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," the Henniker, New Hampshire turkey farmer said. "It's not a strong, gamey flavor, it's a nice turkey flavor."
Longtime customer Dan Bourque, a local 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?"
Kathi Brock, national director of Humane Heartland, which oversees the treatment of farm animals, said that standards from the American Humane Association don't prohibit serving beer to animals.
"I consulted with an avian veterinarian who said that while giving beer to turkeys is not a standard protocol, hops could be beneficial for the intestinal tract," she said in an email.
Morette's turkeys are not the first animals to consume alcohol. Japanese farmers have been said to feed cattle beer to stimulate their appetites. And a winemaker and a farmer in the south of France have experimented with feeding cows the remainders of pressed grapes to produce meat they've dubbed "Vinbovin."
During one recent feeding, Morette's birds dipped their beaks repeatedly into the foamy liquid in a 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 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.
Majewski said the additional calories and carbohydrates probably do make the birds a bit bigger, and like anything the birds eat, beer likely has some effect on flavor. Juiciness is another matter, he said.
"I think it has as much to do with how you cook it rather than what it's been eating," he said. "You can take a really well-fed bird and make it not very juicy."
Majewski, who brews beer at home, also raises chickens. But he has no plans to embrace Morette's methods.
"Any beer that we have is too good for them, and I'm going to drink it instead," he said.