3 Best Beer Styles to Pair with Thanksgiving Dinner
As you start the planning for that annual bout of gluttony that we call Thanksgiving Day, I offer up some advice and information to make sure that you have the right beverages around for the event…and the day after…and maybe even while you’re cooking it.
While most folks will be trying to find the perfect wine for their feast, I think you should take the easier path by going with beer. Beer is a more congenial beverage than wine—it rarely clashes with food and can go with a broad range of dishes, which is exactly what we have on a Thanksgiving Day table.
What’s on the table? Everything! We have a neutral (but not bland) meat surrounded by a cast of characters that range from equally neutral but rich (like mashed potatoes) to the bittersweetness and, yes, tannin of fresh cranberry sauce. Sweet potatoes are sweet even without the mini-marshmallows, mashed turnips are scary, creamed onions scare me even more, and the green beans have canned fried onions on them. I say cover it all with gravy and crack open a brew.
Since the side dishes are the supporting cast that make the big star look good, we must pay attention to them when choosing the beer. The range of flavors is varied, but not too broad. In other words, there really aren’t many extremes, other than, perhaps, the cranberry relish. So what does this mean, beer-wise? No super-light or immense beers—avoid the extremes. It does tend to be a fairly rich meal, so the beer should be refreshing, and a bit of bitterness from hops can balance the richness of the food. The beer also needs to have some body, so moderate alcohol and maltiness can help there.
Here are a few categories to consider:
This is the little black dress of the beer world. Okay, that sounds a little weird, but brown ales go with a huge range of dishes. It isn’t the sexiest style, and tends to be overlooked by many beer geeks, but every brewer I know loves it, and there are some great ones made in New York, including Brooklyn Brewery’s version as well as Newburgh Brewing Company’s. Malty, balanced, and just the thing to show off a bunch of different dishes.
This Belgian style has a little more alcohol than most blonde beers (body and power), and often has a high level of carbonation that can cut through richness. Belgian beers are some of the best food beers on the planet, and saison arguably sits at the head of the class. In keeping with my tradition of serving American products on this American holiday, there is Hennepin by Brewery Ommegang, as well as Sorachi Ace by Brooklyn Brewery, and Tank 7 from Boulevard Brewing Company. Each one of these is very highly rated…and delicious by itself, but perhaps even better with food.
India Pale Ale is the most popular craft beer style in the country, and it has a place on the T’giving Day table specifically because it has a solid backbone of alcohol as well as a bracing bitterness that will balance the richness of the meal. In this case, I would avoid the currently hot NEIPA (New England IPA), also called “Hazy IPA” style because it tends to have less bitterness than good ol’ IPAs like Anchor Liberty Ale and Dogfish Head 60 Minute or 90 Minute IPA. You could also pick up a few growlers of our own Cleaver IPA at The Brewery at the CIA here on our New York campus…just sayin’.
I know, I know…it’s not beer. But between its refreshing carbonation and bright acidity, hard cider can cut through the richness of just about everything on the table. It’s also possible that it is what the Pilgrims were drinking during their early Thanksgiving dinners because hard cider was made in the colonies going back to the 1600s. There are a lot of great ones made locally to the New York campus, including Nine Pin Cider and Indian Ladder Farms Cidery & Brewery, both in the Albany area. Also, Angry Orchard’s showcase orchard and cidery are in Walden, NY, where they sell some of their experimental and small-batch ciders. Any of the above would be great with the whole meal.
Perhaps one of the best things about opting for beer (or cider) on Thanksgiving is that they are highly affordable. Even the best beers are significantly less expensive than wines of the same quality. So here’s my idea…take the money you save and spend it on a great bottle of bourbon to share with your family after dinner. A little Wild Turkey after your turkey? Just say it’s a digestif and they’ll all go for it.