Best Beers for Thanksgiving Dinner
While shopping for the turkey and trimmings you will likely ponder what wines to pair with the feast. But rather than scan through the Savignon Blancs and Rieslings again this year, wheel your cart to the craft beer aisle for a change. There’s a huge variety of craft beer styles many of which are perfect for pairing with turkey, sides and dessert. To help you navigate the territory, here are some suggestions from four of our local beer experts:
Brian Stechschulte, Executive Director of the San Francisco’s Brewers Guild
Anchor Brewing’s Brekle’s Brown - Pairing beer with Thanksgiving dinner is no easy task. Because the turkey and side dishes cover a wide range of different flavors, you need something that’s versatile. Brekle’s Brown from Anchor Brewing will do much of the heavy lifting. It’s full of nutty and toasted malt flavors that will compliment your bird’s dark meat, the stuffing, and a host of caramelized side-dish goodness.
Almanac Beer’s Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine - For dessert, especially if you’re eating pumpkin or pecan pie, I highly recommend you grab a bottle of Almanac Beer’s Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine, made with roasted Bodega Bay pumpkins and aged in brandy barrels for one year. Slowly sip this one alongside any rich dessert made with chocolate, dark fruit, allspice, nutmeg or brown sugar, and you’ll be very happy.
Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone and Consultant à la Bière
Gordon Biersch’s Hefeweizen or Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier - Bavarian-style wheat beers are known for their tropical aromas of banana and clove, which are imparted by a unique strain of ale yeast. It sounds as if it would be a good dessert beer, but beneath these tropical flavors is a hint of acidity from the wheat, so it contrasts beautifully with savory foods. It's great with starchy items like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and stuffing, and its fruity, baking spice flavors provide a refreshing garnish for roast turkey, gravy, and buttery veggies.
Speakeasy’s Prohibition Ale - Craft beer fans frequently pass up amber ales in favor of sexier numbers such as sour beers, barrel-aged beers, and ever-hoppier IPAs. But amber ales do a beautiful and food-friendly job of combining the toasty, nutty, caramelly flavors of amber malts with the herby, citrusy bitterness of American hops. Amber ales like Prohibition (Gold Medal winner at GABF 2013) provide the perfect one-two punch of bitters/sweetness that complements the roasted and buttery flavors on the Thanksgiving plate before cutting through the richness with a burst of citrus. Their bitterness is a great digestif, too, settling your stomach after the meal.
Rodenbach Grand Cru or Brouwerji Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne – Like amber ales, Flanders red ales also rely on toasty, nutty, caramelly malts and they pair nicely with sautéed and roasted veggies, starches, and meats. But these oak-aged beers have also sour, oxidized flavors reminiscent of Balsamic vinegar and sherry. Think of a Flanders red ale working like cranberry sauce, refreshing your palate with tartness and enhancing the rich, savory food with a burst of fruity brightness.
Nick Schuster, Beer Manager at Healthy Spirits SF
First off purchase any pumpkin ale soon. It’s been my experience that any remaining stock dries up about now and this style has become so popular that when folks wait until the day before Thanksgiving, supplies will be limited or nonexistent.
Jolly Pumpkin's La Parcela - The one pumpkin variety I feel balances perfectly with a rich Thanksgiving menu is Jolly Pumpkin's La Parcela. It seems every week a new "must-have" brewery specializing in oak-aged ales hits the market, but Brewmaster Ron Jefferies has been perfecting this beer for nearly a decade and his production has been world-class. Bone dry with a hint of rustic funk, the pumpkin and cacao add character and spiciness. And while I wouldn't classify this as a sour ale, it certainly would be hit for fans of that style.
Telegraph Brewing's Sanus Spiritibus - For Healthy Spirits' 15th Anniversary, we commissioned some of our favorite (and often overlooked) breweries to make a series of exclusive bourbon barrel aged ales. Telegraph Brewing's Sanus Spiritibus would hit on a lot of similar notes to the Jolly Pumpkin ale listed above. A strong Bierede Garde was aged for two months in bourbon barrels with two strains of Brettanomyces. The aging brought together the vanilla and maple character of the wood with the complex funk of the wild yeasts. The finished ale includes hints of green apple peel and potpourri (think mulled cider). While only 38 cases were produced, we have enough stock to make it through the holiday. Fans of DeDolle, 't Smisje, Jolly Pumpkin, and Crooked Stave breweries will relish this one.
FiftyFifty’s Healthy Spirits 15th Anniversary Ale - After dinner, another of our anniversary series ales: FiftyFifty Brewing blended equal parts of their Donner Party Porter with Old Conundrum Barleywine then aged this already heady concoction for six months in a Four Roses bourbon barrel. Their brewmaster was the first person to take home GABF gold for a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout, and this ale hits on many similar levels with a rich, earthy, coffee laced aroma. This special blend sports the weight and a high ABV from the Barleywine and the deep roasted grain notes from the Porter.
Beth Wathen, Co-owner City Beer Store
Avery Brewing’s Hog Heaven Barleywine-Style Ale - At its heart, Hog Heaven is a bold, double IPA cloaked as a barleywine. A dry-hopped citrus burst is balanced with a deep malt finish. This ale can cut through the richness on your Thanksgiving menu, whether paired with the main course or dessert.
Brasserie Dupont’s Avec les Bons Voeux - Always a staple on our Thanksgiving table, this beer name translates to ‘With the best wishes of the Brewery Dupont.’ It’s a beautiful Belgian Ale, golden hued, touch of spice, and bananas foster and makes a lovely offering when dining with friends and family. This classic beer can be enjoyed alongside a juicy turkey and sides such as candied yams.
Note: Occurring for only the second time since President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday, Chanukah and Thanksgiving overlap to create Thanksgivukkah. To better lubricate the merging of these holidays, Shmaltz Brewing Company has released this year's limited-edition Anniversary beers: Jewbelation Reborn (17 malts, 17 hops, 17% ABV) and their first-ever Black IPA, Death of a Contract Brewer (7 malts, 7 hops, 7% ABV). This holiday convergence won’t happen for another 79,043 years, so be sure to pick up a couple extra bottles of each to tide you over.