A guide to Thanksgiving beers (and keeping Drunk Uncle at bay)


A little beer can go a long way in keeping the peace this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving can be a domestic cage match of sorts, a time when you are locked in a house with relatives you have otherwise successfully managed to avoid for the balance of the year.  If your family is anything like mine, escaping this day of thanks with your sanity intact is made easier with a little lubrication. In my world, that means tasty craft beer.

I like to look at Thanksgiving in three parts when deciding what kind of beers to serve. There’s the awkward period of conversation before the feast, the glacially paced meal itself and after the meal, when everyone desperately wants to run screaming into the night but are too polite to suggest such a thing.

Before the meal, I recommend serving beers that are low in alcohol content. The last thing you need is Uncle Randy our Aunt Ruth getting a little too loose and deciding they want to “get real” by the time the turkey is being passed around the table. 

One beer I like for light duty such as this is Notch Session Pils, a 4.0 percent ABV Czech Pilsner that has a lovely balance of earthy malts and grassy hops, with just a touch of citrus. 

Another light-on-its-feet choice is 21st Amendment’s Bitter American, a 4.4 percent ABV American Pale Ale that starts malty sweet and finishes with a dry citrusy bitterness, reminiscent of Oskar Blues’ Dale’s Pale Ale, but with less alcohol on board.  Like Dales, Bitter American comes only in cans. 

Then there’s the meal itself, usually served late in the fourth quarter of the first football game, just as the team that’s down by four points has the ball at 50 yard line with three minutes left on the clock.  It’s like a tradition in my house.

I think it’s important to choose mealtime beers that pair well with what’s being served and have elegant bottles, especially if your table has a more formal vibe to it.  

One perennial favorite is the Bruery’s Autumn Maple, a 10 percent ABV Belgian-inspired ale that’s brewed with yams, cinnamon, nutmeg, maple syrup, vanilla and molasses.  This beer blends wonderfully with the traditional Thanksgiving flavors, although it might steal the thunder of any candied yams or sweet potato pies being passed around the table. 

I like to offer more than one selection during the meal (besides a nice white wine), such as Allagash Tripel, a 9 percent ABV Strong Golden Ale that is replete with hints of coriander, clove, honey and citrus.   Another low-alcohol option is Lindeman’s Framboise, a 2.5 percent ABV Belgian Lambic brewed with raspberries that has a fruity acidity perfect for revitalizing a palate that’s being pummeled by the 47 side dishes crammed onto the table.

After the meal (congratulations, you survived!) is a great time to unwind with a dessert beer.  Southern Tier Brewing Company offers a couple of fine examples of these, like their decadent Choklat Stout and their diabeetus-in-a-bottle Crème Brulee Stout.  Both are boozy and sweet sippers, and each pairs well with a nice nip of whiskey, such as a dram of Four Roses Small Batch, which might be required to soothe the jitters after an endless day of forced togetherness.

Whatever brews you choose to have on hand for Thanksgiving, make sure you don’t forget the Budweiser or whatever industrial light lager your grandpa or father –in-law might prefer.  While it might pain you to purchase such macro brews, it’s better to serve your guests what they enjoy, and not what you want them to enjoy. Let them have it their way – football, Bud, turkey coma.  Perfection.

And remember, regardless of how your turkey day goes, at least you can be thankful that you have 364 days before you have to do it all over again.

Tell us below what beers do YOU like to serve on Thanksgiving.

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Discuss this post

For a truly American Thanksgiving, I recommend sticking with truly American beers. Shun the majors and embrace the microbrews and craft beers--we are making much of the world's BEST beers now. Here's a few more to add to Jim's list:

Stone Brewing: Arrogant Bas-tard

Founders: Reds Rye Pale Ale (rated 98 on beerrate); Porter (rated 98 on beerrate--this is the BEST straight Porter I have ever had in my life); Breakfast Stout (rated 99 on beerrate--excellent coffee stout)

21st Amendment: Live Free or Die IPA; Back in Black - Black IPA; Monk's Blood (a Belgian--definitely a holiday beer--pairs well with ginger snap cookies and dark chocolate-covered raisins)

Fulton: Libertine Ale

Surly: Furious (lager); Darkness; just about anything else they make

Odells: IPA

Bell's: Two-Hearted Ale (pale ale); HopSlam (IPA)

Summit: Winter Ale; Saga (IPA)

Stay thirsty, my friends!

  • 2 votes
Reply#1 - Thu Nov 15, 2012 6:18 PM EST

I'd never given much (any) thought to pairings and timings for turkey day. Thanks for some ideas.

Trader Joe's has their limited edition annual vintage ale out now. I just had it for the first time and it's quite nice, I'll need to go buy more for the big day. 9% ABV and a very rich flavor.

  • 1 vote
Reply#2 - Thu Nov 15, 2012 6:30 PM EST

screw the beer, thanksgiving is all about the whiskey and ginger ale.

    Reply#3 - Thu Nov 15, 2012 6:34 PM EST

    Ha!. Beer at every gathering, not just Thanksgiving!

    Being a homebrewer, it's just an easy trip to the "taproom". This holiday the family will have their choice of: Pale Ale, Irish Red Ale, Strong British Ale, Double IPA, Porter, Imperial Stout, Black Ale, and the seasonal Holiday Cheer (with cinnamon, honey, orange peel and ginger)...Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

    • 1 vote
    Reply#4 - Thu Nov 15, 2012 10:13 PM EST

    I like reading these articles, being a beer geek and homebrewer. However, the problem is that many of these suggested beers are not easy to find and you'll have to do some serious legwork to track them down.

      Reply#5 - Fri Nov 16, 2012 8:12 AM EST

      This was an AWESOME article for the Holidays. The holidays are my all-time FAVORITE time of the year! :D And I would have NEVER have thought to buy different beers for different times of the day and especially not to go with different food. LOL. I'm not a beer drinker. I drink wine and all my family has ever drank was Budweiser. I never put much thought into beer and why there were so many different ones or how that could benefit my family/friends and I. The few different types of beers I have drank have all tasted the same but I guess I can say the same for wine until I began drinking it more and becoming more of a wine enthusiast.

      I guess beer has gotten sophisticated like wine. :) I emailed this link to myself as a thought for when my mom and I go for our alcohol run. I think it'd be a fun, nice surprise. :)

      • 1 vote
      Reply#6 - Fri Nov 16, 2012 10:57 AM EST

      I encourage your interest in trying to expand your family's beer palate :-) The range of possible flavors in beer is pretty amazing, happy quaffing!

        #6.1 - Fri Nov 16, 2012 1:55 PM EST

        agree with derek...that was the whole beer problem is the USA....ALL beers tasted the same.....american light lagers.....I have 20 different beers in my fridge and NEVER drink the same one twice in a row....cant do that anymore like the old days of knockin back 30 packs of red dog!(lol) try a chocolate stout....a belgian dubble....a hoppy IPA! the choices are now ENDLESS!!!!

          #6.2 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:21 PM EST

          how refreshing.....1-2 years ago this thread would be filled with "Natural light is the best beer in the world"....."No way! michelob is the best"...."those beers are terrible...Coors light is the only beer I like"......amazing how far craft beer has come....It truly will put the big boys out of business sooner or later....when I go to the grocery store....craft beer is #1 and the swill is in the back.....budweiser has to just HATE losing their prime spots.....my local party store has 1 little fridge for bud stuff....the rest....all the good stuff.....AMERICA FINALLY GETS IT! Im proud of you all.....GROUP HUG!!!!!

            Reply#7 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:19 PM EST
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