Thanksgiving is a time of gathering and reflection; of sharing the warmth and camaraderie of the season and celebrating togetherness of family and friends.
It’s also stressful, hectic and mind-draining. In a good way!
Of course, this column is about beer, and there’s no better way to introduce the uninitiated to great craft brew than by breaking out some Thanksgiving-friendly beer for the dinner table. Thanksgiving beer parings are an important part of the craft beer drinker’s repertoire, and you can probably find hundreds of articles about which types of hops go with turkey and which malts best match the sugar in your cranberry sauce and the list goes on and on.
But I’m not focused on dinner. I’m focused on later. After the warm fuzzies have dissipated and the fun has ended and we fall back into the couch, panting and shaking from the sudden exodus, our minds frazzled - too worked up to sleep, but too exhausted to do anything constructive.
It’s time for the post-Thanksgiving beer. We’re looking for something good. And we’re looking for something big.
This is a really general way of saying that you shouldn’t always run to the cooler to grab a six-pack - some of my favorite beers of the past few years arrived in big bottles. They arrived with the knowledge that they were going to be shared - and celebrated. They are the epitome of the holidays - together, we partake.
I was raised thinking that beer came in two types of containers - the 12 oz. can and the 12 oz. bottle. As I grew older, I discovered the 40 oz. (Thanks, Dr. Dre!) and a few years later, the “tall-boy” 16 oz. can. Then: craft beer exploded, and so too did the wine-ification of beer bottling. Beers are classically trained, now, and they deserve a more respectable package.
Big bottle brews can be separated into two distinct camps: bombers, which are the 22oz bottles used for most of Deschutes’ fresh hopped beers and the New Belgium Lips of Faith series; and even larger bottles, the sometimes corked, sometimes capped, usually 750ml bottles used by Odell Brewing’s Cellar series and Grand Teton Brewing’s Cellar Reserve series.
Whether or not your favorite brewery employs 22 oz. or 750 mL bottles, you can assume there’s something special inside of that big bottle. This is the new trend - more breweries are funneling creative output away from development of new year-round beers and toward special release and seasonal batches. Some people go crazy and collect them, cellar them and then wave them around as some kind of collectors badge. We like to put them in the fridge and then drink them. We’re weird like that.
Where they shine is in their ability to be shared. A sane person doesn’t open up a bottle of Odell Deconstruction to drink on his or her own - these are beers that push toward conversational consumption, where we’re not just drinking from our own individual bottles but from a communal vessel. (They also push the boundaries of alcohol. These are the bottles that will reach 10% ABV) You can be assured that these special edition beers aren’t just big bodied and non-traditional - they’re a special note from the brewery to you, the person who was willing to try something different. Something special.
Something created with an extra measure of attention and craft and thought.
Thanksgiving builds throughout the day like a suspense movie: a slow morning is ramped up with the din of preparation, the stress of planning, the dull roar of not-that-exciting American sports, and tryptophan’s stranglehold on our senses. Despite the anticipation of a large meal, we spend the day eating snacks and appetizers, pushing the boundaries of our stomach and looking forward to an early dinner. (What is it about Thanksgiving that forces us to eat at 4 PM, by the way?)
Then, the big scene. A release of food. The loose ends are tied together and then consumed and then digested. Dishes clink, glasses are dried, the family retreats and then disappears altogether.
A moment to breathe. A quick flip through the channels. The celebratory popping of something from Ommegang Brewery. Thanksgiving is over, but the second act is just starting. Except for this scene, the part of After-Dinner Wine is being played by Ommegang’s Three Philosophers.
It’s a big bottle with a cork, and it’s the perfect thing for us to share. I’d say we’ve earned it.