The Best Beers to Pair With Thanksgiving Dinner

November 20, 2020 Updated: November 20, 2020

Our national holiday of gratitude is nearly upon us once again, and as you plan the day’s menu, don’t forget the brews! Here are a few ideas of what might fit in well with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and a bit of pumpkin pie.

Sit Down With a Brown

Brown ales aren’t generally heavy, and don’t bear the bitterness of a lot of the hoppier beers. They’re not crisp like pilsners, but have a malty, bready, or even nutty character that is flavorful but not too rich for such a typically filling meal.

Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown is an old reliable, malty and finishing with a creamy nuttiness. (Wouldn’t that go nicely with some chestnut stuffing?) Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar is another good option in that regard. Do you brine your turkey? Such a beer works quite well in brine recipes, as well as basting recipes and even gravy.

Turkey may also pair well with reindeer: Sun King Brewing in Indianapolis brews Electric Reindeer, a twist on a brown ale with an addition of ginger and molasses, giving it a touch of sweetness tempered by a light hop bitterness.

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Sun King Brewery Electric Reindeer. (Courtesy of Sun King Brewery)

Something Acidic

I’ve written about sours before. Many of us love these tart beers in and of themselves, but for some drinkers, this is a beer that is almost wine-like and surely has a place at the holiday meal. A good kettle-sour cleanses the palate well enough, but to get a bit of the barrel in the flavor profile, look for something aged.

Last month, I mentioned New Glarus Brewing’s Cran-bic, a lambic bringing cranberries. But their Raspberry Tart offers a bit more sweetness, making it perhaps a good option for dessert.

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New Glarus Brewing Cran-bic. (Courtesy of New Glarus Brewing)

A couple great sour pours from Belgium are Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale from Brouwerij Van Steenberge, a very drinkable brown ale, and the venerable Duchesse de Bourgogne from Brouwerij Verhaeghe, a Flanders red ale that bears a ruby color. The Duchesse spends 18 months in oak barrels before it’s blended with a milder 8-month-old ale, for a perfect balance of tart and fruity. Pick it up in a 750-milliliter cork and cage bottle to take to friends, or if you’re alone in your love of this style, the Duchesse mercifully comes in four-packs of smaller bottles as well.

Saison for the Season

Saison Dupont from Belgium is the standard bearer of this traditional farmhouse style, but saisons are widely available (and widely vary) in the American craft beer market.

One of the most highly regarded is Hennepin brewed by Ommegang Brewery, known for its penchant for Belgian styles. This crisp brew pours golden and a touch hazy with a bit of citrus aroma that carries to the palate, and then finishes dry with notes of coriander, orange peel, ginger, and grains of paradise—all of it subtle and balanced.

Winter Is Coming

Winter warmers are showing up on the shelves—stronger and typically darker brews with some sort of holiday spicing to them.

Samuel Smith brews Winter Welcome, which took gold at the World Beer Championships in 2019. Amber with a creamy head and full body, it tastes of caramel and holiday spices, and at 6 percent ABV, pairs nicely with turkey without being overpowering, like some winter seasonals.

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Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome. (Courtesy of Samuel Smith)

Roll Out the Barrels

Something for a snifter would be nice as you slip toward your turkey coma. Barrel-aged brews are excellent choices, with their touch of booziness, like a postprandial sipping spirit.

New Holland Brewing’s signature Dragon’s Milk, a stout aged in bourbon barrels, never disappoints. New Holland has a couple decades of experience making this classic, and also offers variations each year, sometimes with fruit. The latest Dragon’s Milk Reserve adds vanilla and chai spices.

Barrel-aging is not just for stouts. Sun King recently took a gold medal at the Great American Beer Fest for Afternoon Delight, a barrel-aged version of their doppelbock, a rare pleasure: bourbon up front yielding to vanilla, oak, and then caramel. Not quite so heavy as the stouts.

Something Pumpkin?

What would Thanksgiving dinner be without pumpkin pie? And how much more pumpkin-y can you get with a beer to go with it? There are some who may roll their eyes at the pumpkin beer, but these seasonals have their place at the table.

Elysian Brewing out of Seattle fully embraces the Great Pumpkin each year and brews four varieties. This year’s lineup includes their original version, Night Owl, an ale brewed with the pumpkin juice and puree but also roasted and raw seeds. Some nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice added in conditioning make this brew a pie in a bottle.

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Elysian Brewing’s pumpkin ale lineup. (Courtesy of Elysian Brewing)

Then, Elysian takes it up a notch with an imperial ale, The Great Pumpkin, and Dark O’ The Moon, a chocolatey pumpkin stout with cinnamon.

But I preferred the Punkuccino, a little lighter with the spices and an addition of cold-brew coffee. That should keep me awake for the football game at least, right?

Kevin Revolinski is an avid traveler and the author of 15 books, including “The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey,” and several outdoor and brewery guidebooks. He is based in Madison, Wis., and his website is TheMadTraveler.com