Thanksgiving is a holiday built around plates piled high with iconic foods. Stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, gravy, cranberry sauce, and the star of the show: a whole, roasted, (hopefully!) juicy turkey. Then you have pumpkin pie rounding things out for dessert. It’s not a meal, it’s a marathon.
This veritable smorgasbord clearly requires plenty of beverages to wash everything down. Bourbon certainly works. A cocktail could be fun. But in my personal opinion, no feast is complete without a cold beer.
The beer you pair your Thanksgiving dinner with is extremely important. Not just any brew will do — it has to both play off the flavors on the plate and enhance them. So today, to give you one more thing to be grateful for, I turned to the classic blind taste test in hopes of helping you out.
I didn’t simply blindly swig a few beers and try to figure out if they’d paired well with Thanksgiving foods. I actually tasted each beer with sliced turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Because I don’t have infinite time, they were all grocery store grade — canned, etc. If your meal is cheffed up, all the better!
To create a wide range of flavors, I choose a gose, porter, stout, two pilsners, a Belgian quad, a wheat beer, and a brown ale. Check out the list here:
- Firestone Walker Pivo
- Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald
- Allagash White
- Westbrook Gose
- Cigar City Maduro
- Threes Vliet
- Modern Times Black House
- Clow Shoes One Man Holiday
Let the feast begin!
Part 1: The Taste
This beer smells like winter in a glass. It’s loaded with roasted coffee beans, toffee, and bitter chocolate. The flavors of dark chocolate and coffee are a little too much for the cranberry sauce, but pair better with the savory components.
The slightly resinous, bitter finish is a bit abrasive when accompanying the three holiday flavors though.
Complex aromas of bready malts, caramel, slight citrus, and flowery, piney hops met my nose before sipping. When I took a drink, the cracker malt, caramel, and citrus zest flavors paired well with the turkey, gravy, and especially the cranberry sauce. It’s as if this beer is the next flavor I need to finish off this meal.
It was crisp, light, and left me wanting more.
Aromas of caramel candy, brown sugar, dried fruits, and a slight herbal backbone greeted me before my first sip. To say this beer is complex is an extreme understatement. Flavors like allspice, cinnamon, and candied orange peels pair well with the cranberry sauce and the caramel malts, raisins, and slight fruitiness work well with salty turkey and gravy.
Hints of fresh-baked bread, caramel malts, and floral, resinous hops all appeared on the nose. The palate is crisp, refreshing, and carries flavor notes of wet grass, noble hops, and tropical fruits that pair well with the savory turkey and gravy. The bitterness is a little much when paired with cranberry, but not bad. Overall, it’s a decent beer to pair with your heavy meal.
Nosing this beer is like breathing in a combination of sweet yeast, citrus zest, and salty sea brine. After a mouthful of turkey, gravy, and cranberry, this beer is a little too acidic for my taste. There’s a hint of malts that pair nicely with the gravy, but the overall salty flavor and other spices are a little too much. The turkey and gravy are already salty and don’t need more salinity and the cranberry is already tart and definitely doesn’t need any more tartness.
Nosing this beer conjured up images of freshly brewed coffee. There are also notes of bitter chocolate and slightly roasted barley. Sipping this beer after filling my mouth with the aforementioned foods, the slight vanilla flavor paired well with the turkey and gravy, but the bitter chocolate and potent coffee didn’t work at all.
This is definitely one to save for dessert. Pair it with pie.
Before sipping, I breathed in the aromas of almond cookies, chocolate fudge, butterscotch, and a slight bitterness. The palate of nutty, cocoa powder, caramel, and sweet malts work well with rich, savory turkey and gravy and the slightly dry finish plays well with the tart cranberries.
Overall, a pretty decent accompaniment.
The nose is highlighted by sweet wheat, wintry spices, slight peppery spice, and floral hops. The flavors of citrus zest and baking spices shone with the cranberry sauce and the wheat, dry hay, and slight hop flavors worked well with the salty, savory turkey and gravy.
Part 2: The Ranking
8) Westbrook Gose (Taste #5)
Average Price: $13 for a six-pack
Westbrook Gose is one of the beers that started the American craft gose craze. This highly sessionable beer is the South Carolina brewery’s take on the classic German sour wheat beer. It’s crisp, dry, and brewed with coriander and sea salt.
Obviously, this is a great beer. It’s light, dry, tart, and salty. I just wouldn’t encourage anyone to pair it with heavy fall foods.
7) Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald (Taste #1)
Average Price: $11 for a six-pack
If you’re not an American shipwreck historian, your only reference to Edmund Fitzgerald is in the song by Gordon Lightfoot. Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald is a porter that also pays tribute to the famous Lake Superior shipwreck. This six percent ABV porter is known for its roasty, sweet, bold flavor.
This is a classic wintry beer. It’s just a little too bitter and robust to pair well with the chosen Thanksgiving flavors.
6) Modern Times Black House (Taste #6)
Average Price: $13 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans
There are countless stouts on the market well suited for fall and winter drinking. One of my favorites is Modern Times Black House. This 5.8 percent ABV stout is brewed with Two-Row, Pale Chocolate, Kiln Coffee, Black, Biscuit, and Crystal 60 malts alone with oats, roasted barley, and Ethiopian and Sumatran coffee.
Keep this one in the fridge until dessert. Instead of pairing your grandma’s pumpkin pie with coffee, pour a pint of this coffee-centric stout instead. Just don’t bring it out during the main course.
5) Cigar City Maduro (Taste #7)
Average Price: $11 for a six-pack
Named for a popular local cigar, this 5.5 percent ABV brown ale was brewed to have similar flavors and pair well with a good smoke. This English-style brown ale is brewed with various malts and flaked oats. The result is a decadent, bold, chocolate, and coffee-filled sipper.
While not the best complimentary beer to your Thanksgiving meal, there are enough good flavors here that you should feel comfortable cracking open a bottle or can and sipping it during dinner.
4) Threes Vliet (Taste #2)
Average Price: $13.99 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans
Three Vliet is a great example of an American brewery perfectly encapsulating the crisp, dry, refreshing flavor of a German pilsner style. This 5.2% ABV is brewed with Saaz and Spalter Select hops as well as German Pilsner malts. The result is a light, clean, thirst-quenching beer perfect for any time of year.
This beer proves that crips beers pair just as well with savory, rich meals as they do with afternoons spent mowing the lawn in the middle of the summer heat.
3) Firestone Walker Pivo Pils (Taste #4)
Average Price: $11 for a six-pack
Firestone Walker Pivo Pils is one of the most popular pilsners on the market, but this 5.2 percent ABV beer is not like the pilsners you’re used to. On top of Pilsner and Carafoam malts, this beer gets its hoppy flavor from not only the addition of Spalter Select, Tradition, and Saphir hops, but from being dry-hopped with even ore Saphir hops.
IPA fans who are fearful that their hoppy go-to beer is a little abrasive for Thanksgiving foods should grab this beer instead. It’s hoppy and resinous but still complex and complimentary.
2) Allagash White (Taste #8)
Average Price: $9 for a four-pack
There’s a reason Allagash White consistently tops lists ranking the best wheat beers. This cloudy, hazy Belgian-style wheat beer is brewed with malt wheat, raw wheat, and oats. It gets its notable flavor from the addition of coriander and Curaçao orange peel.
It’s hard to beat this combination. The spicy, sweet, herbal flavor notes of this beer pairs well with rich, savory foods and would likely work with all of the other Thanksgiving sides just as well.
1) Clown Shoes One Man Holiday (Taste #3)
Average Price: $26 in Clown Shoes’ 12 Beers of Christmas Pack
Whether you’re celebrating a solo holiday or you’re surrounded by friends and family, you’ll want to crack open this flavorful eight percent Belgian-style quadrupel ale. Known for its malt-forward, fruity, yeasty flavor, this beer was brewed to be imbibed during the holidays.
This is the perfect accompaniment to turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce and that, as we’ve seen, isn’t an easy task. It has myriad flavors that work well with the savory, sweet, unctuous, and even tart notes of a Thanksgiving meal.