Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and like millions of other Americans you have planned your festivities down to a T. You’ve bought your turkey, planned out your sides and invited all your guests over—yes, even weird Uncle Dave. But you’ve yet to sort out one last thing: What beer should I drink with Thanksgiving dinner?
Picking the best beer for Thanksgiving dinner will elevate the flavors in your dishes, all the way from the turkey, to the stuffing, to the pumpkin pie.
If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We asked the craft beer experts at City Brew Tours and our sister companies Brewvana and Unboxed Experiences about the best beer pairings for Thanksgiving dinner you can serve with each dish, as well as some local beer recommendations. Here are some tips on Thanksgiving beer pairings that are sure to boost your holiday feast.
Where else could you start planning your beer pairings for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner than turkey, the star of the show? Descriptions of a roasted turkey at the head of the American Thanksgiving table date back to the early 19th century. These days, the keystone dish can be prepared in a multitude of ways, but cooking should always result in a tender, salty and succulent bird.
Luckily, there are several options for the best beer pairing for Thanksgiving turkey, no matter how you cook your bird. Our own experts at City Brew Tours have narrowed down a few of the better options for craft beer pairings that can be drunk during the main course at your Thanksgiving dinner table.
Turkey and IPA
This year, City Brew Tours’ Sales Manager Todd Summers is smoking his turkey after it spends some time in a brine bath. Todd is drinking a Fiddlehead IPA alongside his turkey this year, but said New England IPAs are a good style to pair with smoked turkey.
I think the major citrus notes complements the sweetness of the honey and cuts the smoke just enough. The New England IPA’s sweetness does well overall with the richness of turkey, where it is better suited than pairing with sweet sides, which will probably be overwhelming.
Todd Summers, City Brew Tours
Turkey and Smoked Beer
If you want to be a little more adventurous with your Thanksgiving beer pairings this year, try picking up a smoked beer to drink alongside your turkey. Molly Lamb, host of the “Brews Less Traveled” podcast and Live Events Host at City Brew Tours, recommends picking up a lighter smoked beer, such as a Smokin’ Ale by Goodwater Brewery, to pair with your Thanksgiving meal.
Smoked beer would be such a cool and unique beer pairing for Thanksgiving! It could work with stuffing, meat, green beans and starchy sides—except sweet ones. I find smoke ties flavors together in a totally unique way.
Molly Lamb, City Brew Tours
Turkey and Belgian Dubbel
There are some options for beers that will pair well with most of the courses throughout your Thanksgiving dinner. MaryCatherine Crook, a Beer and Cheese Tour Guide with Unboxed Experiences, said a Belgian Dubbel has all of the characteristics of a beer that will go great with several Thanksgiving dishes.
The rich, malty backbone of the beer meets the browned skin of the bird perfectly, while the dark fruit flavors compliment the tart cranberries and sweet, earthy yams, and a phenolic spiciness acts like a crack of pepper over your whole plate. The high amount of carbonation scrubs your palate of such a decadent meal so that you can enjoy taste after taste.
MaryCatherine Crook, Unboxed Experiences
Whether your stuffing comes from a box or is homemade from scratch, the bready and salty offering is one of the most popular side dishes at every Thanksgiving feast. Because of its make up, the stuffing helps to absorb wayward liquids like gravy and cranberry sauce. The dish is more than able to stand on its own, though, with a strong pepper profile and loads of celery, onion and fat to round out a strong flavor profile.
For a Thanksgiving beer pairing to drink alongside your stuffing, look for a light-bodied and refreshing beer. Brian Franzoni, the Digital Marketing Coordinator for City Brew Tours, recommends a helles lager to drink with your stuffing. In particular, Brian suggests you pick up Resident Culture Brewing Co.’s Country Kind of Silence if you can find it.
The contrast you will experience from the fluffy stuffing and the light and crushable helles lager will be one you will certainly enjoy. Those herb flavors you taste in your stuffing will be enhanced by this beer’s light malty character. It’s an easy one to chug, so if you’re feeling dried out from too much stuffing, hydrate up with this beer! Also, it’s not bitter at all, so it doesn’t destroy your palate.
Brian Franzoni, City Brew Tours
SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE
Nailing down a suitable beer pairing for a dish featuring sweet potatoes can certainly seem challenging at first. Sweet potatoes can be cooked down to a mash, whipped together in a casserole, or baked and served split open with butter, to name just a few cooking options. Before you decide on a beer to pair with sweet potatoes for your Thanksgiving meal, first think about how you will serve the dish.
Brown-sugar topped sweet potato casserole is a popular dish on Thanksgiving tables, particularly across the American South. This side is typically prepared with whipped sweet potatoes and some sort of textural element, commonly crushed pecans or pretzels, which can add an additional flavor component.
More adventurous home cooks also add marshmallows to sweet potato casserole. That extra ingredient provides a lot of very rich sweetness, which is something important to consider when you’re trying to find the right beer to pair with the dish.
A spiced ale can hone in on all of these flavors and elevate the dish, according to City Brew Tours’ Customer Success Manager Chris Johnson. Spiced ales, released around the holiday season by brewers nationwide, typically have a medium body. They are marked by large spice profiles, though individual spices vary. Chris suggests finding a spiced ale with some similar fall flavors to accentuate your sweet potato casserole.
To complement this dish, I would recommend a beer by Funky Buddha aptly called Sweet Potato Casserole. It is an amber colored ale and with a flavor profile of cinnamon, vanilla and—of course—sweet potato. It is the perfect accompaniment.
Chris Johnson, City Brew Tours
BAKED MACARONI AND CHEESE
Baked macaroni and cheese is low-effort and forgiving to make, and the dish allows the host to sneak some cheese onto the Thanksgiving dinner table.
The crumbly top layer of the dish doesn’t just give a good texture contrast for everyone at the Thanksgiving dinner table, but also provides another flavor dimension to consider when pairing it with beer.
Isaac Bell, Business Development Manager at City Brew Tours, said the browning on top of the dish—also known as a maillard reaction—sets up the baked mac and cheese to be paired well with a Czech Pilsner.
Traditionally, your Czech Pilsner is going to have a breadier malt character with a nice residual sweetness to it, which is going to pair great with a maillard reaction. Think a seared steak, toasted marshmallows, crisp turkey skin, browned macaroni and cheese—the possibilities are endless. The style’s ABV range should fall into a nice, sessionable 4.5%-5%, making it the perfect beer to drink from morning (no judgement here!) until dinnertime.
Isaac Bell, City Brew Tours
GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE
Whether you make it with Campbell’s soup or a homemade béchamel sauce, green bean casserole is as American as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Like so many Thanksgiving dishes, green bean casserole is a mashup of textures and flavors, so finding a beer that plays nicely with each can be tricky. Taylor McCune, Marketing Manager at City Brew Tours, suggests an entirely un-American beer to do the job.
Green bean casserole is relatively mild in flavor compared to many Thanksgiving staples, so you can safely reach for a lighter beer, so long as it has enough effervescence to handle the fats from the cream of mushroom soup and fried onion. A Bohemian Pilsner checks both boxes, and has enough of a malt presence to cushion the natural bitterness of the green beans.
Taylor McCune, City Brew Tours
If turkey is the star of the show at Thanksgiving dinner, pumpkin pie is its counterpart on the table. The famous Thanksgiving pie is what people are talking about when they tell you, “I hope you left room for dessert.”
Creamy, buttery, rich and spicy all at once, pumpkin pie is a must-have at any Thanksgiving feast. Because the filling is generously spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and more, pumpkin pie could appear challenging to match with beer.
While you might be compelled to pair a strong and rich beer with your pumpkin pie, our experts say to steer clear of adding more sweetness to your dessert table. Molly Lamb suggests the best beer to go with pumpkin pie is an IPA, such as Rhinegeist Brewery’s Truth IPA. The IPA’s hop profile will accentuate the flavors inside the pie.
IPA and pumpkin pie is my favorite combination because the bitterness from the hops cut through the sweetness. Also, the herbal and pine notes bring out the pumpkin pie spices very well.
Molly Lamb, City Brew Tours
Pecan pie is the favored alternative on the Thanksgiving dessert table for diners who want to pass over the pumpkin pie. A uniquely American dish, there are recipes for pecan pie that date back as far as the 19th century.
Pecan pie is very rich in its own unique way. To find the best beer to pair with pecan pie on Thanksgiving, look to the bitter-loving British.
Julie Walker, the Experiences Manager at City Brew Tours, said an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) will pair well with pecan pie due to the beer style’s traditional malt and hop selection.
When pairing beer with a dessert like pecan pie, you might be tempted to double down on the sweetness with something like a pastry stout. However, there can be too much of a good thing! To avoid a sickeningly cloying experience, go for a dark beer that knows the fine art of balance: an Extra Special Bitter. The roast of the malt will pair beautifully with the nuttiness of the pecans while the hop bitterness that rounds out the beer will cut through the sweetness and mellow it out a bit. I recommend Winter Storm Imperial ESB by Heavy Seas.
Julie Walker, City Brew Tours