Booze Makers Battle Over Turkey Day

Beer, Wine Groups Fight for Spot at Your Table

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CHICAGO ( -- Most thanksgiving tables have a turkey, sweet potatoes and cranberries on them. Now, alcohol marketers are jockeying over what's poured to accompany them.
Turkey and ... Beer?
The Brewer's Association launched a website, Beer and Turkey, that helps consumers pair craft brews with different Thanksgiving staples.
Sources: Brewers Association, Ad Age "research"

Trade groups as diverse as the Brewers Association (a consortium of craft-beer makers) and the Loire Valley Wine Bureau are centering their marketing efforts around claims that their beverages provide the perfect pairing for the most mainstream of meals, which -- unlike New Year's Eve (champagne) and Christmas (red wine) -- isn't already dominated by a particular drink.

"The opportunity is huge," said Julia Herz, marketing director at the Brewers Association. "Nobody is entrenched in Thanksgiving; it's anybody's choice [what they want to drink]."

To capitalize on that, the Brewers Association last year launched Beer and Turkey, a website devoted to informing consumers how best to pair beers with their Thanksgiving meal (and helping its occasionally marketing-challenged membership make the same point with customizable press releases).

Bigger palates, bottles
The site's recommended pairings include Oktoberfests or brown ales with turkey, pilsners with mashed potatoes or creamed corn, and amber ales with holiday seasonings such as sage. It also recommends buying larger-format bottles -- preferably the 750-millileter size associated with wine -- which are easier to share around a table.

The brewers also claim beer was part of the original Thanksgiving. "The pilgrims were beer drinkers," Ms. Herz said.

The message appears to be sinking in. Last year, the first of the promotion, saw craft-beer sales jump 13.3% during the two weeks surrounding Thanksgiving, according to Information Resources Inc.

It is unlikely the pilgrims had much exposure to Loire cabernet franc, but area vintners are pushing their midweight, herbaceous, fruity wines as ideal pairings for the Thanksgiving Day meal: light enough not to overwhelm the turkey but robust enough not to be overwhelmed by the often more-flavorful side dishes.

Sipping in person
Lacking the funds for a media blitz, the Loire has focused on influencing media by hosting a series of "Thanksgiving dinners" at posh restaurants in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Washington, Boston and, this year, Chicago, where a gourmet version of the traditional meal is prepared and paired with a series of cabernets.

The hope is for the wines to end up being recommended in local newspaper or magazine wine columns when the subject of what to serve on Thanksgiving comes up and to raise awareness of Loire wines in general. "It's a tool to illustrate how well these wines pair with food," said a spokeswoman for the Wine Bureau.

While the spokeswoman added that sales of Loire wines have picked up in recent holiday seasons, the Loire cabernet francs have several major commercial obstacles to becoming a widespread Thanksgiving choice. For one, the region lacks the well-known brands that its richer rivals in Bordeaux and Champagne possess, and most of the labels tend to mention the appellation in which the grapes were grown -- usually Chinon or Bourgeuil -- rather than the type of wine. Then there is the inevitable confusion that results when wine novices try to differentiate cabernet franc from its better-known cousin, cabernet sauvignon, typically a much heavier wine.

That, and they're, uh, French.

There's also far from a consensus that cabernet franc is the best wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. The influential wine critic Robert Parker suggests red zinfandel, The Wall Street Journal's wine column touts aged American cabernet sauvignon and many other critics point to pinot noir as ideal.

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