Pairing your Thanksgiving dinner with beer

Thanksgiving is coming up, and a lot of families with gather for dinner with a fine bottle of wine, or perhaps a bit of eggnog. Maybe you’re going to go home and wonder, “where’s the beer?” You’ve discovered craft beer, but Uncle Joe’s knowledge of beer goes no further than the confines of the Anheuser-Busch factory, and Aunt Maude turns her nose at the mere mention of beer as she sips her glass of merlot. Family gatherings like this are a great opportunity to make believers in beer, break down the stereotypes of craft beer, and introduce people to new aromas and flavors that they never associate with beer.

And let’s get to the real point here: beer is far more friendly to food pairings than wine. With all the different styles - some that lend themselves well to pairings with an endless number of types of cuisine, beer shouldn’t even be optional on the Thanksgiving Dinner table, especially when you consider the wide variety of foods that end up on your plate.

Here are some tips and suggestions for beers to put on your Thanksgiving Dinner table:

Avoid the hops.

Okay, so you’re a hop-head, and you can’t get enough of the IPAs. Well, lay off on them during Thanksgiving. Most of the dishes you’ll have on thanksgiving - turkey and gravy, stuffing, squash, carrots - these foods all have earthy flavors. Hoppy beers will overpower these flavors, not complement them. We suppose that’s fine if you’re just using the food as a vehicle to soak up the beer you’re drinking, but it’s not good if you plan on savoring your food.

If you’re an American Ale fan, though, you should consider a darker, maltier, less hoppy American Brown Ale, like Brooklyn Brown, Sierra Nevada Tumbler, or Avery Ellie’s Brown. These beers all have enough malty sweetness to stand up to the bold, earthy Thanksgiving Dinner flavors, but won’t overpower them.

Another reason to avoid IPAs: well, craft beer has come pretty far, and if your family has even tried craft beer, they’ve probably tried an IPA. A lot of people who haven’t delved into craft beer tend to think that all craft beer is super-hoppy and painfully bitter. Prove them wrong!

Go Belgian.

We personally think there’s no more perfect pairing with roasted turkey than a Belgian-style Tripel. The complexity of these beers tend to pair well with a wide variety of earthy and gamey foods, and the carbonation cuts through thick casseroles and gravies. We’re big fans of Brooklyn Local 1, Allagash Tripel, and Westmalle Trappist Tripel.

Some people think the lighter body of these beers don’t hold up as well to Thanksgiving foods, but we might have an ulterior motive in bringing beers like this to a family gathering: to woo the wine drinkers. Popping a cork of one of these fancy-looking bottles will raise the eyebrow of even the most hardcore wine snob. And once they taste and discover the complex flavors and how they mask the higher alcohol content, they might just put down their wine glass (although, you could always serve these beers in wine glasses).

Save the Dessert Beers for Dessert.

It may seem logical to break out seasonal beers like Harpoon Winter Warmer, Dogfish Head Punkin, or Southern Tier Pumking at Thanksgiving dinner, but you run the risk of bold flavors - like allspice and cinnamon - overpowering your food. Save these beers for dessert. We don’t even mean that you should necessarily pair them with dessert - just have these beers as an apertif; perhaps an interlude while the pie is in the oven.

These are the types of beers that you can use to woo the sugary-sweet cocktail drinkers to beer. And sure, some beer purists scoff at the fact that you have to put something else in the beer to get people to drink beer, but it’s also a welcome opportunity to discuss the other flavors that make it appealing, like rich caramel malt sweetness and a mild hoppiness that offsets the spice. It’s a bridge to beer enlightenment!

Just have fun.

As much as you may be trying to convert your extended family to beer drinkers, don’t be the beer snob that everyone hates. If someone doesn’t like a beer, maybe that style’s just not for them. Start with something simple, straightforward and familiar like a Pilsner or an American Pale Ale, not something overpowering like an Imperial IPA. And if Uncle Joe offers you a Bud Light while you’re watching football, take it. Sometimes, this is your only exposure to that stuff, and it can actually give you some good talking points about the differences between macro brews and craft beer.

And don’t take these pairing suggestions as gospel. Everyone’s palate is different, and pairing beer with food is an art, not a science. Try anything you want… just have fun with it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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New York City's source for local news about craft beer, beer bars, and beer culture in the five boroughs and beyond. | Editor: Chris O'Leary