Thirty years ago, in November 1983, Michael Jackson wrote an article for the Washington Post entitled “Beer at the Thanksgiving Table.” It was subtitled “Wine is acceptable for this annual feast, but what if you prefer beer?” It was apparently one of his first pieces on the topic of pairing beer and food.
The article contains one of my favorite quotes by Michael:
To give thanks is a matter of joy; should that be confined by excessive sobriety? Better still, Thanksgiving is an annual opportunity to refresh old friendships and make new ones, in which matter both the ritual and effect of a shared glass is the best tie.
When you consider this was written when Sierra Nevada was still a very small brewery, New Albion had just closed and Mendocino Brewing had only been founded the same year, it’s a remarkable time piece. Nobody was even thinking about pairing beer with food yet. Now we take it for granted. But back then most people still needed convincing. This is great reminder of how far we’ve come and how much of debt of thanks we owe to Michael.
Here’s Michael’s suggested general pairing suggestions from thirty years ago:
As an aperitif: Dry, hoppy beers with some bitterness. Try New Amsterdam (from New York) or Anchor Steam (San Francisco).
With fish: Pilsners. Almost all of the well-known American beers are loosely of this style. So are the best-known imported brands, like Heineken and Carlsberg. Czech and German Pilsners tend to be drier, and therefore go especially well with the more oily varieties of fish.
Shellfish: Dry stouts or porters.
Smoked meats, sausages: If you can find it, the smoked Rauchbier of Bamberg, Germany. Or a German altbier or weizenbeier.
Pasta: The less spicy pasta dishes of Northern Italy go quite well with the Munich Dark type of beer. It is, after all, commonly served with the admittedly-heavier noodle dishes of Germany.
Fowl: Munich Light with turkey; perhaps the slightly less sweet Dortmunder style might go better with chicken.
Red Meat: English Pale Ale.
Game: Scottish ale, which is heavier.
But take the time to go back and read the entire article. And give thanks that nobody looks at you funny when you bring beer to the Thanksgiving meal. As is my personal tradition, I’m enjoying some Anchor Christmas Ale with my meal, something I’ve been doing for roughly twenty-five years. Happy Thanksgiving.