The Bird, the Brews, Who Knew’s

turkey-and-beerI started including a beer selection along with the wines offered during this this past summers grilling classes and met with great acceptance. And since we are about still in a turkey time of year, I thought I’d look around to see how beer and turkey get along and well,  it seems they’ve been fooling around for a while and there is some real thought and a bit of consensus

What I discover immediately is that the same issue exists for beer that wine faces with traditional Thanksgiving turkey/holiday dinner, – what to serve with all of the different flavors and tastes. So first of all here’s some thought about how beer and wine relate.

Some people say lager is like white wine and ale is like red. A corollary of that concept: that beer hops (as in a nice bitter IPA) function like wine acids (found in, say, a Sauvignon Blanc or a Chianti) in food pairings. Both cut through fattiness and oiliness, and even saltiness but there are a few fundamental differences between lager and ale (the two main types of beer) worth contemplating: Ales tend to be fruity and robust, (Pinot, Zinfandel) sounds like a good match with a Weber roasted turkey and sausage dressing with sage and cranberry sauce, while lagers are crisp and comparatively delicate, (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc) say an oven roasted turkey with a meatless dressing and mashed potatoes and light gravy.

As you might expect there are is some serious diversity in flavors, textures, temperatures and weights for the food and this makes it tricky to pick a single beer (or wine) to succeed with everything you consume. So it’s best to find a common characteristic across each menu item and go from there.

In the case of holiday turkey dinner, that commonality lies in the oven or the Weber. All the best stuff on the table comes from there: turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, pies, you name it. Food cooked in the oven generally undergoes browning and caramelization adding not just color but changing and enhancing flavors —just like the darker malts used to create amber and brown-colored beers do. These shared processes offer an easy connection between darker malty beer and oven-roasted food. You’ll want some contrasting flavor elements to keep things interesting, but this narrows the field to a few beer styles.

Samuel Adams’ Octoberfest, no I’m not crazy, this beer was named by several reference sites that I researched for beer and turkey matching. It’s an inexpensive, decent example of the style. Other names mentioned are similar products by Ayinger and Hacker-Pschorr.

turkey-and-beer-labelIPA’s are popular and again according to research sit handsomely on a Thanksgiving table. Half Acre’s Heyoka, “…is a little piney, a little fruity, a little sweet and a nicely bitter, balanced IPA that will also pair nicely with a holiday turkey table.”

Two other styles were also a common mention, brown ales and Belgian-style dubbels. The Cast Iron with the addition of oatmeal, “…adds body and a touch of creaminess, bold and roasty, this brown ale drinks like a light porter.”

Belgian-style dubbels are, “High in carbonation, these beers lift the mouth-coating richness of gravy and dairy-laden mashed potatoes from the palate. Flavor-wise, the dubbel sports a one-two punch of dense dark fruit and peppery, clove-like phenol character that complements sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and the bird itself.”

I will openly admit that I have not been able to try any of these beers with a turkey based meal but my research reinforces my thought that they’d make for interesting dinner conversation.

So when aunt Glades asks, “Where’s the wine?” I can still help you out there and here are my tasted suggestions from Binny’s and Famous:

Dry Creek 2013 Fume’ Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc) Sonoma – fresh citrus and grassy characters are immediately evident with flavors of underlying minerals, wet stone and a nice core of acidity. R 89 $11.00

Gruet Blanc de Noirs – New Mexico – The rich and toasty character of the Blanc de Noirs is balanced and superb and shows rich complex flavors. R 90 $15.00

Lucky Star 2013 Pinot California Cuvee, 90% Pinot with a bit of Zinfandel and Merlot, a real crowd please and a combination of two great TG flavors, $8.00

Villa Puccini Toscana Red blend, Sangiovese and Merlot – Italy see above, $12.00

Parducci Small Lot Blend Pinot Noir -70% Mendocino County, 30% Sierra Foothills – Aromas of juicy, ripe raspberries and strawberries are full and rich on the palate, picking up a hint of cedar in the finish. $10

turkey-and-beer-wineCambria Julia’s Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir – Santa Maria Valley, CA. really nice mushroomie, earthy character that compliments its solid tannin structure has red fruit and dark berry aromas and fl­avors. $20

And to finish the whole thing off, here’s a beer brined turkey recipe that is matched with – wait for it…Syrah.

Have a great meal

Roasted Beer-Brined Turkey with Onion Gravy and Bacon


  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 2 onions, cut into thick wedges
  • 1 pound slab bacon, skin removed and meat sliced 1/3 inch thick
  • Six 12-ounce bottles Guinness stout or any dark beer
  • One 12- to 14-pound turkey
  • 1 cup turkey stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour


  1. In a very large pot, combine the mustard seeds, peppercorns and bay leaves and toast over moderate heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar and salt and remove from the heat. Add 4 cups of water and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved; let cool completely.
  2. Add the onions, bacon, Guinness and 16 cups of cold water to the pot. Add the turkey to the brine, breast side down, and top with a heavy lid to keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350° and position a rack on the bottom shelf. Lift the turkey from the brine, pick off any peppercorns, mustard seeds and bay leaves and pat dry. Transfer the turkey to a large roasting pan, breast side up. Scatter the onion wedges in the pan and add 1 cup of water. Using toothpicks, secure the bacon slices over the breast. Roast the turkey for about 2 hours, turning the pan occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer inserted deep into the turkey thighs registers 150°. Remove the bacon and return the turkey to the oven. Roast for about 1 hour longer, until the breast is browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted in a thigh registers 170°. Transfer the turkey to a carving board.
  4. Pour the pan juices and onion wedges into a saucepan and boil until reduced to 3 cups, about 5 minutes. Add the turkey stock and return to a boil. In a small bowl, mash the butter to a paste with the flour. Whisk the paste into the gravy and boil until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cut the bacon crosswise 1/2 inch thick. In a large skillet, fry the bacon over high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes.
  6. Carve the turkey and serve with the gravy and bacon.

Suggested Pairing

Smoky, peppery California Syrah

That’s my whine and I could be wrong.