Point of brew: Enjoy a beer with Thanksgiving leftovers

By From page A11 | November 25, 2011

When it comes to Thanksgiving I always try to identify for what I am most thankful. This year I am thankful for our Constitution.

Frankly, I am not usually a fan of that document, having grown up in a nation without a written constitution, because I think it can be manipulated and whipsawed and twisted to mean whatever the dominant element of society as the moment wants it to mean.

For example, gun enthusiasts may carry arms of deadly force without joining a militia, and, under the First Amendment, corporations are individuals and Baptists may gaudily inform mourners at military funerals what God hates.

The action of UC Davis students in assembling peacefully to seek redress of grievances strikes me as very close to a First Amendment right and hence protected; I do not think university policy outweighs the Bill of Rights. The casual and apparently unprovoked pepper-spraying of students is outrageous and wrong and may violate a Fourth Amendment provision.

I’m thankful that the Constitution helps us to understand this at some deep level of our American conscience and to feel discomfort, if not outrage, at this event.

It seems to me that the campus police, once deployed, acted as they saw necessary to carry out their assigned task. However, police do not deploy and act in such cases without instruction from the highest level and that is where heads must roll.

But this is a beer column! I wrote a little while ago in a general sense about beer with food. This is an extension of that idea because beer or cider is not merely a gustatory contribution to the Thanksgiving table but has other advantages.

This year we stayed in Davis for Thanksgiving. We have guests from New York who are Thanksgiving traditionalists and, as a result, we enjoyed a traditional meal of turkey with giblet gravy and cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and cream, squash, Jell-O salad, pumpkin and pecan pie and whatnot.

It was a change from the traditional British feast we usually enjoy of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts with apple and berry pie with ice cream to follow.

Nevertheless, I think I shall wash down my Thanksgiving dinner and leftovers with a nice pale ale or maybe nice crisp hard cider. It might seem a bit strange choosing beer or cider for the Thanksgiving table, but that is my recommendation, odd as it may seem.

This choice, however, can be justified in any number of ways but the three most compelling reasons are a) that beer or cider likely will match the food better, b) price and safety and c) drinking beer or cider is more authentic to the early colonists than wine bibbing. After all, we have ample evidence of brewers among the early colonists but not a word about wine-makers.

Most hosts approaching this holiday surely would argue that beer is not the Thanksgiving beverage of choice, being too ordinary, prosaic even, for such a celebration. Wine or perhaps champagne is much more festive.

The newspapers are full of recommendations for Thanksgiving wines. Most wine writers advise consumers on the best wines for the dollar because, unfortunately, there is little or no correlation between price and quality or even maker and quality. That has got to be the bane of the wine industry, because it leaves consumers wary and confused, and not much informed by the Wine Spectator score (always uselessly about 85). However, wandering and uncertain wine illiterates keep wine writers in gainful employment.

Wine writers recommend “good buys.” These are satisfactory products that will taste OK and leave a few bucks in the bank. I think this misses the point. A good, average, reasonably cheap wine is the kind of wine that consumers want every day with their pork chops or chicken nuggets or pot pie.

At Thanksgiving, diners want something special that looks the part, tastes the part and costs the part. On this occasion, they want to show off to their friends and/or family; they want a treat, the “wow!” factor, and price be hanged! After all it’s only once a year; let’s go for it.

Even the finest or most exotic beer is cheaper than the cheapest wine and far less heady and much more reliable in flavor.

Those who argue against beer at Thanksgiving might suggest that wines uniquely complement the flavors of food. I have never accepted this idea. I know it is heresy to suggest that wines challenge, subdue and even overwhelm the flavors of food especially if the foods have reasonably subtle flavors; turkey has to be one of the least flavorful meats that we commonly eat and its flavor needs to be encouraged not engulfed.

I will agree that wines, being as alcoholic as they are, effectively cut the grease of a meal but turkey is not fatty meat; it is more likely to be dried out than needing fat removal.

Let’s face it, beer is better.

Wines tend to make their own statement and bring to the festive table their own individual point of interest; they could intrude into the meal and might even detract from the main event over which sisters, wives, aunts and grandmas have slaved for days.

Guests at the table might fall to talking about the wine, and in the process, imbibe rather too much, get a little high and maybe noisy and boisterous because the alcohol content of wine is three times that of beer.

In contrast, I think beer is a perfect accompaniment to turkey and stuffing.

A good, cold, crisp beer of the American lager category (read Coors, Miller or Budweiser products) or maybe a hefeweissbier, if that is your choice, makes a fine accompaniment to the quite subtle flavors of turkey and the sweetness of the trimmings.

Beer quenches the thirst so there is no need to clutter up the table with water glasses (a peculiarly unnecessary and very American habit, anyway); so beer serves two purposes.

When served in elegant lager glasses with the gas bubbles climbing in a constant lively stream from the bottom of the glass to the top (called beading) and forming there a pristine white foam, beer can only add to the charm of a Thanksgiving table in a way that sulky wine cannot.

Thanksgiving wine might coax from the cupboard those tall-stemmed wine glasses made of hideously expensive cut crystal; but is that a good thing? Being tall and on a stem and made of crystal makes them so top-heavy that everybody at table is scared to death they might knock over these tall paragons of wine fashion and stain Grandma’s best linen tablecloth for all eternity.

Beer washes out.

Beer can make it with dessert, too. Though I don’t recommend that you choose a dark or bitter micro-brewed product with the turkey, if you are having a dessert of chocolate, then such beer will perform admirably and memorably. And pumpkin pie with whipped cream served with rich brown ale is fodder fit for any pilgrim.

Just stay away from imported wines and beers; it’s so un-American at this uniquely American celebration. Also, maybe, read a copy of the Bill of Rights; I think that will add to your celebration.

Happy Thanksgiving!

— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected]

Michael Lewis

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