Beer and Thanksgiving are intrinsically linked in the settlement of this country -- the Pilgrims had beer on the Mayflower -- so why not serve local beers on your holiday table? Granted, it can be a challenge to find just the right beer(s) to go with the cornucopia of flavors found in a Thanksgiving feast, but try breaking down the meal with several beer options.
Here are a few southern Wisconsin choices to consider.
Before the meal
A beer before the big meal should be something that's crisp, bubbly and distinctive; a beer that can be celebrated in a wine flute or champagne glass. Avoid beers that are heavy, filling, intensely hoppy, or high in alcohol strength.
Cran-bic is Wisconsin's version of a Belgian Lambic beer, with a distinctive cranberry tartness that is well suited as a prelude to the holiday feast. Wisconsin Cran-bic is bubby, refreshing, and it appeals to those looking for something different -- it has character all its own that goes way beyond mainstream big brewery beers.
Fallen Apple is a beer for those who also enjoy cider. It is light, crisp, with a very refreshing sweetness. It also pairs well with main entrees that are rich, like honey-glazed ham and candied yams. The beer is about 40% actual cider from Kickapoo Orchards of Gays Mills; this gets added to a cream ale. Fallen Apple is nearing the end of its seasonal run, so those who didn't anticipate how well it goes with the Thanksgiving meal should look for it immediately.
This is a wonderfully effervescent, crisp and slightly dry beer. It offers a light herbal quality that's refreshing, and makes a wonderful pre-meal appetizer, with qualities that match well with poultry-yet-to-come in the main meal. New Glarus Imperial Saison was made as a summer seasonal for New Glarus, but a number of liquor and grocery stores still have an ample supply.
Look for a beer that enhances the big meal's main entree. There really isn't a single beer that plays nicely with everything on the holiday table. Also important is avoiding a beer with aggressive flavors that tries to upstage the big bird. For example, a mild yet firmly hopped bitter beer can accentuate certain tastes and yet cleanse the palate between dishes, while extremely hoppy beers will overpower and "stain" the taste buds for everything that follows. Look for something that complements, not competes.
This beer offers some firm solid malty flavors that are well-balanced with a light, crisp, hoppy backbone. Headless Man has flavor, but its emphasis on a clean caramel maltiness makes it ideally suited for turkey, gravy and all the extras that go with a traditional Thanksgiving main course.
With wild game:
The sweetness of wild game is complemented by this firm malty scotch ale, which has its own caramel flavor and malty aroma. Sheep Shagger was introduced by the brewery late last winter and has been brought back as a fall seasonal. It has brilliant copper color, and a caramel flavor with a light hint of peat roasted malt that harmonizes well with gamey entrees.
With a vegetarian feast:
Madtown is medium-bodied, smooth, creamy brown ale with a light roasted or toffee background. It offers a mild but firm maltiness this is wonderful with vegetables like squash, carrots and potatoes. The beer is really more versatile than for just veggies, and for that reason it's a good overall meal back-up to Tyranena's Alt, especially if your family and guests enjoy rich brown ales.
This is where it's okay to have big robust, full-flavored brews that can stand all on their own.
This is a full-flavored, yet smooth barley wine. Y2K Catastrophe has lots of caramel malt, its own spicy body, and high alcoholic warmth that seems to complement the cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in homemade pumpkin pie. But be warned -- such a beer finishes around 10% ABV, so with a little Charlie and all the food earlier in the day you might just drift off into the cosmos or at least into a nap.