The Ultimate Thanksgiving Beer Pairing

You guys, I LOVE Thanksgiving. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

There is truly not enough caps lock in the world to describe my insane infatuation with this holiday. If you are like me, which, since you are reading this website means you are at least a little, then you probably love Thanksgiving too.

Or even if you don’t love the holiday part, because your great Aunt Betty really bums you out, or your super crazy cousin Karen always complains about the lack of vegan options, then you certainly love the food, right?

Right. I’m glad we’re on the same page.

Thanksgiving Pairing Guide

In the past four years since moving to Cincinnati I’ve had some weird, non traditional Thanksgivings. This year though, this year I get to make my own feast for my family and I am beyond excited. Not surprisingly I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what beers to pair with my classic feast.

But I ran into a small problem.

As I began to consider the options, I realized there were simply too many to choose! Since Thanksgiving isn’t the sort of meal that you typically eat in courses, standard rules for beer and wine pairing with a single beverage per course don’t apply.

As I discussed this dilemma with the hubs, it all became so clear. Enter the Thanksgiving beer flight. A three or four ounce sampler of beers, perfectly paired to the classic Thanksgiving dishes. A handful of beer samples compliment the entire plate and makes it fun for the whole beer-loving family.

perfect beer pairings for Thanksgiving

Without further ado, the perfect flight, and pairing, for each of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes:

Cranberry sauce: Flemish red

Be it can-shaped gelatinous goodness or made from scratch, cranberry sauce is critical to the Thanksgiving feast. To highlight the lovely cranberry, I choose a similarly tart and sweet style, Flemish red.

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In the same way that a hint of sweet and tart cranberry counteracts the buttery richness of the rest of your meal, the tangy zing from a classic Flemish red is a welcome addition to your Thanksgiving meal. The tartness acts as a palate cleanser between bites of rich potatoes and stuffing, and mirrors the tart/sweet balance in the cranberries. There are lots of great options here, but if you can find it, I’d go for Cuvee des Jacobin. If you can’t track that one down,  Duchesse de Bourgogne is another good option.

Mashed potatoes and gravy: Extra Special Bitter

Everybody does mashed potatoes a little differently.  My family loads ’em up with sour cream, cream cheese, and butter, then bakes the crap out of it so it’s crusty on top and creamy heaven inside.

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The one thing all versions of mashed potatoes do have in common is richness. To balance a little of that buttery goodness and not overwhelm the delicate potato flavor, I like a classic ESB, or other well balanced amber. For me, Left Hand Sawtooth is the ticket. Just enough biscuity malt character to meld with that true potato flavor, with a slightly bitter hop finish to cut through all that butter and creamy gravy.

Roasted Turkey: Biere de Garde

Ah yes. That most delicious of Thanksgiving birds. So classic.

When done correctly, a roasted turkey should be crispy on the outside, and tender juicy meat on the inside. I personally love the  Alton Brown technique which makes for an ultra crispy skin.

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The perfect libation to pair with your turkey is an amber biere de garde such as Two Brothers’ Domaine DuPage. I love how this beer’s toasty malt sweetness works with the caramelization on the meat. The earthy hop notes sing beautifully with the turkey’s herbs.

Stuffing or dressing: Apple witbier

My favorite stuffing (technically dressing since it’s not actually stuffed inside the turkey) is a cornbread stuffing with apples and sausage. This heavenly stuffing made me immediately think of one beer in particular, Unibroue Ephemere.

Unibroue Ephemere

Ephemere is a stunning bottle conditioned witbier brewed with apple juice which gives it the flavor of a fresh Granny Smith. Even if your stuffing doesn’t have apples, this is still a perfect pairing. The bready malt character and spice notes in the Belgian yeast will work beautifully with your standard stuffing herbs like earthy sage and lemony thyme. The extra carbonation from bottle conditioning acts as a fantastic palate cleanser between bites of stuffing and your other dishes.

And finally, let’s not forget PIE. Here is where I think the beer pairings get truly magical. And since you’ll clearly have a skinny piece of each type of pie, the flight idea works here too:

Pumpkin pie: Stout

People frequently think pumpkin beer for pumpkin pie is a no brainer, but personally I like to offer some contrast with desserts to balance the sugar, and in this case spice. For me, milk stout, imperial stout, or foreign extra stout is where things get exciting. That bit of roasted barley malt character balances out the sweetness. It’s like a drizzle of coffee and chocolate heaven for your pie-hole.

stout paired with pumpkin pie

Right away I liked the idea of Stone’s Chai-Spiced IRS because it has some similar spices to pumpkin pie: ginger, cinnamon etc. but you get the added benefit of coffee and chocolate plus a bit of roasty bitterness. For a creamier, more easily available option you can’t go wrong with Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro. Plus, that presentation can’t be beat, #PourHard.

Apple pie: Belgian dark strong ale or Quad

This pairing is perfection for so many reasons. The caramelized apples marry with the flavor of rich figs, dates and raisins while the hint of vanilla and complex malt/fruit richness catapults your pie into the next stratosphere. Deep, unctuous bready notes tie in beautifully with pie crust. This style of beer will work beautifully with all of these desserts in fact.

quad paired with apple pie

Try a Boulevard Sixth Glass,  which boasts a remarkable 97 on Ratebeer. Or, if you have one of these Stone Quadro-triticales hiding in your cellar like I do, then bust it out!  Pie is the perfect excuse to dive into that beer cellar.

Pecan pie: Barleywine

Pecan pie is just shouting for the nutty, toffee goodness that is a traditional barleywine. Personally, I’d opt for an English version that balances more toward malt and less toward big hops as in the American versions, but find your happy place here.

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J.W. Lees is perfection here, but you can sub a 2014 or earlier American vintage such as Killer Penguin or Old Guardian where the hop character has died down a bit with age, letting the caramel and toffee malt flavors shine.

So! Who’s going to try a beer flight this Thanksgiving!? Who thinks I’m  crazy? What are YOU pairing this Thanksgiving? I want to hear all about it.

And let me say, since it’s a family tradition to actually say what you’re thankful for, that I am truly thankful for each one of you in this beer and food loving community for tuning into this little site here. You keep me writing and inspire me so much, so, THANKS!

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