Editor's Note: We're trying to find the best beers to drink with our favorite Serious Eats recipes. Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is here to help.
The Thanksgiving feast is over. The pile of turkey bones on your plate rivals a specimen drawer at the natural history museum. You've stuffed yourself to the gullet and you've washed it down with a delightful biére de garde or Belgian tripel. You're done. You're satisfied.
But wait! There's pie! And how can say no to pie? Especially when there's beer to go with it.
It may sound strange, but beer can be an excellent partner for dessert. One general rule says that beers served with dessert should be sweeter than what you're eating. Rich, sugary desserts can make beers with less residual sugar seem thin or harsh. English old ales and barleywines offer a delicious way to follow this guideline. Their cavernous malt profile is a perfect complement to caramel or brown-sugar flavored desserts and a delicious contrast to fruity ones. The boosted alcohol also helps to keep your palate clear. A rich, caramel-like Scotch ale will fit the bill as well.
That said, rules are meant to be broken and sometimes a smattering of sour or a hint of hops brings just the right amount of contrast. Hopped-up American-style barleywines and double IPAs balance sugar and citrus to hit the sweet-spot for complement and contrast. Sweetened fruit lambics can work with fruity desserts, and also offer a heavenly contrast to chocolate-laden treats.
A third method for pairing beer and dessert is to think about cofffee—anything that you would normally serve with a cup of espresso will go just as well with the coffee-tinged flavors of roasty porters and stouts. Roasted malts bring bitterness and acidity to beer that offer the same kind of sugar-cutting contrast as coffee. It's a great time to bring out your imperial stouts—they offer roastiness and sweetness, and they have enough heft to take on even the richest desserts. Sweet stouts, oatmeal stouts, and many porters will also do the trick. I find Irish stouts like Guinness and Murphy's to be too light and bitter for the task. Go with a coffee stout to take the pairing one step further by adding a bit of the real thing.
Here's a selection of recommended beers for pairing with three popular holiday pies; pumpkin, apple, and pecan.
Best Beers for Pumpkin Pie
Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale: Too much of a good thing? I think not. I'm a fan of pairings that feature complementary flavors and this one will do that in spades. Pumpkin, spice, and full-throated caramel and brown-sugar flavors make this a perfect match. There is even a hint of chocolate roast for contrast.
Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter: The best of both worlds, this one gives you coffee/chocolate roast and pumpkin pie at the same time. The emphasis is on the roast with the squash and spice playing backup. Complement and contrast in one tasty package.
Founders Dirty Bastard: The caramel flavors of Scotch ale are a great complement to the sweet baked-squash and brown sugar of pumpkin pie. A hint of roast in the beer's finish provides just enough bitter contrast.
Best Beers for Apple Pie
Lindemans Pomme: It's bursting with apple flavor and sweet enough to meet the pie head to head. A subtle back-bite of tart acidity keeps the pairing from becoming too saccharine. There's just the slightest hint of wheaty malt to pick up on the crust.
Samuel Smith Winter Welcome: Who doesn't love apple pie with caramel sauce? One of my favorite beers of the holiday season, Winter Welcome highlights caramel malt that works like the sauce without being as sweet. Biscuity notes also speak to the pie crust. Earthy English hops and moderately low bitterness provide a nice counterpoint that also picks up on the cinnamon spice in the apples.
Best Beers for Pecan Pie
Hinterland Luna Stout: Pecan pie is so sticky sweet on its own that a sweeter beer might induce a sugar coma. The all-out contrast of a coffee stout works quite nicely here. Luna Stout is well balanced between coffee and coffee/chocolate roasted malt flavors—the coffee doesn't overwhelm. A bit of lingering sweetness provides a subtle, backdoor hook between the pie and the beer.
Brooklyn Black Ops: The flavors of bourbon and vanilla are so compatible with pecan pie that some restaurants actually make bourbon pecan pies. You can take advantage of this compatibility and get the contrast of roasted malts with this bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout. Barrel aging imparts creamy whiskey and vanilla flavors that soften the intensity of the roast. It's big enough to stand up to the stickiest of pecan pies, with a lot of alcohol and enough hoppy goodness to wipe the sugar away.
Southern Tier Gemini: Take the idea of contrast to a bitter & fruity extreme with this boldly-blended double IPA. A 50/50 mix of the brewery's American-style and English-style imperial IPAs, it features big bitterness with citrus and herbal hop flavors. It'll scrape the candied pecans right off your tongue, but there is enough of a sugary malt backbone to make the pairing hang together.
Have you ever tried beer and pie together? Got any favorite pairings?
About the Author: Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is the lead educator and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts beer tastings for private parties and corporate events. His beer musings can be read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, his own Perfect Pint Blog, The Hop Press at Ratebeer.com, the City Pages Hot Dish Blog, and in respected national beer magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @aperfectpint