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Brewing with Thanksgiving Leftovers

If you have more leftovers than any reasonable person would attempt to eat, here are a few ideas for brewing with some of them.

Dave Carpenter November 27, 2015

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I’ve had the good fortune to study and work with people from all over the world in my thirty-seven years on this earth. Along the way, I’ve been delighted to learn about other cultures and the foods, drinks, holidays, and customs that make them unique. And, of course, I’ve explained more than a few American customs to my foreign friends.

Chief among these is Thanksgiving, a uniquely United States of American holiday that, I explain, involves cooking for roughly five days in order to yield a selection of no fewer than forty-five individual dishes come the fourth Thursday in November. On the Big Day, the whole family gathers around the table to consume as much food as is humanly possible in half an hour before retiring to the den and falling asleep in front of the TV while watching American football. Stretchy pants are essential.

And then there are the leftovers. Any other day of the year, preparing a 6-inch tall sandwich of roast turkey, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole for breakfast might seem obscene. But on the day after Thanksgiving, it’s virtually one’s patriotic duty.

But if you have more leftovers than any reasonable person would attempt to eat, why not try brewing with some of them? Here are a few ideas.

Cranberry sauce

More than any other Thanksgiving treat, cranberry sauce lends itself to brewing. Why? It’s full of simple sugars for the yeast, there’s loads of great cranberry flavor, and most recipes are free of foam-destroying fats and oils. Freeze it first to sanitize, then thaw and add to the secondary fermentor as a kind of dry-hop addition.

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Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin beer has all but become a requirement for craft breweries across this great land of ours, but why not try a pumpkin pie beer? Like cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie contains simple sugars, but the pie crust also hosts plenty of complex carbohydrates in the form of wheat flour. I recommend adding pumpkin pie to the mash so that the crust has an opportunity to convert. Keep in mind that the substantial amount of fat in pumpkin pie (good pumpkin pie, anyway) is likely to interfere with head retention.

Candied yams

I must confess to loathing candied yams, but judging from their ubiquity, not everyone shares my aversion. As with pumpkin pie, you’ll get gourdy goodness, along with fermentables from whatever syrup or sugars you used for the candying process. Many recipes include toasted marshmallows, which add additional sugar and perhaps some caramel notes. I would add candied yams to the mash.

Turkey

There is quite a bit of precedent for brewing with meat. Readers of Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing are no doubt at least passingly familiar with Cock Ale, which contains an entire chicken, parboiled, flayed, and stamped in a stone mortar “till his bones are broken.” Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing gained notoriety a few years back when it released Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, in which roasted bull testicles were added to the mash. And then there’s pechuga mezcal, a relative of tequila in which the nectar of the agave plant is distilled with chicken breasts.

So why not turkey? It wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you’re adventurous, it could be worth a try. I suspect the savory notes might make it a good mixer in a Bloody Mary or michelada. Add cooked turkey to the boil or as a secondary fermentation addition. Again, be prepared for underwhelming foam in the finished product.

Should you take it upon yourself to brew with one of these unusual ingredients, please let us know. We’d love to see what you come up with.

Happy Thanksgiving Leftovers! And Happy Brewing!

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