A guide to choosing beers perfectly suited for the day’s fare, from starters to desserts.
Thanksgiving is the homiest of holidays, requiring little more than good food, good drink, and good friends. You've already checked your guest list, and planned your menu, but what beers pair best with a Thanksgiving feast? The simple answer is that the very best pairings are the beers that you like best.
As much as we love long, languid dinners that pair beer with every course, that is not how Thanksgiving works in our house, and probably not how it works in your house either. If your dinner is anything like ours, it includes many different tastes and aromas, so we recommend choosing beers that complement a wide range of flavors, as well as those you think your guests will love.
There is no right or wrong way to do this; it all depends on personal taste, but if you're still looking for a little guidance, here are our recommendations for beers that will complement every bite from the moment your guests arrive until the Thanksgiving food coma kicks in.
Add a touch of elegance to this day of gluttony by greeting your guests with a glass of crisp, sparkling ale. A beer that is less hoppy and more about the fruity character of its yeast will be ideal for sipping between nibbles of hors d’oeuvres, as it cleanse the palate between bites without overpowering the food. We love to serve 3 Monts Flanders Golden Ale as a reception beer. It’s perfect for serving in flutes because the ripe pear and white grape flavors are released in a champagne-like effervescence, and the 750ml format looks great on the table. Other good choices are Blanche de Chambly (a Belgian-style wit from Unibroue) and Bell’s Oarsman (a Berliner weiss).
If your tastes lean toward something maltier, there is a great selection of seasonal beers available that are perfect with a big meal. Southern Tier’s Pumking and The Bruery’s Autumn Maple are spiced fall offerings that have both graced our table on Thanksgiving. If you’re a stickler for more traditional flavors you can’t go wrong with Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale.
If you were invited to our house for Thanksgiving, you’d find two to three beer style options, set out family style like the dinner itself so guests can choose which one they want to drink. One style that has been a hit on our table year after year is saison. Originating in Belgium, saisons are complex beers characterized by flavors of spice, lemon zest and cracked pepper. The finish is quite dry and slightly bitter. Saison Dupont from Belgium is the benchmark of the style, with Brooklyn Sorachi Ace and North Coast Le Merle being two outstanding examples made in the US.
No Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without overindulging and everyone has room for dessert. Whether its pumpkin pie and cranberry chestnut bread pudding, or double chocolate cheesecake, decadent desserts deserve to be paired with equally lush ales. Akin to vintage port, barleywines and wheatwines are rich, complex, and warming. Brewed to strengths of up to 15% alcohol by volume, these beers often exhibit notes of stone fruit, toffee, and vanilla. As if this wasn't enticing enough, these beers are also suitable for cellaring, where their flavors will change and mellow over time.
Arcadia Cereal Killer barleywine will be on our table this year. Its fruity malt and hints of raisins, brown sugar and tangerine will complement our rustic apple tart and sweet potato crème brulee. Uinta’s Cockeyed Cooper is another great choice as the nuances from its bourbon barrel aging contribute notes of both vanilla and chocolate. Rounding out our list of dessert favorites is the latest offering from Full Sail Brewing 27 Wheatwine Ale. Brewed with 100% wheat malt instead of barley, it yields flavors of candied orange peel and caramel, swirled together with spice and fresh hops. Serve your dessert beers in snifters at a warmer temperature and smaller portion than you would with "table beers."
If you want your guests to savor the culinary bliss that is Thanksgiving, simply serve your traditional holiday meals with the beers you love. Just remember, whatever beer you plan on pouring, make sure to pour one for yourself first.
Other Thanksgiving friendly beer styles: grand cru, Bière de garde, quadrupel, porter and Imperial Stout.
Do you have Thanksgiving beer pairings you'd like to share? Tell us in comments!