Thanksgiving beer pairing, like the holiday itself, is only as complicated as you choose to make it. There’s a lot to be said for keeping it low-key and simply enjoying a midweek day off with a couple of turkey Hot Pockets and a six-pack of Schlitz. Don’t let anybody tell you that’s not a party.
Or maybe you’re going to the other extreme. An all-day movable feast featuring six flavors of pie; the good kind of sweet potatoes and the dumb kind of sweet potatoes; turkeys variously smoked, broiled, fried, and –duckened; at least three of your Aunt Marys; and a potentially ruinous 4-team NFL parlay. That sort of affair requires careful beer planning well beyond a box of your favorite regional brewery’s Mixed Fall 12-Pack (besides, what are you going to do with the four faded Oktoberfests now that Uncle Jeff’s pretending to be on the wagon?).
I hope, for your sake, that you take some sort of sane-yet-social middle path, but you’re going to have a great day regardless, so long as you get the beer right. Presented below are 15 selections that should combine to serve all of your Thanksgiving needs.
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
Mayflower Thanksgiving Ale
Let’s ease into this with an obvious one. This dark-brown 6.7-percent alcohol-by-volume ale from America’s Hometown—Plymouth, Massachusetts, site of the first Thanksgiving—has enticing cocoa, raisin, and spicy yeast aromas that lead to a broad range of flavors including light toast, biscuit, caramel, and sweet spiced apple before a drier than expected finish.
Suitable for: Anything that goes down between midnight Thursday and midnight Friday.
Coniston Bluebird Bitter
Biscuity malt is balanced by an earthy, grassy hop bite in this classic English bitter. At 4.2-percent ABV, Bluebird is an ideal beer to ease you into a long day.
Suitable for: Remembering that the Pilgrims were British.
Tröegs Master of Pumpkins
Brewed with real pumpkin along with the usual pie spices, this saison from one of America’s most underrated breweries is serious enough for the hardcore beer geek yet whimsical enough for the merely curious. A strong black pepper kick on the finish perfectly complements the sweeter notes that precede it.
Suitable for: Saying goodbye to autumn and hello to dessert.
Hallertauer and Tettnang hops shine in this classic German-style pilsner from California. If you had to pick just one beer to drink all day on Thanksgiving, 4.7% ABV Scrimshaw would be a good choice, as the bready malt, light lemon, and subtle spice will leave your palate stimulated but not overwhelmed, allowing you to fully appreciate whatever food gets thrown at you next.
Suitable for: Staying upright throughout the long haul.
The emergence of gose is one of the more unexpected beer trends of the past few years, and Westbrook is leading the way with their interpretation of the sour German wheat style dosed with salt and coriander.
Suitable for: Scaring off any thieving relations looking to filch the nearest can of straw-colored, lightly hopped beer.
Cigar City Maduro Brown
This 5.5-percent ABV brown ale has the complexity of a much bigger beer, with chocolate, caramel, nutty, and light floral flavors and a rich, smooth, oatmeal-influenced texture.
Suitable for: Any and all of the day’s gravy-related activities.
Harpoon Grateful Harvest
Sweet malt deftly compliments tart cranberry in this seasonal offering, and Harpoon donates a buck from every six-pack to a food bank in the community where it was purchased.
Suitable for: Supporting local food-relief charities and washing down fistfuls of mixed nuts.
Rodenbach Grand Cru
At around $10 per 750-milliliter bottle, this Flanders red ale is one of the best bargains in its class. Rodenbach Grand Cru is complex yet approachable, with notes of tobacco, leather, brown sugar, and tart cherries underlined by smooth oak from a year and a half of barrel-aging.
Suitable for: Adding life to any bland dish or conversation.
Boulevard Tank 7
The conventional wisdom these days holds that saisons are the most versatile Thanksgiving food-pairing beers, and if you go that route you can’t do better than Tank 7. It’s not cheap, at $12 per 4-pack, but its 8.5-percent ABV is also far over to the strong side for the style. It’s fruity and citrusy and bubbly and spicy and perfect for just about any festive occasion.
Suitable for: Pairing with every bite you eat, provided money and transportation are no objects.
American brewers will age damn near anything in a bourbon barrel these days—I predict at least one major barreled witbier next summer—but Allagash’s Jim Beam-barrel-aged Belgian tripel was revolutionary when it debuted in 2004, and it’s still my very favorite good-time drink. The oak influence is fairly modest, as the Curieux blend includes fresh-from-the-steel tripel along with the Beamed batch, allowing the sweet, fruity malt and spicy yeast to shine through the wood. At 11-percent ABV and $20 a bottle, Curieux is best savored in small doses and good company.
Suitable for: A celebratory nightcap with your favorite beer lover.
Victory Prima Pils
This hybrid pilsner from Pennsylvania employs both German and Czech hops to achieve a clean, modern, bitter version of the style. It’s earthy and slightly piney but not excessively so, making it a highly approachable upgrade for dedicated macro drinkers.
Suitable for: Introducing better beer to open-minded but underexposed guests.
Founder’s Backwoods Bastard
Backwoods Bastard is a glorious monster of a beer, an 11.6-percent ABV barrel-aged Scotch ale that opens with caramel and vanilla aromas before toasted coconut, maple syrup, raisins, and light smoke barge in to make it even better, and even weirder.
Suitable for: Pie.
This bright, crisp, fruity, floral offering from Massachusetts’s session-beer specialists is only 4.3% ABV, which comes in mighty handy on a day when you just might have more than one.
Suitable for: Scratching the hop itch without losing your legs before the turkey’s carved.
Stone 24 Carrot Golden Ale
Stone collaborated with homebrewer Juli Goldenberg and San Diego brewery Monkey Paw to make this limited-edition golden ale inspired by carrot cake. I couldn’t suss out any carrot flavor, but the cinnamon, vanilla beans, and raisins all make themselves known immediately in a beer that is simultaneously serious and silly, and also much better than it has any right to be.
Suitable for: Cheese! Or, yeah, I guess carrot cake.
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold
This is the perfect choice for a pale lager lover looking to branch out from pilsner. Cleveland’s Great Lakes Dortmunder gold is bright and clean and impeccably balanced, with slightly sweet biscuit malt and subtle fruitiness along with just enough herbal, earthy hop character.
Suitable for: Anything. That’s the beauty.