Forty years ago, pairing a Thanksgiving feast with beer barely required brainpower. You just chose that lager, or maybe the other one. Beer: done! Wasn’t that fun? Not really. Wine became the go-to mealtime beverage, flutes of sparkling Champagne to start, moving into white wines with white meat, lighter reds to color outside the expected pairing lines. It’s time to dash those grape expectations. America’s dynamic craft beer scene offers a cornucopia of perfect couplings, no turkey leg, morsel of stuffing, or slice of pie served by its lonesome.
“Wine has been the pairing medium of choice forever, but beer gives you more actual combinations to work with,” says Randy Mosher, the head brewer at Chicago’s Forbidden Root Restaurant & Brewery. “You just have the sheer quantity of different flavors.”
Start With Lighter Beers
There are multiple ways to toast to Turkey Day. Start the festivities with lighter beers such as citrusy Belgian-style witbier, or maybe a gently bitter pilsner. I favor a tingly, bubbly, low-alcohol sour ale, or maybe a category-blurring beer blended with grapes. (Forbidden Root, in particular, makes the Sparkling Rosé Ale with grapes.)
Open a Saison or Sour Ale With Your Turkey
To slash through the fat of turkey doused in rich gravy, buttery stuffing on your fork, crack into bone-dry, effervescent saisons—the farmhouse ale is a fine friend to fowl—or crack into an acidic sour ale, maybe one that’s aged in oak.
“They cut through some of the heavy flavors,” says Les Locke, the head brewer at Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery, in San Antonio, Texas. Down there, he says, deep-fried turkeys regularly rule the dinner table, making a cutting beer all the more crucial. “These beers help scrub your palate.”
Locke also likes to coast through a meal with kellerbiers, a family of unfiltered German ales and lagers. “They’re beautiful, delicate, soft, and have a nice malt backbone,” Locke says. “You can keep going back to them, again and again.”
Choosing Your Post-Turkey Brew
Post-dinner, it’s tempting to pair a dessert-like pastry stout with the parade of pies, but I find there’s way too much sweetness. In fact, I’ll often snag a slice of pumpkin pie, then treat beers as my second dessert, be it a rich imperial stout, boozy and belly-warming barley wine, or herbaceous ale to take the edge off all that overindulgence.
This Thanksgiving, here are a dozen widely available beers to put you in a fowl, festive mood.
Joshua M. Bernstein is the author of the just-released Drink Better Beer.