When considering beers to pair with your Thanksgiving celebration, remember, you aren't just pairing the food – you also need to pair the day. Start light, then move up in flavor, intensity, and alcohol as the day progresses.
The day begins with folks coming over and socializing, snacking, watching football or just hanging out. The guideline here is keep it light. You don’t want your guests feeling stuffed, bloated, or bombed before dinner even starts. This is the place for lower alcohol session beers and beers that are lighter in intensity. Choose from session IPA’s and IPLs, pale lagers, and pilsners.
When it’s time for dinner, you’re looking for beer to match a wide range of foods centered on a less than thrilling main dish. Let’s face it, turkey isn’t that assertive, so you don’t want to overwhelm it. But you’ve also got the gravy and sides to consider. What ties it all together? Well, most of the meal was cooked in the oven, with resulting browning and caramelization. That’s a good match for the malts used in amber and brown colored beers. Consider biere de garde, marzens, scotch ales, and brown ales, though Master Brewer and Beer Geeks host Michael Ferguson prefers strong Belgian pale ales. He explains, “The combination of strong alcohol warming, fruity esters, and the spiciness of yeast phenols and candy sugar flavor work well with the unique umami aromas and flavors of foods such as turkey, gravy, stuffing, and string beans with French fried onions. And the fruitiness of the Belgian yeast and the honey/candy flavors support the food just like cranberry sauce does, though not nearly as sweet. Think lamb and mint jelly or pork and applesauce.”
One thing you want to avoid with the meal is a hop bomb. It will overwhelm the turkey. So no big IPA’s – unless you’ve deep-fried the turkey, especially if you’ve added some heat like Cajun spices. Then, big hoppy IPAs are a perfect match. A wheat ale can work well too. And as long we’re going nontraditional – smoked turkey pairs well with a smoky beer like a smoked porter.
Consider some beer-centric cooking for the big meal as well. If you brine the bird, add a porter or stout to the brining liquid. And you can make a fabulous cranberry sauce with a fruited Belgian Lambic instead of juice or water (just add less sugar than you normally would).
When it’s time for dessert, you can always pair a seasonal pumpkin beer with the traditional pumpkin pie. But a lot of pumpkin and spice goes a long way, so select one of the subtler pumpkin beers. Better yet, try a classic stout. The dark, chocolate, and coffee flavors work very well with Pumpkin, Apple or Pecan pie.
And when the meal is over? Time for a warming, soothing, higher alcohol after-dinner drink. Open a barleywine, a Russian Imperial stout, or if cost is no object – and you can find a bottle – nothing beats Sam Adams Utopias. 30 percent alcohol, blended from beers aged in barrels for as long as 21 years, reminiscent of port or cognac but even better.
And remember, all of the above is guidance. There are no rules cast in cement. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Beer offers a much wider range of flavors and pairing options than wine does. So explore. Enjoy. And give thanks.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.