The feast is the pinnacle of Thanksgiving, but this year I urge you to share your focus with the amazing additions your favorite craft beers can bring to the dinner table. Beer can both satisfy and accentuate every dish on your holiday table better than any other beverage. It’s also perfect for toasting and sharing amongst family and friends.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, ask your guests to bring a growler, a couple of bombers or a six-pack of their favorite beers to pass around the table with family and friends. Beers from around the country will unite at the table in the same way as your visitors and family.
Here are a few style suggestions that will pair nicely with common Thanksgiving day dishes. These beers will help open the eyes of guests that might not be aware of the beautiful beverage of craft beer.
Pumpkins seem to go hand-in-hand with fall, and it just so happens that pumpkin ales are perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. They’re the essence of the season captured in a bottle, complete with a dark autumn hue. Some pumpkin ales have a rich pumpkin flavor, while others focus on the spices often found in pumpkin pie like nutmeg and all-spice.
A pumpkin ale is a great beer to crack open before the meal. The spices in heartier versions can be overpowering for dinner, so it’s best to enjoy them while the rest of the company shuffles in. If you prefer to have a pumpkin ale while at the table, I suggest having it alongside a slice of actual pumpkin pie. Depending on the particular bottle, the beer might compliment the spices of the pie, or lessen the sweetness if the beer has a relatively high ABV.
Here are a couple of my favorite pumpkin ales:
- Pumpkin Ale | Schlafly Beer | St. Louis, MO
- Punk’n | Uinta Brewing | Salt Lake City, UT
- Pumpkinator | Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Houston, TX
- Drunkin’ Pumpkin Ale | Wynkoop Brewing Co. | Denver, CO
- Night Owl Pumpkin Ale | Elysian Brewing Co. | Seattle, WA
- The Greater Pumpkin | Heavy Seas Beer | Baltimore, MD
While witbiers are often considered a summer treat, they can be great addition to the main course of Thanksgiving dinner. A witbier shares many characteristics with a hefeweizen, but on a more subtle scale. They can be lighter, but maintain the spice character that works with a wide variety of dishes.
Witbiers are great for pairing with turkey, as they allow the bird to remain in the limelight and serve only as an enhancement. The succulent white meat paired with a witbier will unveil the natural gaminess of the turkey and enhance its flavors.
Try any of these witbiers when it’s carving time:
- Widespread Wit | Great River Brewery | Davenport, IA
- White Rascal | Avery Brewing Co. | Boulder, CO
- Namaste | Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales | Milton, DE
- Witte | Brewery Ommegang | Cooperstown, NY
- UFO White | Harpoon Brewery | Boston, MA
- Winter White Ale | Bell’s Brewery, Inc. | Kalamazoo, MI
The herb-like and earthy flavors of a farmhouse ale or saison can serve as a fun wild card for Thanksgiving. These beers are truly unique—sort of like snowflakes. One might offer flavors of hibiscus, another will have a bite of ginger and orange zest, while yet another will be tart and fruity.
My suggestion is to drink a bottle with a generous portion of stuffing. Stuffing varies regionally (some would even say from house to house). Some recipes call for walnuts while another include water chestnuts. Some versions include pears while others add apples. You can’t miss when pairing your stuffing with a farmhouse ale or saison, as they’re very moldable to what they’re being paired to. The right flavors will shine through and not overpower this family favorite.
These are a few amazing farmhouse ales and saisons that will be a hit:
- Tank 7 | Boulevard Brewing Co. | Kansas City, MO
- Cucumber Saison | Cigar City Brewing Co. | Tampa, FL
- De Viento | Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales | Dexter, MI
- Saison Rue | The Bruery | Orange County, CA
- Carnevale | The Lost Abbey | San Marcos, CA
India Pale Ale
IPAs can present a challenge when pairing food. Look to match intensities and accentuate the flavor of the hops rather than bitterness. Embrace the IPA by enjoying it alongside a food that isn’t going to be intimidated: cheese. The best Thanksgiving food to pair an IPA with is a hearty helping of baked macaroni and cheese. The thick and sharp fattiness of the cheese can withstand the beer, all while matching its intensity. I also recommend pairing an IPA with cheesecake if it’s being served, but make sure it’s a lighter one. You’ll thank me, I promise!
There are plenty of great IPAs out there, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Sculpin | Ballast Point | San Diego, CA
- Double Trouble | Founders Brewing Co. | Grand Rapids, MI
- Hop Stoopid | Lagunitas Brewing Co. | Petaluma, CA
- IPA | Odell Brewing Co. | Fort Collins, CO
- Heady Topper | The Alchemist | Waterbury, VT
- Ninja vs. Unicorn | Pipeworks Brewing Co. | Chicago, IL
Porters come in many forms: imperial, smoked, chocolate, chili, vanilla, etc., and each can find a seat at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Porters tend to be a little sweeter than their big brother the stout, but while dark in color, some are deceptively light in flavor with a creamy, smooth mouthfeel.
A porter is a great match for a glazed ham. The pineapple flavors will go with the sweetness of the beer, almost creating a caramelization on the palate. If you prefer your ham smoked, try matching smoke-for-smoke by enjoying a smoked turkey or ham with a smoked porter.
If you saved room for dessert, and chocolate pie or brownies are on the menu, look no further than a chocolate or vanilla porter to help wash those down. Either of these beers will bring out the best qualities of the sugary delights, and even intensify them.
Here are a few examples of great porters to pair with your Thanksgiving favorites:
- Eugene | Revolution Brewing Co. | Chicago, IL
- Alaskan Smoked Porter | Alaskan Brewing Co. | Juneau, AK
- Edmund Fitzgerald | Great Lakes Brewing Co. | Cleveland, OH
- Vanilla Porter | Breckenridge Brewery | Breckenridge, CO
- Zombie Monkey | Tallgrass Brewing Co. | Manhattan, KS
- Sue | Yazoo Brewing Co. | Nashville, TN
- Smoke Jumper | Left Hand Brewing Co. | Longmont, CO
What’s your favorite craft beer to share at your holiday table? Share in a comment below.
Andy Skelton is a certified Cicerone Server who found his passion for beer while living in Chicago. He has degrees in both marketing and finance and is the taproom manager at Backpocket Brewery. Besides the topic of beer, Andy is a devoted sports talker. Stay tuned for Andy’s upcoming podcast that combines his two aforementioned favorite things. Mr. Skelton is an infrequent Tweeter that can be found @BeerDuder.