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Planning a great Thanksgiving dinner calls for making several decisions, including what to drink with the festive meal. Wine is often our go-to, but selecting the perfect wine pairing for a diverse table of food can be tricky. Beer, on the other hand, is much easier. In reality, it's hard to go wrong when selecting the ideal brew for this holiday spread.
There are a number of beer styles that pair perfectly with the traditional Thanksgiving feast, and several brands do it well. Selection does vary based on where you live, so if you can't find the exact beer our reviewers have recommended, your local beer cooler is sure to have something similar in style.
Read on for the best beers to try at this year's Thanksgiving.
Best Overall: Two Brothers Domaine DuPage French Country Ale
The ultimate beer for any dinner table, Domaine DuPage is designed to be a great food companion. It's an award-winning beer brewed by Two Brothers Brewing Company in Illinois. The title "artisan beer" definitely applies to this French country ale; it's simply a brilliantly designed beverage.
Often classified as a biere de grade (meaning "beer for keeping"), which is popping up on more American craft beers, Domaine DuPage (6.2 percent ABV) is brewed in the style of a Belgian or French farmhouse ale. Though the process may be viewed as rustic, this is a sophisticated beer. It’s amber with a toasty, sweet malt flavor against an inviting earthiness, and it has a gentle bitterness of just 24 IBUs. It’s sure to shine against any food you place on the holiday table.
Best With Turkey: Big Sky Brewing Moose Drool Brown Ale
Brown ales are an absolute joy with turkey and diverse enough to go along with all of the typical Thanksgiving side dishes. A great example of this style is Moose Drool from Montana's Big Sky Brewing Co. The brewery has found an impressive combination of four malts and four hops to delight beer drinkers, and the name is too much fun to pass by.
The mahogany color of this 5.2 percent ABV brown ale is deceiving because it’s not a heavy dark beer that coats the palate. Instead, it’s surprisingly light in body and an easy drinker, which is why it’s perfect with food. The rich flavor is marked by coffee and cocoa and, at 26 IBUs, it’s just bitter enough to keep your taste buds salivating.
Best With Smoked Turkey: Founders Brewing Co. Dirty Bastard
When your menu includes smoked turkey, pick up a meaty Scotch ale. And, if your family has a sense of humor, showing up with Founders Dirty Bastard (8.5 percent ABV, 50 IBUs) is sure to give them a good laugh.
Brewed in Michigan using seven imported malts, this is an American interpretation of Scotch ale, so it has a flavor profile typical of Scotch whisky. In keeping with traditional Scotch ales, it is also big and bold, with a moderate 50 IBUs. These two factors give it a complexity that’s ideal for an equally smoky bird. At 8.5 percent ABV, this is a boozy ale, so it’s best to enjoy a bottle then move on to something lighter.
Best With Pumpkin Pie: Breckenridge Brewery Vanilla Porter
Porters are another good choice for smoked turkey, but if you want a beer that can hang on through dessert, Breckenridge Brewery's Vanilla Porter is a nice option. The Colorado brew is a particularly nice match for pumpkin pie, whether it’s a traditional recipe or a quick no-bake version of the Thanksgiving dinner icon.
This vanilla porter is smooth, inviting, and weighs in at 5.4 percent ABV with a mild 16 IBUs. It offers that dark, roasted nuttiness that's the signature flavor of an American porter. Adding the smooth vanilla flavor makes it even more enjoyable and a perfect companion for the pie’s spices and creamy texture.
Best Ale: Bell’s Brewery Amber Ale
The American amber ale is noted for its delicious maltiness and notes of sweet caramel. A tasty representation of this style is Bell's Amber Ale (5.8 percent ABV, 32 IBUs). It has been around since 1985, making it a staple in the craft beer scene and the flagship of Bell’s Brewery in Comstock, Michigan.
The balance of hops and malt in this ale is pleasing and marked by toasted citrus. It's simply a nice, clean beer that offers a food pairing of ultimate refreshment. It can take you from the turkey and sides, straight through to dessert, especially if apple pie is on the menu. And, if you have a recipe that calls for beer, you can’t go wrong with this amber ale.
Best German Beer: Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen
What would Thanksgiving be with a great Oktoberfest? Paulaner offers a brilliant example of this crisp, clean German lager that's reliable, versatile, and perfect for a turkey dinner. From the earthy grains to the sweet caramel, it's simply a balanced autumn-worthy beer.
Paulaner’s Oktoberfest Märzen (5.8 percent ABV) is brewed with Pilsner and Munich malts for a nice balance of light and dark. Building on the foundation, Herkules and Hallertauer Tradition hops give it a classic flavor. It's a formula that has worked very well for many years, is seen as the pinnacle for all Oktoberfest beers, and shows off the Munich brewery’s centuries of traditional craftsmanship.
Best Belgian-Style Beer: New Belgium Trippel Belgian Style Ale
Belgian tripels are known for being warm, dark, and heavy on the alcohol. They're also fantastic with a roasted turkey. It's not the most widely produced style of beer, but New Belgium's Trippel makes an appearance in beer cases that are otherwise devoid of authentic Trappist ales.
This Belgian-style ale is a nice introduction to the style that originated in Trappist monasteries. It’s brewed with Belgian ale yeast and a combination of three malts and four hops with a hint of coriander. It’s an easy drinker, simultaneously sweet and crisp with an ideal bitterness (43 IBUs) that is enhanced when enjoyed alongside food. Since Thanksgiving's a family meal, take it easy with this one because it's a heady 8.5 percent ABV.
Best Wheat Beer: Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier
Whether you have ham or turkey on the menu, wheat beer is an excellent option. For an authentic hefeweizen, go with the German Franziskaner Weissbier (5.0 percent ABV). It is an ideal representation of what the beer style was originally meant to be—and one that everyone at the table will enjoy.
Also labeled Hefe-Weisse, this beer has a full body with the signature banana and clove notes that make the style memorable. It’s cloudy, golden, and well carbonated, with a big, billowy, white head. Don’t keep it hidden in the bottle, it’s a beautiful beer when poured into a glass. If you've only tasted American versions of hefeweizen, the real thing is sure to surprise and delight you.
Best Pumpkin Beer: Excel Bruja Imperial Pumpkin Ale
The first rule in food and drink pairing is to avoid the same flavor. While pumpkin beer is not the best choice for pumpkin pie, it is utterly delicious with chocolate. This one also happens to go great with poultry and can even take the place of dessert. Bruja Imperial Pumpkin Ale is unique and bold, and a brew that every pumpkin beer fan should try at least once.
Excel Brewing has fun with beer. For Bruja, four malts and Target hops are brewed with cinnamon, clove, and allspice for that pumpkin pie spice flavor. It’s then aged in barrels that previously housed añejo tequila, so the beer gets an underlying tequila-oakiness, too. It’s a fascinating experience, but it is an imperial ale, which means it’s not light. At 12 percent ABV, it’s equivalent to drinking 12 ounces of wine.
Best Spiced Beer: Harpoon Winter Warmer
Thanksgiving is the kick-off to the holiday season, so it’s a perfect time to start enjoying warming spiced beers. In fact, spiced ales and winter warmers are a perfect pairing for pumpkin pie (much better than those pumpkin ales). Released just in time for the November holiday, Harpoon's Winter Warmer is a really nice seasonal.
Whether you enjoy it with dessert or while relaxing and visiting afterwards, this Boston brew is an inviting and comforting drink. The dark beer with a medium body includes cinnamon and nutmeg and has a pleasantly sweet maltiness. There’s a reason it’s been a holiday treat for beer drinkers since 1988, and it’s sure to spark the festive spirit!
What to Look for When Buying a Beer for Thanksgiving
The ABV (alcohol by volume) in beer can range between 3 and 13 percent, with most falling in between 4 and 7 percent ABV. Beers that pair well with a heavy meal like Thanksgiving dinner will be in the higher range, up to 8.5 ABV. For a moderately strong beer, choose one with a lower ABV; if you like a bold, high-percentage beer, keep your eyes open for one in the double digits. Since Thanksgiving is a family holiday, however, it's best to keep the bottles with a high ABV to a minimum.
The bitterness of a beer is measured in IBUs (international bitterness units). While it’s not the only way to assess the bitterness of a beer—the amount of malt and other flavors can also affect how bitter a beer tastes to you—it gives you a basic reading. The IBU scale goes from 0 to 100; the lower the number, the less bitter the beer.
When selecting a beer for your Thanksgiving dinner, decide whether you want to serve the beer on its own or with food. Very strong, highly alcoholic beers can be overpowering to drink with lighter fare, such as chips and dip, but go well with hearty dishes like mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and turkey and gravy.
Should I buy more than one type of beer?
Whether a summer barbecue or Thanksgiving dinner, it is best to offer a few kinds of beer. Some guests may have a more adventurous palate and want to try an unusual small-batch brew, while others crave the familiar cold beer they get at the grocery store. A good balance of light and heavy, low to higher ABV, and mild- to rich-tasting is always a good idea.
How cold should the beer be?
The general rule is to serve beer that is between 38 F to 50 F, but some brews may recommend a higher temp. Serving a strong-flavored beer at a warmer temperature will help to bring out its aroma and richness, while lighter beers are best when chilled.
Is it better to serve beer in the bottle or in a glass?
After you have spent time decorating your holiday table, you may not want it strewn with bottles of beer. Fortunately, the beer will taste better when it is poured into a glass—it "reveals itself" and enhances the drinking experience. The glass allows the drinker to see and smell the beer, and being able to enjoy the aroma directly affects how the beer will taste. Factors to consider when choosing a glass is its size and shape. Although a pint glass is typical, a smaller glass is best if the beer has a high ABV. And the type of beer will dictate the shape of the glass, as certain brews such as stouts benefit from one style, while a Belgian beer shines in another.
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Colleen Graham is a food and beverage writer with over a decade of experience writing about cocktails, beer, and wine. She is the author of two books, including “Rosé Made Me Do It.”