both work really well with chocolate and richer dishes, intensifying the qualities of both the beer and the food, while intensely sweet or creamy dishes can be cut nicely by the bitterness of an IPA,” Mandeville said.
Down on the North Carolina coast at Wrightsville Beach Brewery, owner and head brewer Jud Watkins enjoys pairing beers with the seasons.
Watkins brews “lighter, more sessionable beers in the spring and summer, and then hoppy, spiced beers in the fall, and finally big dark beers to go with local oysters in the winter time.”
“It's really all about the weather outside and the local seafood or produce that's available,” Watkins said. “In Wilmington, we are fortunate to have a short winter, while still enjoying four true seasons.”
And there’s a beer to pair with every meal, especially a holiday one.
For the main event – the turkey, that is – Watkins suggests the Wilmywood Wit, a Belgian beer that pairs well with “almost everything, especially turkey.”
If a traditional Italian Christmas Eve seafood feast is on tap, Watkins suggests “something a bit lighter, such as our Pompano Porter or our Orange Krush Kolsch.”
“For desserts, we love our Porter City Java and our bourbon barrel-aged Masonbarrel Barleywine. Roasted veggies always go well with a beer that is a nice balance of malt and hops, such as our Carolina Harvest Ale or our Airlie Amber Ale.”