Turkeys fed beer for flavor, size

HENNIKER, N.H. — When it comes to pairing beer with poultry, Joe Morette isn’t too fussy. His turkeys will drink just about anything.

Morette, who is raising about 50 Thanksgiving turkeys this year, has been giving his birds beer since 1993, when he and his workers popped open a few cans after work on a hot July day. A turkey knocked one over and started drinking, he said, and they’ve been sipping the suds ever since.

Morette, who prefers serving the turkeys lager, insists the beer makes birds fatter, more flavorful and juicier.

“Oh, yeah, it’s noticeable,” he said. “It’s not a strong, gamey flavor, it’s a nice turkey flavor.”

Longtime customer Dan Bourque, a Manchester attorney, said he hasn’t had a bad bird yet from Morette. He said the turkeys are far superior to the supermarket varieties.

“We find the gravy is much darker, and much tastier,” he said. “The bird overall has a slightly different taste that is very appealing.”

The animal rights group PETA said turkeys shouldn’t be fed beer and that “farmers across the country use questionable practices to keep costs down or to alter the taste of animals’ flesh because their priority is profit, not the animals’ welfare.”

But a poultry expert with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension said it is unlikely the birds are suffering.

“I don’t know exactly how much beer each turkey is consuming, but it would have to be a lot in order for it to kind of have the same effect as too much beer on people,” said Carl Majewski, field specialist in food and agriculture. “I imagine it’s not enough to really make ‘em tipsy or anything like that. It’s just enjoying a beer with their meal. Why not?”

During one recent feeding, Morette’s birds dipped their beaks repeatedly into the foamy liquid in a watering trough. A few minutes later, at least one appeared rather dazed, with eyes narrowed to slits and beer dribbling out of its beak. But the rest seemed alert and no worse for the wear.

“Turkeys don’t seem to be the brightest, so they could stumble and you wouldn’t know if they drank too much or not,” Morette said.

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