Talking turkey: beer with Thanksgiving dinner

Most Americans consider wine to be the traditional fermented beverage to adorn their Thanksgiving table, but the first Americans, who we refer to as the “pilgrims,” drank beer. Along with the onset of winter, it was their diminishing supplies of food, especially beer that compelled them to seek haven at Plymouth Rock in December 1620.
Until recently, however, Americans haven’t considered beer sophisticated enough for their dinner table, much less the celebration of our national heritage, and for good reason. American adjunct lagers do little to enhance the flavors of turkey, dressing, yams and cranberry sauce that Americans traditionally enjoy on Thanksgiving. With the emergence of American craft brewing and the popularity of fine traditional beers from Europe, that is changing, and many chefs and culinary experts now regard beer as a better match than wine with the rich and varied foods we eat at Thanksgiving,
Specialty stores like City Beer and Healthy Spirits in San Francisco, which cater to the new generation of Bay Area beer lovers, are certainly an excellent resource for good beer and advice about what to serve. But not everyone has that expertise close at hand. Fortunately, you can now buy craft ales and lagers at the same store you buy your turkey and trimmings. It takes some effort to find the right store, however, and most large chains like Safeway have been reluctant to replace mass-market beers like Bud Lite, Miller and Coors with craft beer. Your best bet for finding good beer is at high-end markets like Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl and Draeger’s.

In San Francisco, Whole Foods on Fourth Street has an excellent selection of craft and imported beers. Kevin O’Shea, who manages the store’s beer section, can point out just the right beer for every course of your Thanksgiving feast. When it comes to talking turkey, O’Shea (pictured above) recommends thinking Belgian. A flavorful saison such as Saison Dupont from Brasserie Dupont in Belgium or the Hennepin from Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y., will stand up to the varied flavors of Thanksgiving, which range from savory to sweet, often on the same plate. On the other hand, Garrett Oliver, brew master at Brooklyn Brewing Company, extols the virtues of funky French biere du garde.

You might match your appetizer course with a simple pilsner, like the hoppy Victory Prima Pils, or you can serve alluring Belgian ale, like the fruity, spicy, earthy Rare Vos from Ommegang or a Belgian Avec Les Bon Voeux saison. Other excellent choices include the deliciously refreshing Houblon Chouffe, a Belgian IPA from Brasserie d’Achouffe in Belgium, or a Belgian-style trippel like Chimay White, Tripel Karmeliet or the dangerously delicious La Fin Du Monde from Unibroue in Montreal.

To end your repast, how about a stout, like Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, or the Deschutes Abyss from Oregon? Or you could do a porter, like Deschutes Black Butte Porter, or an Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, which comes with a festive little white goat wrapped around its neck.  
If you’re concerned that beer won’t look as cool on your Thanksgiving table as wine, many of these beers come in large, corked bottles with colorful, festive labels and they look almost as good as they taste. But not quite.

Whole Foods Market
399 4th St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
Phone: 415.618.0066
Fax: 415.618.0050

Magnolia and 21st Amendment: BRU/SFO

Who knew the quickest way to Belgium would be by MUNI? Throughout the month of November, the Magnolia Pub and Brewery on Haight Street has been collaborating with the 21st Amendment Brewery on the BRU/SFO project, “an excursion of Belgian-style and Belgian-influenced beers, six from each brewery.” 
The six Belgian styles featured at Magnolia this month are: Deep Ellum Dubbel; Tweezer Tripel; Gris-Gris, a Belgian grisette; Gordo, a pumpkin wit; Destiny Unblonde, a Belgian pale; and Paint it Black, a Belgian dark. Meanwhile, 21A is  featuring Via, a Belgian single; St. Martin’s Abbey; Noir de Blanc, a chocolate wit; Brew Libre! Ou Mourir, a Belgian IPA; Monk’s Blood, a Belgian dark strong; and Baby Horse, a quadruple. 

Magnolia’s Gris-Gris, beautifully poured in a 13-ounce glass (top) is a very pleasant, refreshing, light-colored, low-alcohol (3.2% abv), saison-style session beer that would be perfect with a midday burger or salad. On the other end of the spectrum – and at the other side of town – 21A’s Monk's Blood (above) is considerably less sessionable at 8.5 abv, but equally delicious both on its own and with a burger. The deep mahogany Monk’s Blood features dark Belgian candi sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean and dried Mission figs and is aged in oak. It’s also available for a limited time in cans in a four-pack “that rises up in revolt against common notions of what canned beers can be.”
But these two San Francisco brewpubs don’t just stop in Belgium. Proprietor and brewer Dave McLean at Magnolia is as fond of cask-conditioned English ales as he is the Grateful Dead, whose music seems to be the brewpub’s signature soundtrack. McLean’s cask-conditioned Blue Bell Bitter (above) took us on an excursion to the type of “real ale” that is becoming more popular in England through the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) movement. 21A also makes a very nice bitter, called Elizabeth Street Bitter, which weighs in at 5.2 abv.
Magnolia and 21A are to be applauded not only for saving us air fare to Europe by providing us with a Continental ale experience here in San Francisco, but for demonstrating that classic ale styles are a natural complement to fine food.

Pi Bar

Neighborhood bars have come a long way in the Mission District. Taverns have never been in short supply in that part of San Francisco, but they’ve typically been pretty similar once you walk in the door: dark, dingy and a little tired. Recently, that has begun to change, with the arrival of gastropubs like Monk’s Kettle on 16th Street. A new beer bar on Valencia called Pi is also trying to introduce interesting beers to the Mission in a family-style environment. You can sit at the bar and have a great beer, like Death and Taxes from Moonlight Brewing, or you can bring the kids and have a pizza. Contrary to a recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle, Pi isn’t a brewpub (lack of tanks is a dead giveaway), but it does pour a good pint. Pi serves appetizers, salads and pasta dishes, but the emphasis is clearly on hand-thrown, thin-crust pizza. During happy hour, you can get a single slice of cheese pizza and a beer of the day for $6.28 ($3.14 x  2). Draught selections include Anchor’s Liberty Ale, Russian River’s Blind Pig IPA, Trumer Pilsner, Two Rivers Organic Cider, Ommegang Hennipen Golden Ale, Paulander Hefe-Weizen, Racer 5 IPA, Red Seal Ale from North Coast, and the aforementioned Death & Taxes Dark Lager. Bottles lean heavily toward Belgian ales (wines are mostly an afterthought: Red Stuff and White Stuff). Pi understands that the proper glassware is important to serving good beer, especially Belgian ales, and has signature glasses to match with beers like Houblon Chouffe (pictured above), Orval and others. 

Perry's Liquors

When it comes to beer stores in the Bay Area, there seems to be two choices. You can go to a warehouse-type store like Beverages and More, which has a decent selection of craft and imported beers but very little in the way of customer service beyond small cards with minimal descriptions. Then there are boutique stores like City Beer and Healthy Spirits, which make up for their lack of shelf and refrigerator space with thoughtful beer selections and helpful advice.

Perry’s Liquors in Livermore strives to combine the best of both worlds. Perry’s beer selection is the handiwork of the store’s manager, Harpreet Singh, who introduced the family liquor store to the world of craft and imported beers about a year ago. Singh, who fell in love with Belgian sours at first sip, understood that he needed more refrigerated space to keep the beer fresh, and a lot of it. His expanded refrigerator now covers about half the store, with a small amount of space devoted to unrefrigerated shelves. Boxes of wine and spirits cover most of the available floor space.
Singh and his family are passionate about beer, and early on they would drive down to Port Brewing Company in San Marcos, Calif. If distributors didn’t have enough beer for Singh or if he wanted special bottles, he’d go directly to the brewery. It took some six months of wooing for Singh to convince Vinnie Cilurzo that Perry’s was worthy of carrying Russian River Brewing’s signature Pliny the Elder. Now, Singh says, he has the freshest Pliny around and goes through about 10 cases of the 500 ml bottles per week. Not satisfied with the typically available selection of European and California beer, along with select East Coast microbrews like Dogfish Head that are typically found at craft beer stores, Singh is also bringing in beers that are seldom seen on the West Coast, such as Three Floyds Dreadnaught and Jinx Proof and Founders Backwoods Bastard.
Perry’s is already quite impressive and has become a destination for beer pilgrims from all over Northern California and beyond, but Singh is just getting started. He’s in the process of getting a tasting license for pouring beer in the back room of the store and as a lover of Belgian and American beer, he acknowledges that developing food pairings is likely in his future, perhaps in conjunction with an uncle’s nearby Indian restaurant.
Perry’s Liquors is an ambitious undertaking and Livermore is a long drive from much of the Bay Area. And the uninitiated might be taken aback at the sight of some of the prices. 
But for microbrew lovers, Perry’s is an oasis of beer and Singh is determined to spread the word and educate and serve new beer connoisseurs as well as those of us who already appreciate well-made brews.
With more beer drinkers taking craft brews seriously both on their own and as a complement to fine dining, it’s refreshing to see a beer store that is dedicated to providing the best and freshest craft and imported beer around.

Thirsty Bear: Firkin Tuesday

The Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA, was begun in England in 1971 in response to large brewers modernizing their beer by using filtered, artificially carbonated kegs in pubs. CAMRA describes real ale as “a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask from which it is served in the pub through a process called secondary fermentation.” Examples of cask-conditioned beer, served at around room temperature, are relatively rare in the Bay Area, but Thirsty Bear in San Francisco offers $3 imperial pints of cask-conditioned real beer every Tuesday. It’s worth a visit if you’re in downtown San Francisco. Thirsty Bear is currently pouring a dry-hopped cask-conditioned Golden Ale. I stopped in at the Howard Street brewpub/tapas restaurant before checking out the Museum of Modern Art’s Photography Now, The Provoke Era, of photos from Japan, China and Korea. One of the photos was titled "British Food," though I'm not sure whether any of the pictured items would pair particularly well with a cask-conditioned ale. Entrance to the museum is free on the first Tuesday of the month.

Half Moon Bay Brewing Company

Half Moon Bay Brewing Company at Princeton-by-the-Sea on the San Mateo County Coast
overlooks Maverick’s, the site of an annual big wave surfing contest. The window for the contest was officially opened on Nov. 1.
Maverick’s was named after a surfing white-haired German shepherd in 1961, and dogs are still held in high regard at the brewpub. After romping in the surf of one of the canine-friendly San Mateo coast beaches, Half Moon Bay Brewing customers and their dogs can relax with an Angus beef burger ($11.50) and brew on the spacious patio, often listening to live music on the weekends.
In addition to its regular beers – Bootlegger’s Brown Ale, Harbor Lights Ale, Princeton by the Sea IPA, Maverick’s Amber Ale, Sandy Beach Blonde Hefeweizen, Pillar Point Pale Ale and porters and stouts – Half Moon Bay Brewing recently announced its Pumpkin Harvest Ale IV, an Oktoberfest and its Green Gold IPA brewed with unprocessed Warrior and Chinook hops from Washington. Although we missed the window for the Pumpkin Ale and the Oktoberfest, our disappointment was short-lived once we tasted the floral, fresh-hopped Green Gold IPA, which was a cut above Half Moon Bay Brewing’s relatively underwhelming regular beers. The hops in the 6.2 abv Green Gold ale were pronounced but well balanced by the malt, making for a delicious complement to a perfectly cooked Angus beef burger topped with bleu cheese.
The Maverick’s surfing contest has been hit or miss for the past few years, but the Green Gold IPA is a sure-fire winner.

For more on fresh-hopped beers, check out this recent article from the New York Times.