The Frontal Cortex


Speaking of decisions, I’ve got to make a rather difficult one today: beer for the Thanksgiving table. I was inspired by a totally wonderful Burkhard Bilger article in the New Yorker on the rise of “extreme beer” and the sheer difficulty of being able to afford a wine that fits the varied foodstuffs of the table. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those insufferable souls who worry constantly about food-wine pairings, but the food being served this year is especially varied. What possible fermented liquid goes well with sweet potatoes and marshmallow and brussel sprouts covered in gruyere?)

But here’s my dilemma. I’m serving some Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, and some Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, but I need a lighter brew too. I’m thinking hefeweizen or pilsner. Any recommendations? I’m leaning towards Brooklyn Brewery Pilsner, but wanted to know what I was missing…

Any guidance would be much appreciated. And have a great thanksgiving!


  1. #1 jim in austin
    November 26, 2008

    A Hefeweizen or a Belgian-style Witbier would be a good choice given the usual holiday flavors and spices. For a pilsner you can always return to the source with Pilsner Urquell.

  2. #2 Tim Tondreault
    November 26, 2008

    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months, but now I’m really impressed. It takes a hearty, adventuresome soul to take the plunge and move from wine to beer. I think the ales you’ve chosen are very fine selections. You may also want to check out The Bishop’s Finger. I find it very refreshing and somewhat lighter than most ales. I think having a pilsner on hand is a must and Dortmunder Union is a solid selection and available world wide. But really, thinking about just how heavy a Thanksgiving meal can be, I’d also consider a fresh, clean larger. I enjoy Stella Artois when I feel the need for something to cut through a heavy meal. Hope that helps.

  3. #3 Orac
    November 26, 2008

    Victory Prima Pils. Light and very nice, with a nonetheless solid taste:

  4. #4 chezjake
    November 26, 2008

    Our tastes seem to match up nicely. I, too, will be having Brussels sprouts topped with gruyere and Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, among many other treats.

    I’m pretty much a strict ale drinker, so I don’t have a lighter alternative for you, but if you can find it I highly recommend trying the Hop Hazard Ale from RiverHorse Brewery in Lambertville, NJ. It’s not really one of those gonzo-hopped ales, it’s just a very good pale ale with a wonderful dry-hopped finish.

  5. #5 Miranda
    November 26, 2008

    I, too, recommend Victory, but I say “Weisse”! Yummmy.

  6. #6 rachel
    November 26, 2008

    how bout the lemonade beer- Hogarden?

    It’s your sister’s favorite.

  7. #7 todd
    November 26, 2008

    The Celebration Ale is way too hoppy for food IMHO. I would go for the Brown Ale. More mellow, more pleasant for a relaxed day.

  8. #8 Rob
    November 26, 2008

    I recently had a pumpkin ale from a local brewery in Maine and thought it went nicely with the duck I was eating. I’ll be picking some up and it looks like there are a lot to choose from:

  9. #9 james betz
    November 26, 2008

    Biere de Garde !

    Garrett Oliver, the Brewmaster for Brooklyn Brewery dedicates almost a page in a half of his book, The Brewmasters Table, to pairing Biere de Garde with everything at thanksgiving.

    Here is a little of what he says:
    “Modern turkeys don’t have much flavor, that’s why you’re staring at the stuffing and the gravy… Both have strong herbal flavors, which anchor the match with the beers herbal flavors, then the caramelized malts meet the browned turkey skin, the biscuity malts flavors match the lightly nutty flavor of the meat, and the carbonation lifts everything so don’t don’t realize you’re eating so much.”
    — Garrett Oliver, sorry if there is any copyright problems with this.

    It’s a great beer, i used it last year — Just watch out, I almost took out my grandmother when the cork popped, the high carbonation leads to lots of pressure in the bottle.

    You’re other two choices sound great, dog fish head brewery is one of my favorites, they have so many wonderfully creative beers.

    Good luck with your choices! I’d personally suggest a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout for some deserts!

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  10. #10 james betz
    November 26, 2008

    I made a grammatical mistake in the Garrett Oliver bit, it should be ” so you don’t realize you’re eating so much.” NOT — “so don’t don’t realize…”

    Oh well.

    Happy thanksgiving everyone.

  11. #11 crawford
    November 26, 2008

    Great Lakes Christmas Ale!!!

    Drat, I picked a great decade to give up drinking.

  12. #12 Jonah
    November 26, 2008

    Thanks so much for all your advice! I ended up going with a Biere de Garde, from La Choulette, and a six pack of Brooklyn Pilsner. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  13. #13 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 26, 2008

    The Brooklyn Pilsner kicks ass! You will enjoy it!

  14. #14 Marin
    November 26, 2008

    If you can find them (several places in Denver carry Jolly Pumpkin, so it’s not like I’m going all beer snob on you), there are several really nice lighter beers in the Jolly Pumpkin repertoire. Firefly, Calabaza Blanca and the Oro de Calabaza are marvelous — I think the Firefly is particularly good with turkey.

    And if you can’t get them for Thanksgiving, I’d still recommend seeking them out sometime. It’s a standout operation.

  15. #15 greg sargent
    November 26, 2008

    Jonah – have you ever had “Summit pale ale”? Made in my home state of Minnestoa, it has won awards and such.

    Michael Jackson (the beer expert, not the singer)gave it a
    best beer title a few years ago.


  16. #16 Daniel Harper
    November 26, 2008

    Personally, I’m going Belgian for the holiday. A nice Belgian Strong Dark goes really nicely with the flavors of the holiday, at least to my palate. At $9.99 per 750mL, it may be a bit out of the price range to share between the whole table, however.

    Personally, I’d nix the Sierra Nevada Celebration — it’s too hoppy to really fit in. The DFH Indian Brown Ale is also a bit hoppy for the Brown Ale style, but if you think it fits the palates of those you’re serving for, it’s a fine ale and worthy of consumption.

    If I were planning the beer menu, I’d probably go with DFH’s IPA instead of Sierra Nevada; their 60 minute is well-balanced but has a nice kick. Nut Brown Ales are highly regional so I can’t necessarily pick one for your area, but if I were buying one tonight I’d either go for a Leinenkugel’s Fireside Nut Brown or Bell’s Best Brown Ale. The Lenie’s a bit sweeter but also a bit more cloying, while the Bell’s has a bit more bite but doesn’t have the same level of “syrupiness” that I get from Leinenkugel’s. Brooklyn Brown is also a really good choice, as their selection always seems to be high-quality, no-frills examples of the chosen styles.

    As for the third beer that would depend on whether I thought the audience was interested in something a little more, ahem, “interesting,” or if the point was to give them something easy to drink and relaxing. A good Amber or Vienna Lager goes a long way if you’re looking for the latter — I really love Yuengling Lager or Sam Adams Boston Lager (or Ale, for that matter) as go-to “everyone should get something out of this” beers. If you want to leave the mainstream a bit you can always go for something Belgian like Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale, which is very accessible but also with that uniquely Belgian kick, or with something from Unibroue — I like Trois Pistoles for these kinds of situations, but YMMV.

    Of course, you could always just go really intense and get one of those new six-packs of Stone Ruination, but that’s really a for-beer-geeks-only kind of choices. It’s interesting, though, that among people who quote-unquote “don’t like beer” that hop bombs tend to be oddly popular, especially hugely floral ones like Stone’s beers.

  17. #17 shannon Murphy
    November 26, 2008

    not to sound like an insufferable hipster but i think hoegaarden would be good with thanksgiving, or any fall, dinner. or leffe. something wheaty and light and a little spicy.

  18. #18 Jefferson Seaver
    November 26, 2008
  19. #19 jessica moore
    November 26, 2008

    Magic Hat #9

  20. #20 Andrew
    November 27, 2008

    If you do decide to throw a wine on the table, Gary Vaynerchuk picked out some amazing, versatile, and inexpensive wine for the Thanksgiving table:

  21. #21 hanna
    November 29, 2008

    We had the Karmeliet Tripel, which was a wonderful accompaniment to traditional Thanskgiving fare.

  22. #22 Alan
    November 29, 2008

    The whole Victory line is pretty good. Have you ever sampled the aptly named Hop Wallop, for example? Hefe Weissbier (wheat beer) is also a nice taste among German brews. Among Belgians, Cordesdonk reminds one a bit more more of a Dutch beer, really. For the ultimate in beer taste, Chimay tripel from Belgium is without peer, but is relatively high priced. Unlike the case with wine, it seems, you mostly get what you pay for when it comes to beer. Does anyone disagree? It is also much cheaper to be a top range beer connoisseur than a wine snob.

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