Serious Eats: Drinks

Serious Beer Pairings for Thanksgiving

"Malty beer resonates with the caramelized skin of a turkey and brings out the herbal flavors in stuffing."

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[Photograph: Maggie Hoffman]

If you want to eat like the Pilgrims this Thanksgiving, you should probably get busy hunting for deer and wild ducks. But if you want to drink Pilgrim-style, you just need to get yourself some beer!

The colonists believed that beer was usually safer to drink than water and worried about drinking their barrels dry. After dithering too long over where to locate their settlement, the passengers of the Mayflower finally chose Plymouth just before a harsh winter began. William Bradford wrote, "We could not now take much time for further search [for an ideal destination,] our victuals being much spent, especially our beer." They urged the next boat of Separatists headed toward Plymouth to bring about 10,000 gallons of ale and some malt for homebrewing.

Historical accuracy aside, beer works with Thanksgiving food. Malty beer resonates with the caramelized skin of a turkey and brings out the herbal flavors in stuffing. Beer's carbonation and bitterness cleanses and refreshes the palate between bites.

But not just any beer will play nice with classic Thanksgiving dishes. Hoppy IPAs (and other beers on the bitter end of the scale) are out of sync with the sweet and earthy flavors of the Thanksgiving feast. But a wide variety of styles pair beautifully with turkey, stuffing, and even sweet potatoes. We tasted 20 bottles of beer (over the course of three nights) with many plates of Thanksgiving food and came up with these eight stellar pairings to be thankful for.

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The winners. [Photograph: Maggie Hoffman]

Recommended Thanksgiving Beers

  • Bière de Garde (Southhampton Brewery)
  • French Style Country Ale (Two Brothers)
  • Ashland Amber (Caldera Brewing)
  • Singel Ale (Witkap Pater)
  • Kerberos Tripel (Flying Dog)
  • 2° Below (New Belgium)
  • Frambozen (New Belgium)
  • Levitation Ale (Stone Brewing)

Following Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver's recommendation, we started our Thanksgiving experiments with a few examples of Bière de Garde. This earthy French-style farmhouse ale is a beautiful gold color and sometimes comes in festive Champagne-style bottles. We particularly loved Southampton Brewery's version, which had a nutty caramel flavor that matched up well with sweet potatoes. This beer is smooth but a little funky, with hints of sweet fermented apple. It's a little musky and toasty—very nice with food. We also really enjoyed the Domaine DuPage French Style Country Ale from Two Brothers Brewing in Illinois, which was a little fruity but dry, with restrained bitterness and hints of apricot. The caramel flavors in both of these beers were lovely with the crisp skin from the turkey.

A slightly less musky option for Thanksgiving pairing is a good American amber. We liked how Caldera Brewing Company's Ashland Amber complemented the earthy flavors in the meal, particularly the mushrooms in the stuffing.

Two other very successful pairings were Belgian (and Belgian-inspired). The Singel Ale from Witkap Pater was bright and yeasty with a pronounced pineapple-juice flavor. This hazy golden beer had notes of thyme and sage (as well as hints of banana) that worked well with both cranberry sauce and turkey (a difficult feat.) You could serve this refreshing, festive beer in champagne flutes, and even non-beer drinkers would probably enjoy it. The Kerberos Tripel from Flying Dog was another hit, complementing the stuffing with its rich buttery flavor and hint of sweetness.

Two surprise hits were provided by New Belgium Brewing in Colorado. Their winter warmer, 2° Below, was festive and interesting. Walnut and maple syrup notes added another dimension to the stuffing. This beer isn't a pushover, but it complemented the meal seamlessly. New Belgium's Frambozen was rosy red and smelled like raspberry jam, but it was more subtle than we expected, and not too sweet at all. The fruity flavor was fun to taste with the turkey and the stuffing—it was almost a stand-in for cranberry sauce without reminding us of melted Jolly Ranchers.

While we're not sure we'd recommend it to non-beerdrinkers, we think the Levitation Ale from Stone Brewing also deserves a place at the Thanksgiving table. This intense brew has herbal, piney flavors and lingering toasted malt. A hint of cinnamon and peat make this earthy beer a good companion for turkey and stuffing.

Not full yet? Don't worry; we'll have beer pairings for pie next week.

Disclosure: All beers except the Southampton and the Witkap Pater were review samples.

About the author: Maggie Hoffman and her team of tasters are always looking for their new favorite beer. Maggie also writes about cooking on Pithy and Cleaver.

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