If you read my article on the Jujube website about Thanksgiving wine, you’ll know that I find the main concern with pairing drinks to them is the inherent sweetness found in many traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Takes a few wine choices off the table, but we don’t have to worry about that so much with beers and cocktails, because they’re, by and large, sweeter in nature than most wines.
A bit of science: The sugar in wine is very simple and, provided there’s not too much of it, the yeast used can digest all of it. This is why most wine is dry. Beer, on the other hand, has both simple and more complex sugars. Most yeast can digest the simple stuff but not the more complex ones. This is why most beer does have some residual sugar, even if it doesn’t taste noticeably sweet. It’s that slight amount of sugar that helps take the edge off spicy food and why, in this case, it will stand up to the sweeter-than-normal dishes adorning your holiday table like sweet potatoes, candied pecans, cranberry sauce, and even the brined turkey or ham.
So, honestly the only beers that I would steer clear of this time of year are wild ales. These, after all, use the type of yeast that can use up those complex sugars that I mentioned above, and are therefore, essentially dry. They can often be delicious and refreshing beers, just not today.
Oddly enough, Belgian Lambics, which can actually be sour, often include some fruit juice that makes them a sweet and sour combo that will make them act like taking a sip of cranberry sauce after each bite! Look for ones made with cherries if you want this.
While we’re talking Belgium, I do think that’s where you’re going to find your best options. Either from Belgium or from one of the great American breweries producing Belgian-style beers. Why is that? Well, for starters, just like I think tannin in wine is not your friend when it comes to Thanksgiving, I think hops in beer is the same way. Both are going to taste particularly bitter next to sweeter-than-normal foods. Belgian beers don’t use much hops, and additionally, use yeasts that inspire abundant, homey aromas that will really mix well with the fare.
What to look for? Wit (or wheat) is a light, fresh beer that also is comparatively lower in alcohol that would be a great place to start. But, by the main event, try opening a Tripel, whose generous texture, opulent flavors, and pie-spice notes will be a perfect match for the turkey and dressing.
But You Said Cocktails!
Yes I did, and like beer, sweetness is not going to be hard to come by. However, sometimes you can have too much of it, and if there’s not enough acid, they’re perhaps better just to drink on their own rather than to pair with food.
That’s why, when it comes to cocktails with food, the conversation starts with Margaritas. I mean, think about it. It is likely the most popular cocktail in the world to actually drink WITH dinner. Now, what you might want to think about is moving up from a sliver tequila to a reposado or even anejo, as the rich, brown qualities may help it stand up to the autumnal fare. Try a spiced salt rim or, if you want to really go for it, infuse the bottle of tequila with cinnamon, ginger, and grated pumpkin for a few days to really make the match.
What else? Try a whiskey sour. While I love whiskey drinks of many styles and would almost never turn down a Manhattan, I do think the sour part of the sour makes it a far better food drink. Here at Juju, our That Thing Yuzu is a perfect example of this, but you don’t need to chase down yuzu juice and can simply make the classic. But, please, do shake it with egg whites; it finishes the drink, giving the sweetness of the whiskey, the tanginess of the lemons, a luxurious texture that just ties it all together.