– Guest post, by Lester Black –
Drink Seattle beer this Thanksgiving
Seattle, you should be more thankful. Not for the beautiful mountains that surround us or our amazing food. You should be more thankful for our beer. We have become so spoiled in this city of amazing beer that we have forgotten how good we have it.
We can have world-class British ales, French farmhouse ales, German lagers, wild and sour ales and, of course, some of the greatest hoppy beers in the world all without leaving the city limits. Guys, this is special, this is unique. Yet no one seems to notice the beer that is around them.
Ask the Seattle Times what to pair with your Thanksgiving feast and they can’t find one beer made in Seattle. In their list of six beers, only one is even from Washington State.
What gives, guys? We should always be looking to buy local products when we can, and on Thanksgiving of all days we should gather what’s around us. The Pilgrims, or the Native Americans helping them, had to shop local for the first Thanksgiving feast. So let’s look to our own fair city for our beers.
You will likely have to go the extra mile with a growler in hand – most of these beers aren’t in the grocery store aisle – but it’s not that hard. It’s actually very easy considering there is a brewery in every corner of this city.
I have selected some of my favorite beers from across the city, but this list is by no means final. Just drink local, and don’t read the Seattle Times beer stories.
HOW TO PAIR
Let’s, for a very quick moment, consider if we should even attempt to pair beer with food. Everyone knows wine is worthy of food pairings, but must we really think about what food we eat with our plebian beer?
Yes, we must. Tasty food by itself is just that – food. But when you combine the right beer or wine with food it becomes a meal, the beverages balance the food and highlight certain flavors while alcohol soothes everyone into relaxing and enjoying the beauty of a great meal.
And beer offers more opportunities than wine when it comes to matching food. Wine is made of grapes while beer is a minimum of four ingredients: malted barley, water, yeast and hops. The brewer has a spectrum of choices for each ingredient, giving beer a much broader range of flavors and qualities. Beers can be light and effervescent or dark and richly heavy; they can dry your mouth out with bitterness or be syrupy sweet.
These are all tools in your toolbox when pairing beer and food. My first rule of beer pairing is to not let your food overwhelm your beer, or vice versa. Big beers need flavorful foods; nuanced beers match lighter flavors. My second rule is to try to match flavors or qualities. For a traditional Thanksgiving meal, this could mean matching roasted meats with malty beers.
My third rule is fuck rules and have fun. Spend some time thinking about the food and the beer – you can even write your ideas down! Then make an informed choice and find out what happens. If you don’t like what you come up with, think about why you don’t like it and you’re more likely to come up with something better next time.
Or don’t, and just take my advice. You won’t be disappointed.
Start with a saison
Thanksgiving appetizers tend to be a somewhat boring affair. While the family cook is stressing out over the bird the first course tends to be a bunch of raw vegetables, ranch and a bag of Tim’s Cascade chips artfully dropped into a wooden bowl. If you’re lucky someone brought some fine cheeses to mix in. A proper saison will turn this snoozefest into an exciting start to the meal.
Saisons are hazy yellow beers that tend to have earthy yeast notes, are on the dryer side and have a mild bitterness. They are all about nuance, which makes them a great first course. Instead of big, robust malt or hop flavors, this beer is gently dominated by musky, earthy or sometimes fruity flavors.
Seattle is awash in saisons right now, but it can be confusing to navigate this style of beer. There’s a dramatic range between each brewery’s saison, or even between a brewer’s saison one month to another. This is due to the style’s history. Saison, which means “season” in French, comes from the French-speaking region of Belgium called Wallonia. Farmers in Wallonia would spend the colder, and less busy, winter months brewing beer with whatever ingredients they had on hand. The beer would then be given to migrant workers in the Summer. This process created a lot of variation in the style, giving modern brewers a big creative license.
Urban Family Brewing embraces this tradition with a constantly changing line-up of yeasty saisons. They use a whole host of weird local ingredients – dandelion, squash, hay, to name a few – and some of their saisons end up pretty bizarre. Which isn’t the worst quality in a Thanksgiving appetizer, it’ll distract everyone from the first racist thing your grandfather says.
Urban Family’s Clouds of Pale Gold, however, is a classic saison with perfect balance between bright, sharp lemon flavors and a clean dry finish. I couldn’t think of a better start to a thanksgiving meal – grab it by the bottle at Urban Family’s Magnolia tap room.
If you can’t make it to Urban Family, Standard Brewing, Holy Mountain Brewing and Cloudburst Brewing all make wonderful saisons.
Brown for the meal
Thanksgiving is a heavy meal. Count the sticks of butter going into the mashed potatoes or squash soup, smell the roasting turkey’s deepening flavor and you know that we are going to need a bigger beer to match these flavors.
Enter the American brown ale. Brown ales occupy the territory between pale and porter thanks to barley that has been malted to a brownish-caramel point. These beers become American with a heathy dose of hops. That combination gives them caramelized flavors to match the roasted turkey but enough bitterness to clean your palate.
Naked City’s Betsy’s Mountain is one of the smoothest browns in Seattle. Light roasted flavors with a mellow sweetness rounds out with a mild bitterness – basically all that I look for in a Brown. This is a great beer to have in front of you at hour three of your Thanksgiving feast.
Rueben’s Brews American Brown is a fare bit hoppier, with not only bitterness but also some of the grassy flavors of hop mixed into roasted and caramelized notes.
Other local favorites are Two Beers’ Sodo Brown and Peddler Brewing’s Stumpjumper Nut Brown.
Desert with a side of stout
If you can drink a coffee with something you can drink a stout with it as well. It doesn’t matter if it’s a maple bar in the morning or a slice of pecan pie after Thanksgiving dinner, a stout will provide a complimentary dose of rich roasted flavors and bitterness.
Seattle’s stouts can range from five to over 10 percent alcohol and both lighter and stronger stouts will work well on Thanksgiving.
Stoup’s Robust Porter, widely available in stores around the city, has a rich coffee-like flavor and a strong dose of bitterness. Pike’s Extra Stout is stronger than Stoup’s, clocking in at 7 percent alcohol. It drinks a bit smoother, though, with roasted sweetness coming across more than the bitterness of Rueben’s.
Stronger stouts, on the other hand, pack a quicker punch so you can drink less on your inevitably full stomach. Barrel-aged versions, like Fremont Brewing’s Dark Star series, also bring entirely new layers of flavors thanks to the bourbon barrels the beer has been aged in. You just have to be getting paid for than a freelance writer to afford them.
This is my first Thanksgiving back in Seattle in years, I’ve spent the last eight years living in Boston, Tennessee and Northern New Mexico. Spending eight years away from Seattle has made me extremely thankful for the beer here. I’m thankful that there’s always another brewery or beer bar on my list to try. I’m thankful that Seattle’s beer scene is too big to summarize in one article. I’m thankful that our breweries are not segregated into one brewery district (though Ballard is one that any city would be proud of).
Bring these Seattle beers to your thanksgiving and I think you’ll be thankful as well.
Lester Black is a freelance writer best recognized around Seattle for his work for The Stranger and Crosscut. You can learn more about him and his work at lesterblackcom. Follow him on Twitter @leddder.
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