As all good Hoosiers know from their grade school days, the Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower to flee religious oppression. But rarely did the teachers tell their pupils why the Pilgrims, instead of continuing their voyage to Hudson's River, settled at Plymouth Rock… they were running out of beer.
Well, not just beer. But as William Bradford noted in his manuscript "Of Plymouth Plantation" in 1630, "…we could not take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer…" In short, they were low on supplies. Especially beer.
William Bradford is commonly credited as the founder of the annual American tradition known as Thanksgiving. While there is no conclusive evidence that beer was served at the first Thanksgiving, the chances of it being served are greater than that of wine. This is one of the reasons why beer should be a guest of honor at your Thanksgiving feast.
"As far as pairings are concerned," says Ted Miller, brewer at Brugge Brasserie, "turkey is a relatively neutral protein." A wide variety of beers work with turkey, from a clean and crisp pilsner to a dark and malty dopplebock to a sweet and complex Belgian strong ale.
Saison: A saison is a highly carbonated Belgian ale with fruity and spicy characteristics. "A saison and a turkey sound lovely. Probably is good with Brussels sprouts too," adds Miller. It also contrasts well with yams cooked with brown sugar. When available, Bier Brewery (5133 East 65th St.; www.bierbrewery.com) serves a saison named Farmgirl that is slightly tart, slightly peppery, and slightly sour. When unavailable, many craft beer stores carry bottles of Hennepin, with hints of coriander and giner, from Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY.
Porter: Named for the English laborers that carried luggage and freight at the docks, the porter is an English ale that carries roasty, malty flavors. Often described as having caramel, chocolate, nutty, and biscuity, porters are a versatile style that pair with numerous foods. It pairs with ham and dishes that contain bacon or ham, such as green beans. Porters also work with desserts like pumpkin pie. Pogue's Run Porter is a house beer at Flat 12 Bierwerks (414 N. Dorman St.; www.flat12.me). It has flavors of cocoa, brown sugar, raisins, and dates.
Wheat: Beers brewed with wheat in addition to or instead of malted barley vary widely. In Germany, the Weissbiers have flavors of bread, banana, and clove. In Belgium, the Witbiers finish with crisp notes of citrus and spice (like coriander). And American Wheats have a clean finish and flavor, often making them perfect beer for fruit infusions. At Oaken Barrel (50 N. Airport Parkway, Greenwood; www.oakenbarrel.com), Alabaster (a Belgian Witbier) and Razz-Wheat (a raspberry-infused American Wheat) are available in six packs and growlers. Both beers would work well with salads with dried fruits, fruit salad, and fruit desserts.
Brown: Another beer style from England, Brown ales traditionally have a dry finish and nutty flavors. They pair well with the woody flavors of mushrooms and dishes with mushrooms, such as dressing and gravy. Brown ales are also a good fit for desserts like pecan pie. Earthy and nutty notes can be found in Four Barrel Brown, a year round beer found at Triton Brewing Company (5764 Wheeler Road, Fort Benjamin Harrison; www.tritonbrewing.com).
India Pale Ales: American-versions of India Pale Ales (or IPA's) are infused with hops that impart citrus, floral, or piney aromas and flavors. The flavors and bitterness of this popular beer style can often overpower subtle flavors in foods. But it can work with turkeys that have been smoked, blackened, or flavored with a spice rub or injection. It can also be paired with a meat and cheese appetizer platter. IPA's can be found at many breweries including Three Pints Brewpub (5020 Cambridge Way, Plainfield; www.threepintsbrewpub.com) where they serve Izzy's IPA.
Hoosier Beer Geek wrote this article for the Nov. 17, 2011 Indianapolis Star