Now that Virginians have established that our early settlers were the first to celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s time for us to claim our just heritage. And beer is a proud part of that, even here at the fall line of the James River.
In 1607, when Christopher Newport and a band of explorers sailed upriver from Jamestown, they carried food, weapons, goods for trade, brandy, wine and beer — or “beere,” as they called it. They shared that beer with the Powhatans that they happened to meet — then as now, a little alcohol can act as a handy social lubricant. The English and the natives feasted, drank and danced.
As Lee Graves explains in “Richmond Beer: a History of Brewing’s in the River City”: “They partied a little too hard,” for Chief Powhatan’s son, Parahunt, who became quite ill. “Newport assured him that he would feel better after sleeping it off. When this proved true, Newport achieved status as a medicine man.”
Though the Europeans’ conquest of the people who preceded them may not be cause for celebration, most Virginians will nonetheless be celebrating this early American holiday, whether feasting with family and friends, or simply enjoying a day off.
To share some early “beere” traditions at your holiday meal, consider the following pairing and giftsuggestions, available locally. And have a couple of growlers in your trunk, in case the beers are only available on tap.
Pairs with turkey
Choose a subtle beer that still possesses some character, like a witbier or amber ale. The subtlety won’t overwhelm the bird, while the character will bring out the best in the preparation. Try Strangeways Brewing’s’s Albino Monkey, Isley Brewing’s Co.’s Plain Jane, Port City Brewing’s Optimal Wit or Midnight Brewery’s Rockville Red.
Pairs with glazed ham
The slightly sweet and savory glazed ham calls for a beer that’s strong but balanced, like a German doppelbock or Belgian dubbel. Such beers highlight malty, earthy, dark fruit flavors. Look for Ayinger’s Celebrator or Corsendonk Pater’s dubbel. Still dark but lighter, look for Midnight Brewery’s Not My Job brown or Köstritzer’s Schwarzbier.
Pairs with stuffing
Let the flavors or herbs and grains do a happy dance on your palate by pairing the stuffing with a farmhouse ale or saison, like Ardent Craft Ales’ Saison, Pale Fire Brewing’s Salad Days or Flying Dog Brewery’s Raging Bitch Belgian IPA.
Pairs with sweet potatoes
If you top your potatoes with marshmallows, let the darker malts in a brown ale or porter pull out the flavors in the lightly toasted topping. Look for Legend Brewing Co.’s Brown or Alewerks’ BBP bourbon-barrel-aged porter with Haitian sugar.
If you have nuts in the casserole, complement them with a nut brown ale from St. George Brewing’s Co. or Samuel Smith.
If your sweet potatoes, like my family’s, are sparse on the spices — merely a touch of sugar and cinnamon — find an unexpected complement in a balanced pale ale or IPA, like Center of the Universe Brewing Co.’s Ray Ray’s pale ale or Kindred Spirit Brewing’s Headspace. You know how tropical ingredients sometimes find their way into sweet potatoes? Grab a Stone Brewing’s Tangerine Express IPA.
Pairs with pound cake and shortbread cookies
Let a mild-flavored dessert play second fiddle to the beer: a dark, rich stout like Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Gingerbread Stout or Väsen Brewing’s Co.’s Crimson Walrus, Well’s Banana Bread Beer or a pumpkin beer — yes, I went there — like Strangeways Brewing’s Gingerbread Gourd of Thunder.
Pairs with pumpkin pie
Does anyone really know what pumpkin tastes like, or do we just know the spices that signal the holidays? Celebrate this pairing with a spiced holiday ale, such as Midnight Brewery’s Christmas at Midnight.
Makes a safe host/hostess gift
No single category of beers pairs with everything as well as Belgian beers. Unless you know your hosts’ and guests’ beer preferences, a Belgian pale ale can play well at the party without coming on too strong, like Palm or Duvel Belgian Ale. Push the envelope just a bit with a Belgian blond — the ale, not the one you’re bringing home to meet the family — like Leffe Blond or Unibroue Blanche de Chambly. Locally, consider Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Singel or Strangeways Brewing’s Albino Monkey.
If you’re visiting avowed beer haters, a holiday dinner is not the time to educate them on the error of their ways. Instead, remember that Richmond’s cideries, wineries and distilleries — and its meadery — offer the buzz without the barley and hops.
So, enjoy a little of the social lubricant this holiday — but avoid having to re-create Christopher Newport’s alleged powers of healing.