With new seasonal beer releases almost daily, the holidays are a great time to expand your palate. Many craft brews come in large bottles, making them perfect for sharing. You can bring two or three beers to grandma's house and please everyone at the party.
Thanksgiving is next week, and to celebrate the occasion I'm giving you four beers I was particularly thankful for this year. These aren't Thanksgiving beers in the literal sense, but rather beers I am grateful to have had this year and look forward to having again. Each can pair with a different course of your big meal. One of them is bound to please even the most discerning aunt or uncle.
-- Maine Beer Company Mo
We'll start with the lightest of the bunch. Mo is one of several exceptional pale ales from the tiny Portland, Maine brewery. This one has an intoxicating aroma of grapefruit, lemon, melon, and peach. There's nothing dark here, no whiff of wet socks or hint of forest floor. This beer is described as having a dry finish, but there's almost no finish at all; the drink doesn't so much as dry up as melt away. What you're left with are memories of tropical fruit and the sense that you might have been someplace much, much warmer.
Pairing suggestion: Turkey or any fried or grill meat; spicy dishes.
-- Firestone Walker Wookey Jack
Firestone Walker is an exceptional brewery in California wine country. Their Wookey Jack is a black rye IPA of 8.3 percent alcohol that has won back-to-back gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival. This is a hoppy IPA of 80 international bitterness units, but the roasted malts of this Cascadian Dark style ale mellow the hops just a bit while adding smokey chocolate notes to the brew. It's remarkably smooth for such a hefty beer, and the complexity will keep even your geekiest guests guessing. I ate a piece of chocolate before taking a sip of this and the beer was a continuation of the treat.
Pairing suggestion: Very versatile; pair with everything from bacon-wrapped dates to stinky cheese.
-- Pretty Things Baby Tree
One of my all-time favorite beers, I realized when shopping for this column that I don't drink this nearly enough. What makes it so special? It's a Belgian-style quad made by the husband-and-wife team out of Somerville. Brewed with Pils, Vienna, chocolate malt, and oats, this super smooth quadruple weighs in at 9 percent ABV.
Belgian-style beers are perfect for introducing craft beer to the unfamiliar. I spent many a night at the Publick House in Brookline enhancing my beer education. Figs and brown sugar waft up from the nose of this one. Pretty Things brews this as a springtime beer, but the dark fruit notes also pair well with a cold winter's night. This beer is decidedly sweet but avoids being cloying or too heavy. It finishes dry and a little bitter.
Pairing suggestion: Pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole; also a complement to your meat dishes.
-- Goose Island Lolita
The Chicago brewery calls this "a very sophisticated raspberry Belgian ale." This one is fermeted with Brettanomyces, a bacterial spoiler which injects a tartness to the brew. This sour beer, which was barrel-aged with Schaerbeek cherries, finishes like a white wine.
Sour beer has grown on me, but be careful with this one, fellow geeks. If you're the dad trying to convert his family to "real" craft beer, take a breath and admit tart beers aren't for everyone. If you know a fellow beer enthusiast is crashing your holiday party however, buy this and break it out for a refreshing wow factor. This beer ages for up to five years in the bottle, so buy two and stash one in your cellar. If you can't find Lolita, Goose Island's Sofie has a similar, slightly sour finish owing to the brewer's proprietary Belgian yeast, though that beer is more restrained.
Pairing suggestion: Apple crisp, brie; anything with gravy.
I'm thankful for everyone reading this year, and for the kind words from those of you who have reached out. To you and yours.