Thanksgiving Beer Pairings: First Course to Final Bite
When I’m choosing a beer for myself, it’s a fairly easy decision—I know what I like. But choosing for someone else, or a group is a little trickier.
It can feel overwhelming to choose among the diverse and delicious craft beers available in my local bottle shops, especially when I’m set on sharing them, or pairing them with a meal.
(Chart: How to Pick the Right Beer Glass)
But this year, I have my heart set on bringing beer to the Thanksgiving table. Elegant, interesting and complex, craft beer has a lot to offer when paired with food. So with some help from my local bottle shops, and a few chefs, I put together a list of styles and suggested pairings that are sure to wow you and your guests.
This list of craft beers will help you pick the perfect Thanksgiving beer pairings to accompany your traditional turkey day from first course to final bite.
Dragonhosen Imperial Oktoberfest | Boulder Beer | Boulder, CO
Characteristic of the season, fest beers pair nicely with a wide variety of snacks and starters including roasted and salted nuts and pumpkin seeds, as well as fresh, mild or sweet cheeses. This earthy, imperial version easily carries over into the rest of the meal. You’ll find the understated but interesting flavor profile of pairs well with almost any course.
Fest beers you might also enjoy:
- SurlyFest | Surly Brewing Co. | Brooklyn Center, MN
- Oktoberfest | Great Lakes Brewing Co. | Cleveland, OH
- Octoberfest | Harpoon Brewery | Boston, MA
- Festbier | Victory Brewing Co. | Downingtown, PA
Farmhouse Ale / Saison
Hennepin (farmhouse saison) | Brewery Ommegang | Cooperstown, NY
This bright, spicy and crisp golden-hued beer is champagne-like in effervescence and perfect for the season. With hints of citrus peel and ginger, farmhouse ales and saisons have a firm balance of bitter and sweet. They pair nicely with salty or seed-covered crackers served with strong, funky cheeses, light salads as a first course, and seasonal fall desserts. As part of a main course accompaniment featuring roast chicken or turkey, you’ll find the subtle complexities of this style worth journeying through a meal with.
Farmhouse ales you might also enjoy:
- Allagash Interlude | Allagash Brewing Co. | Portland, ME
- Arthur Saison | Hill Farmstead Brewery | Greensboro Bend, VT
- Saison Rue | The Bruery | Placentia, CA
- Noble Rot | Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales | Milton, DE
- Colette | Great Divide Brewing Co. | Denver, CO
Belgian-Style Golden Strong Ale
Gun Show | Monday Night Brewing | Atlanta, GA
Brewed with honey and pears, this light-colored golden ale is perfectly suited for a first course that includes a bright salad highlighting fresh green apple, dried cranberries and a poppy-seed vinaigrette. With sugars from the added pears, this Belgian-style golden strong ale is bubbly, sweet and has a spicy Belgian yeast character with subtle notes of banana and clove. Serve it with a dessert course between bites of apple or cherry pie, or offer it to those who typically choose a Chardonnay to go with their dinner—they will appreciate this beer throughout the meal.
Other Belgian Strong Ales you might enjoy:
- Horny Devil | AleSmith Brewing Co. | San Diego, CA
- Brainless® Belgian-Style Golden Ale | Epic Brewing Co. | Denver, CO
- North Coast Grand Cru | North Coast Brewing Co. | Fort Bragg, CA
- Damnation | Russian River Brewing Co. | Santa Rosa, CA
- Oro de Calabaza | Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales | Dexter, MI
Rye Hatter (Rye IPA)| New Holland Brewing Co. | Holland, MI
With rye beer’s typical malty sweetness and rich rye color, this creamy, malt-forward beer has a spicy and delightfully bitter citrusy bite that makes a good first-course selection with strong cheese and salty snacks (like those on a traditional charcuterie board). It also stands up nicely to the Thanksgiving plate without getting lost amid rich and savory flavors typical of the meal.
Rye-forward beers you might also like:
- Bell’s Smitten Golden Rye Ale | Bell’s Brewery, Inc. | Kalamazoo, MI
- Hoss | Great Divide Brewing Co. | Denver, CO
- Ruthless® Rye | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Chico, CA & Mills River, NC
- Rye-On-Rye | Boulevard Brewing Co. | Kansas City, MO
- Bonehead Imperial Red Rye | Fat Heads Brewery & Saloon | North Olmsted, OH
The Reverend | Avery Brewing Co. | Boulder, CO
Gravy-laden plates with bread stuffing and roasted garlic mash are ideal pairings for a Belgian-style quadruple, an earthy, complex and malt-forward beer. Equally interesting as a dessert pairing with caramel- or molasses-forward desserts like pecan pie or sweet potato casserole, this brew is one to savor from the main course through the end of a meal.
Other Quadrupels you might enjoy:
- Judgment Day | The Lost Abbey | San Marcos, CA
- QUAD | Weyerbacher Brewing Co. | Easton, PA
- Stickee Monkee | Firestone Walker Brewing Co. | Paso Robles, CA
- Quasimodo | Three Taverns Brewery | Decatur, GA
- Tetravis | Samuel Adams | Boston, MA
Goat Boy (Imperial Weizenbock) | Southern Tier Brewing Co. | Lakewood, NY
Strongly smelling of caramelized banana, with a spicy clove flavor that becomes more noticeable as it warms, this imperial weizenbock is almost a dessert in itself. Pouring a rich, dark honey or caramel color, it’s ideally served with banana bread pudding and vanilla ice cream, alongside crème brulee, or as a carbonated counterweight to Bananas Foster with clove- and cinnamon-spiced whipped cream. This beer is a unique and intriguing way to finish a meal.
Other Weizenbocks you might enjoy, but may also be difficult to find:
- Weizenbock | Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Houston, TX
- Glockenspiel Weizenbock | Great Lakes Brewing Co. | Cleveland, OH
- Weizenhammer | Brooklyn Brewery | Brooklyn, NY
- Teufel Bock | Atwater Brewery | Detroit, MI
Stone Imperial Russian Stout | Stone Brewing Co. | Escondido, CA
This imperial stout has a deep roastiness, balanced by chocolatey bitterness and hints of anise. Serve this alone as an after-dinner treat, or with rich chocolate ice cream, coffee and cinnamon almond biscotti, or with custard pies like sweet potato and pumpkin for a memorable end to your dinner party.
Other Imperial Stouts to look for:
- B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Oatmeal-Imperial Stout | Hoppin’ Frog Brewery | Akron, OH
- Expedition Stout | Bell’s Brewery | Kalamazoo, MI
- Duck-Rabbit Rabid Duck | The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery | Farmville, NC
- Schlafly Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout | Schlafly Beer | Saint Louis, MO
- Santa’s Little Helper | Port Brewing Co. | San Marcos, CA
Chief Sawnee’s Stash Coconut Porter | Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative | Cumming, GA
Brewed with dried coconut, dates and vanilla bean, this is an easy-drinking, accessible, balanced porter that is not overwhelmed by sweetness. Pair this treat with desserts featuring rich dark chocolate, candied fruits and fruit-filled cookies and breads. Think chocolate pecan pie, chocolate-covered candied orange slices and classic apricot and raisin rugelach.
Other Porters you may enjoy:
- Mocha Porter | Rogue Ales | Newport, OR
- Bell Cow Milk Chocolate Porter | JDub’s Brewing | Sarasota, FL
- Sweet Baby Jesus! Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter | DuClaw Brewing Co. | Baltimore, MD
- Vanilla Gorilla Imperial Porter | Red Brick Brewing Co. | Atlanta, GA
- Tröegs Dead Reckoning Porter | Tröegs Brewing Co. | Hershey, PA
Beard Envy | Red Brick Brewing | Atlanta, GA
No list would truly be complete without at least one barley wine. Aged in bourbon barrels, this rich and raisiny beer is heavy on the malts. Truly meant for sipping, barley wines move over into booze territory, and will likely appeal to fans of caramel- and malt-dominant spirits. These thick, decadent beers are desserts in and of themselves.
Barleywines you might also enjoy:
- Behemoth | 3 Floyds Brewing Co. | Munster, IN
- Barleywine Style Ale | Green Flash Brewing Co. | San Diego, CA
- Cockeyed Cooper | Uinta Brewing Co. | Salt Lake City, UT
- Lower De Boom | 21st Amendment Brewery | San Francisco, CA
- Sisyphus | Real Ale Brewing Co. | Blanco, TX
Do you plan to have Thanksgiving beer pairings? What do you serve with your traditional holiday meals?
Editor’s Note: This article was updated in November 2017.