Category Archives: FCA news

Beer Pairings for Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving Dinner

Your pushy, sexually ambiguous friend (she seems to be flirting with you all the time, but spends an awful lot of time with this other girl who’s always calling her “sir”) has somehow found herself with nothing to do on Thanksgiving. Naturally, she invites herself and two of her apparently family-less friends to your house for dinner as you’re packing stuff into your station wagon for the long, bumpy ride to your grandmother’s condo. You don’t have time for this, but she never stops talking and you can’t get a word in edgewise.

So your “guests” show up, and they show up hungry—immediately demanding food. And of course you have no food, because you’re going to grandma’s. And you don’t even want to go to grandma’s because you called in sick Wednesday to hit the state’s beer trail, and all those hazy IPAs in your beer fridge are calling your name. Aaargh! Nothing ever seems to go your way.

But your beagle and his sidekick—a species-ambiguous little yellow bird who sucks at flying—step up and throw together whatever they can find in the kitchen, and then serve it up in the driveway on an old ping pong table. Wow, someone cares about you, even if you are a total blockhead. Maybe it’s time to just roll with the situation. I mean, that beer fridge is pretty well-stocked. Who even cares if you make it to grandma’s. Let’s party!

But when you get to the table, you find the dinner a bit…let’s say unconventional. In fact, your friend who forced her way into your holiday has the nerve to complain that this isn’t what she was expecting at all. Good grief! Here are some suggested beer pairings to get you through this ridiculous meal:

Buttered toast: If I were you, I’d skip the toast. Seriously, unless you like beagle fur mixed in with your butter, skip it. But if you insist on digging in, a beer with a biscuity malt base will accentuate the toast’s flavor. Try a light, crisp, refreshing pilsner. Czech and German versions have less alcohol (4.5 to 5.4%), while American versions can go up to 6% alcohol by volume. The slight spicy bitterness of the Saaz hops will cut through the creamy fat in the butter. Or if you’re still feeling stressed and have decided to ditch the drive to grandma’s, go with a higher alcohol (7.5 to 9.5%) option like a Belgian tripel. It’s still light and biscuity with a slightly spicy hop profile, but the Belgian yeast brings some pleasant fruity complexity that will make the toast seem like more than an afterthought. And the high carbonation is great for cleansing your palate of fur.

Popcorn: Animals, with their miniscule attention spans and many other shortcomings, aren’t so adept in the kitchen. They cooked the popcorn on the stovetop, and let it overflow while they were trying to multitask. A lot of it ended up on the floor. Rats! Again, it’s up to you whether to eat it. If you do, try something with some darker malts and more hop flavor. The English style pale ale called an extra-special bitter (ESB) is a nice choice. This style has some nice caramel sweetness, and often a slight nuttiness, that work well with popcorn. Kind of like Cracker Jacks when they’re all in your mouth together. Traditionally, the English hops used in this style have earthy or floral notes that will pair nicely with the dirt on the popcorn from the kitchen floor.

Pretzels: You’ve been to beerfests. You know that pretzels work with any beer, and help clear your palate when you’re moving from one beer to another. So do whatever you want. You know you want to pull out one of those hazy IPAs from your Wednesday road trip and go to town. The big grapefruit flavor from the Citra hops and the smooth, creamy mouthfeel from the added oats and lactose, will start preparing you for the too-sweet dessert that for some reason is on the same plate as the main meal. Sigh! Just save a few pretzels for after you finish your beer to get ready for the next course.

Jellybeans: The first couple of jellybeans are always good, but almost inevitably the pure sugar becomes sickening. Here’s what’s interesting, though: sugar and malt are in the same category (malting helps grains convert starches to sugars during the mash stage of making beer). So super-sugary foods like jellybeans kind of just blend with the malt in beer and heighten the other flavors. Try a hoppy double IPA with jellybeans—it will taste hoppier and juicier. Or a porter, stout, or IPA with hot chili peppers or smoked malt. They’ll be hotter or smokier.

Oh, and try an imperial stout with a peppermint patty. You won’t be sorry.

Brown-Eyed Girl is back

This Thursday, November 15, our popular brown ale, Brown-Eyed Girl, returns to the FCA set list—just in time to make it to your Thanksgiving table (brown ales go great with just about every part of the meal). After a couple of batches that veered a bit, we’ve returned to the original recipe that made you love it.

So get yourself to the brewery when the taps start flowing at 5 pm Thursday. Mug club members get $1 off all pours of this brew that night.

The three beers you need to make Thanksgiving a beer dinner

It’s cold when you leave for work in the morning and dark when you get home. You need to clear your yard of leaves. And now there’s all that shopping to do for Thanksgiving dinner, which is coming up fast. The vast majority of Americans have the shopping list somewhat on autopilot—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, apple and pumpkin pies—so aside from tinkering with some of the side dishes, something you might want to try differently is treating the holiday meal as a beer dinner.

Beer dinners are fun and educational. It’s interesting to note what you’re tasting in the food and the beer, and how those flavors interact with each other. Does the bitterness of an IPA cut through the fat in a charcuterie plate? The chocolatey maltiness of a brown ale contrast with the tanginess of cranberries? The sweetness in a barleywine complement a brown-sugar-and-molasses-heavy pecan pie? Yes, you bet they do.

The problem is that there are so many beer styles and you have other stuff to do besides research what they are and what foods they go with. Add to that the number of different foods available during the main meal—usually about eight—and there’s no way you’re going to find a perfect beer to go with every food. Instead, aim for beers that are best going to match the main components of each course.

Here, I’ll make it easy for you by telling you what three styles of beer best pair with each of the three phases that my family’s Thanksgiving meal typically runs through. (We’ve never really strayed from the traditional—no turduckens or tofurkeys in our household.) As a brewery owner and operator, I’ve been behind the bar long enough to know that everyone’s palate is different and some of you are not fans of these styles. So, I’ll note an alternative or two as well, and hopefully this short guide will be able to suit everyone’s taste.

Pour a pale ale with your apps

Since I was a kid, as the family gathered there were always generously large plates of cheese, crackers, nuts, cured meats, olives, and some crunchy vegetables such as celery and carrots. Nowadays, we call it charcuterie and it all seems so fancy.

Hoppy, often citrusy (but piney can work too), bitterness is a great complement to sharp cheeses like cheddar, and the light malts of a pale ale work well with nuts and crackers. If there are a lot of fatty meats on your plate, the beer’s combination of acidity and carbonation will cut through the fat.

Alternatives: A light, refreshing Pilsner with more earthy hops can ease you gently into a full day of food and drink. Or, if you want to go big right out of the gate (and hand over your car keys to a designated driver), a sweet barleywine is delicious with heavier cheeses like a creamy brie or crumbly blue.

Take tripel with your turkey

Okay, you made it through the apps, and now you’re being told it’s time to sit down for the big meal. Maybe you worked some of the earlier gorging off tossing around a football. Or you’ve just emerged from a short food coma that has left you groggy yet ravenous.

Whether you’re inhaling or forcing down each bite, you’re going to be working with a lot of flavors and textures—the crisp, caramelized skin of the turkey (even crispier if you deep fried it in your driveway) and the mild saltiness of its meat; the deep umami goodness of the gravy; the bready herbiness of the stuffing; the bittersweet cranberry sauce (I still love the gelatinous type from a can); the buttery creaminess of mashed potatoes; the mild, sweet earthiness of sweet potatoes; and the garlic and almond nuttiness mixed in with your green beans or the bacon and shallots with your Brussels sprouts.

If you were to pick a perfect beer pairing for each of these dishes, they’d be different, and you’d be consuming more alcohol than you should. You need a real workhorse that’s going to provide complement and contrast to everything on your plate, and have enough carbonation to clear the last bite’s flavors off your tongue so that you’re ready to fully experience all the flavors in the next bite.

That’s where Belgian-style strong ales come in. I’m recommending a tripel, which is a light-colored, higher alcohol (7.5% to 9.5% alcohol by volume) beer with a complex mix of spicy and fruity flavors with a delicate malt base. The experience of drinking a tripel rivals that of a good wine, with the pleasant and previously noted palate-cleansing effects of high carbonation. The food will pop, and you may find yourself relaxing to the point where you can tune out the political debate that’s erupting at the table.

Alternatives: A brown ale or Oktoberfest lager can be a good, lower-alcohol alternative. Both styles rely primarily on malts for their flavor, with the brown being a bit more roasty and chocolatey, and the Oktoberfest being more toasty and biscuity. Both are great with turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. The brown might better complement the gravy and cut through the creaminess of the mashed potatoes.

If browns aren’t your thing, the mild flavor of an Oktoberfest works with almost anything. Choosing the beer you want with a meal all depends on your favorite of the flavors on your plate—focus on that and pick the beer that best matches it.

Go dark with dessert

It’s been an hour or three since the main table was cleared. What have you been doing? Watching football? Getting suckered into a political shouting match? Doing your best tryptophan-induced impression of Rip Van Winkle? Changing into any elastic-waisted pant you can find? Well, I hope you’re ready to wrap up with some pie.

Whether it’s apple, pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan, berry, coconut, or banana, the one beer style that is a 100% win with dessert is imperial stout. Whether you get one that’s just a straight-up stout or one flavored with coffee, vanilla, banana, chili peppers, or bourbon barrels, it’s gonna work. The chocolate malt flavors, the roasted barley, the caramel malts. They all combine to create flavors that rival the best coffee or espresso with any dessert.

Alternatives: Another dark option that goes well with dessert is a barleywine. Despite its name, this is a beer. There are no grapes or other fruit products. It’s made primarily from barley, just like any beer. It’s called a barleywine because of its high alcohol content. In the old days, before IPAs could approach 10 or 11 percent alcohol, barleywines—which can go as high as 12 percent alcohol by volume—were some of the biggest beers around. Since the alcohol content got as high as some wines, the beer was known as barleywine.

These beers are dark, but not as dark as porters or stouts (a porter can be a suitable alternative for dessert, too.) They tend to be sweeter than a stout, sometimes with flavors of stone fruits, like plums. Great with pie, or if you’re too full, skip dessert and have the beer as an aperitif.

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Just please remember to drink responsibly during the holiday. If you have one beer during each of the three courses above, probably spread out over four or five hours, you should be okay. But everyone has his or her own tolerances. Don’t get behind the wheel of a car even if you’re feeling a little buzz. Thanksgiving traffic is horrendous, and it’s all too easy to get into an accident. Have a good time but stay safe. Enjoy the holiday, everyone!

Homebrew contest beer release: Monkey Wrench

Come to Fairfield Craft Ales on Saturday, November 3, as we release the beer we brewed with our June home brew contest winners. The taps at 724 Honeyspot Road in Stratford start flowing at 1 pm. And all are welcome to the home brew team’s launch party from 6-9 pm.

Monkey Wrench, a chocolaty imperial stout concocted by Matt Laudicina, Chris Aiuto, and Jason Rancourt, weighs in at 7.5 percent abv. Big bars of dark chocolate went into the boil, and quite a few bunches of bananas were added during secondary fermentation. Both flavors come through in a balanced—and not overpowering—way.

These guys were a ton of fun to brew with, and they participated actively along the way—from the actual brew to adding bananas a week later to kegging and canning.

Even a former homebrew contest winner got into the act. Jim Cenatiempo, who with Chris Moise won our first contest with Paint It Black porter, happened to stop by and pitched in with our super-manual labeling process.

By the way, that cute little boy you see in the canning video is Chris Aiuto’s son, Christopher (Kip). Kip was very recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and is just beginning his lifelong journey with this condition.  We will have a jar out all day on Saturday for voluntary donations to the JDRF (f/k/a the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). In addition, we will sell tickets during the evening release party for a 50/50 raffle. The winner will get half the pot plus a Fairfield Craft Ales hoodie, and the other half will go to the JDRF.

If you can’t make it to the brewery that day, we encourage you to donate through the Facebook page Chris set up, “Walking for a World Without T1D.”

Costume party double beer release

Celebrate Halloween a little early this year at 724 Honeyspot Road in Stratford, CT! Come to Fairfield Craft Ales in costume on Saturday, October 27, for $1 off your first pint anytime from opening at 1 pm to close at 9 pm.

Two new beers are being released this weekend:

  • Don’t Fear the Reaper, an IPA flavored with Carolina Reaper It’s the hottest beer we’ve made so far, but don’t be scared. We’ve tried it and lived to tell about it. A great beer to put a little kick in your Halloween festivities.
  • What I Got, a hazy IPA loaded with Citra and Cascade hops.

Plus, there are 10 other spooktacular beers on tap.

Starting at 6 pm, there will be live music from SuperNeutral. During their set, we’ll be giving prizes for best costume, so come dressed to kill. Bring or order in dinner, or enjoy some treats at the bar.

Introducing Boom Boom barleywine

Boom Boom is our new barleywine that’s sure to please. Dark, sweet, and sitting nicely in the lower, not-overly-boozy part of the style’s alcohol range at 9.2%.

There’s a little bit of a dispute in the brewery over which song it’s named after. Joe says Pat Travers:

Mike says John Lee Hooker:

You can pick your favorite, but seriously, does it matter? Both songs are great, and so is the beer. Try some!

We’re releasing it Thursday, September 27, starting at 5 pm. Mug club members get $1 off their first pour.

Trivia Thursdays at Fairfield Craft Ales

Hey smartypantses! (We think that’s how that’s spelled.) Come down to Fairfield Craft Ales at 724 Honeyspot Road in Stratford, Connecticut, every Thursday night for trivia and beer. The winning team gets $20 off its tab for the night. Plus bragging rights, of course.

We have everything you need—answer sheets, writing implements, beer, wine, hard cider, snacks, music between rounds, and an overall good time. Just bring yourself and your smartest friends.

The fun starts at 7:30 pm. We start handing out picture round sheets a little earlier, so get here early to get a head start and a good seat.

Vinyl share Fridays at Fairfield Craft Ales

Like to listen to vinyl records? Yes? You must be super cool. We have a pretty good collection that includes some of the best classic rock ever recorded, a little bit of jazz, and some of the most quotable comedy albums of the 80s.

What do you have? We want to hear it. Some of our favorites that customers have brought in for our Friday night vinyl shares have been live albums. But we’ll put on anything, so bring ’em in.

Every Friday night (except the occasional Fridays when we have live music), from 5-9 pm, we’ll play whatever you want. Come join us at 724 Honeyspot Road in Stratford, Connecticut!