Beyond wine for holiday dinner

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Once you have answered the sticky Thanksgiving questions - what type of turkey stuffing and what set of relatives you are going to spend the day with - the next issue to solve is, what are you going to be sipping?

Pairing your bottle with your bird is more work than it used to be. Now that craft beers and spirits are pushing wine for a spot on the drink menu, the task is more interesting, as well.

Until recently, the consensus of beverage gurus was that wine ruled the day. The standard safe recommendations for Thanksgiving wine were sauvignon blanc for the white, pinot noir for the red. The more daring types pointed toward riesling or gewürztraminer (if you could pronounce, it you could drink it) for the whites, and zinfandel for the red.

The cult of chardonnay sippers was always a force, pushing its view that every dish, even green beans with mushrooms, improves with a glass or two of this buttery wine.

Meanwhile, the sippers who like the "latest" thing go for Beaujolais Nouveau, a red wine that has just arrived from the vineyards and is said to make brussels sprouts (gack!) edible.

After pulling a lot of corks, I had pretty much settled on a favorite Thanksgiving beverage lineup. I started with a sparkler from California, then opened a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand to appease the white-wine drinkers and uncorked a California zinfandel for the red-wine zealots. Sometimes I poured a port with dessert.

Yet a few years ago, I began experimenting with craft beers, sipping them with traditional Thanksgiving fare. That changed my Thanksgiving beverage outlook. The biggest change came during dessert.

I tried Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout paired with a piece of pumpkin pie. The coffee and chocolate flavors of the stout had a great time in my mouth matching the richness of the pie. It might have been too much, but it was, after all, Thanksgiving, the holiday of indulgence.

Another year, I found a new pal for pumpkin pie, Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The vanilla flavors of the bourbon caught the spice notes of the pie and didn't let go.

I have yet to find a beer that does not seem like a forced marriage with roast turkey. I have tried matching the bird with a Helles lager and an amber ale, but neither pairing excited me. The beers did stand up to the sauerkraut, the traditional turkey side dish in Baltimore.

Contributors to my beer blog, Kasper On Tap, have offered their advice on Thanksgiving beers. "My default recommendation has been Oktoberfest beers," wrote Alexander D. Mitchell IV. These beers "add a dry maltiness without being overpowering."

Kim Moore preferred "a nice Scotch ale" on Thanksgiving Day. "Anything strong for that matter is good when you wish you weren't around certain family members," she wrote.

This year I prowled the Web site Craft Beer & Food, set up by the Brewers Association, a national organization of craft brewers based in Boulder, Colo. This site matches beer with holiday foods. There, I saw one suggestion that said if you smoke your turkey, you should serve it with smoked ale, or a porter. That might be, but a menu of smoked bird and smoked beer would be a tough sell in most households.

A suggestion on the same Web site that made more sense to me came from Stan Hieronymus, author of several beer books who writes the blog appellationbeer.com. He suggested changing the bird and the beverage. He paired a deep-fried, spicy Cajun turkey with a malty India Pale Ale. If you are going to flaunt convention by injecting a turkey with Cajun spice, then frying it in boiling peanut oil, you might as well serve it with an unconventional Thanksgiving beverage, such as an IPA.

Moreover, having fried a turkey, I know it is hot, dangerous work. A cold beer sure tastes good once the bird is cooked and the fire is out.

I do, however, wonder what Thanksgiving tradition will be the next to fall. Will, for example, future generations deep-fry their sauerkraut?



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