James ‘Dr. Fermento’ Roberts

Cross wine off your drink list for Thanksgiving dinner. Write in beer instead. Beer is as mainstream and sophisticated as wine is and worthy of a place setting during the holidays.

At a recent tasting at Firetap on O’Malley, JJ Tranquilla reminded me of something I already knew. “With wine, there at gaps when pairing with food,” he said. “There’s not a dish that beer can’t pair with.”

He’s right. Beer style diversity insures that regardless of your dish, there’s a choice that will flawlessly pair up with whatever you serve. The bonus is that your choice can be imminently local, something that wine selections can’t always offer in Alaska.

Consider this. A bottle of wine is usually an all-night affair. Properly selected, you can serve a variety of beers to compliment everything from appetizers through dessert and keep the mix varied and rich.

When I recall holidays past, spicy cheese, Chex Mix and salted nuts come to mind as tide-me-overs as the smells from the kitchen made my tummy grumble. A spicy IPA would accentuate the mood while lively conversation and maybe sports on TV vie for attention. King Street’s IPA is a dead ringer for a solid local example of what beer and food can bring to the party. A 22-ounce bomber of Kassik’s Morning Wood IPA can be poured around the party and shared in small samples with your guests.

The traditional roasted bird is presented hot out of the oven with a rich, golden crust and succulent, moist goods underneath. Amber and scotch ales are no different and even a good, traditional porter would complement this fare nicely. Alaskan Brewing Company’s stalwart Amber Ale or Bearpaw River’s Mat Maid Milk Stout for a sweeter presentation come to mind as great pairings for the main dish.

A smoked turkey requires a tougher contender. Alaskan Brewing Company’s 2019 Smoked Porter is available this year just in time. If you’ve got vintage versions of this beer like I do, haul them out. It’s time. The old adage is to fight fire with fire, so matching smoke with smoke is appropriate. For a slightly tamer presentation, 49th State Brewing Company’s Smoked Marzen is another, softer, complementing beer to serve with the bird.

If the combination seems too aggressive in deference to your unaccustomed guests, throttle back to Glacier’s Oatmeal Stout. Head to Glacier for a growler pour. At this time of year – if it’s available – Glacier’s Black Rye Bock – is one of my all time favorites to pair with the bird. Cynosure Brewing Company’s Black Lager is another great beer to serve with dinner.

A baked and basted ham is likely spiked with cloves and sometimes fruit. Consider the authentic Bavarian-style Hefeweizen from the 49th State Brewing Company an apt pairing. Authentic Bavarian-style hefes match this dish with clove, banana and tart elements bite for bite. Glacier’s got one too and both pair excellently with ham.

Are you serving this year’s salmon or halibut catch to serve in the big meal? Fish begs a contrast rather than a compliment. Avoid the bigger, more bitter beers but opt for something robust enough to compete with the course’s aggressiveness, especially if the fish is heavily spiced. Cynosure’s Leyland Lager is a good pairing. 49th State Brewing Company’s 907 Lager is a great choice.

If you’re hosting, midway through the meal, mix things up with a palate cleanser beer to reset the taste buds and take the mind off the begging couch. If shock and awe are in order, any of Anchorage Brewing Company’s sour selections would do the trick and add some serious zest to the festivities.

After dinner, who could deny pumpkin pie’s place when sweets balance out the richness of a full and satiating meal? See if you can find a bottle of Midnight Sun Brewing Company’s TREAT. This pumpkin beer is not as in your face as others out there and the rich chocolate flavors that the cocoa nibs impart make for a great dessert beer.

Don’t forget a nightcap, or at least that final sipper that kicks the food coma into high gear. Small samples of a vintage Midnight Sun Brewing Company Arctic Devil Barleywine come to mind or even this year’s version. Your guests will appreciate service in a brandy glass or perhaps a small wine glass. This not only adds a touch of class but properly allows the wine-like beer to wake up after a long cellar slumber and come to life. Alaskan Brewing Company’s Winter Ale is another great choice.

There is so much local beer to choose from, you’ll have no problem finding the perfect suds to pair with all features of your holiday meals.

Carefully planned, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to dazzle our guests with at least four or five different, stellar local beers surrounding your holiday feast. Tell them to leave the wine at home.

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