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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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