We Put 12 of the Best Thanksgiving Beer Pairings to the Test
How did these beers stand up when paired with an actual turkey dinner?
We’ve got a lot to be thankful for here at InsideHook when it comes to our beer coverage — specifically, the ever-expanding network of professional brewers and industry professionals who are always willing to chat with us and deliver a recommendation and the in-house experts we have here on staff who bravely sample as many brews as they can without (entirely) destroying their livers to help guide you towards the best. It’s a tough gig, but someone’s gotta do it.
It’s thanks to all of them that we’ve been able to put together a veritable cornucopia of Thanksgiving beer recommendations, whether it’s The 12 Best Beers for Thanksgiving, According to Professional Brewers, a Beer Drinker’s Guide to Thanksgiving or a roundup of the best craft beers to bring to a fancy dinner party. But this year, we decided to try something different and put all of these excellent recommendations that we’ve accumulated over the years to the test. Which of these highly recommended Thanksgiving beers actually pair well with a traditional turkey dinner?
To find out, we did what any enterprising reporters would do and ordered a $250 Thanksgiving dinner from Harry & David to our office, wandered helplessly around the kitchen for a while in search of an oven, rounded up as many presumably Thanksgiving-appropriate beers as we could get our hands on and had a feast in our conference room. Nine InsideHook staffers dined on turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and pumpkin cheesecake while scribbling notes about each beer and how well (or not well) it paired with each component of the meal. At the end of it all, before any of us slipped into our inevitable food comas (read: got drunk), each taster selected one beer as their favorite to pair with dinner and another as their pick for the best dessert beer. Check out the results below.
Blue Point Toasted Lager
Style: Amber lager
If you’re looking to stick with one particular style of beer throughout every course on Thanksgiving, you can’t go wrong with an amber lager like Blue Point’s Toasted Lager. It’s light and low enough in ABV that it won’t get you hammered (or feeling too full to go for a seconds), and it’s got a subtle-enough toasted malt flavor profile — along with the faintest trace of honey — that will complement your meal without overshadowing it. This beer wound up as several of our tasters’ vote for the overall best beer to pair with dinner. One declared it to be the “most versatile” of the brews we sampled, and another found it to be “light enough to work well with most things.”
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
Style: Pumpkin beer
Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale fared well in our pumpkin beer tasting, so naturally, we were curious whether the brown sugar it’s brewed with and its caramel malty notes would pair well with an actual pumpkin pie (or in our case, the pumpkin cheesecake that was included with our pre-packaged Thanksgiving dinner). It turns out there’s such a thing as too much pumpkin, however; as one taster noted, Punkin Ale is “fun, but doesn’t really work well” with the pumpkin-y treat because it “competes.” However, most interestingly, two separate tasters mentioned that this beer paired especially well with the brussels sprouts on our plates, with the sweetness of the pumpkin beer balancing out the bitterness of the veggie. So if you’re planning on bringing a seasonally appropriate pumpkin beer to Thanksgiving this year, maybe consider cracking it open with dinner instead of saving it for the dessert course.
Founders Breakfast Stout
Style: Oatmeal stout
Don’t let the name fool you: you’re actually going to want to finish your feast with this showstopper of a beer rather than start your day with it. This one’s a favorite of craft beer fans everywhere, and its rich, earthy coffee flavor and hints of chocolate make it the perfect option for winding down with a slice of something sweet. (Consider it an alternative to your post-dinner cup of joe; it’s brewed with Sumatra and Kona coffee, so you’ll still get the flavor you’re looking for, and that 8.3% ABV should help ensure it won’t keep you up all night.) One taster described it as “the perfect Thanksgiving finish,” while another found it to be “really good, but too heavy to pair with savory foods.”
When Stephen Hale, founding brewer at Schlafly Beer, recommended Gaffel Kolsch to us for Thanksgiving a few years ago, he stipulated that it works best with the appetizer course, saying, “As the food preparation and consumption ensues, I like to start with a lighter, crisp refreshing beer — something to help whet the appetite and pair with the appetizers that are usually not too spicy or overbearing.” The main course is another story, however. Our tasters all liked this kolsh well enough on its own but found that it was easily overpowered by a rich Thanksgiving dinner. “Doesn’t elevate any of the foods,” one wrote. Several noted that it paired nicely with the turkey, but one taster admitted it was “too soft, kind of hard to taste” and another suggested it would make a “good sideline beer” to nurse while you’re putting the finishing touches on the bird.
Goose Island Sofie
This saison from Goose Island is aged in white wine barrels, giving it a bit of a Champagne-like quality, and its fruitiness and spiciness both work well to cut through the richness of Thanksgiving dinner while still feeling festive enough to be at home on a holiday table. It was extremely popular among our tasters. One described it as “light, drinkable, nice counterbalance to rich foods,” while another noted that it’s “good with meat” and one summarized it as “pairs well with everything.” Truthfully, that’s what it comes down to: this one’s an unexpected crowd-pleaser, whether you’re hosting a bunch of craft beer enthusiasts or novices who typically prefer wine.
Lindemans Kriek Lambic
Style: Fruit Lambic
This is the one to bring to Thanksgiving for your friends and relatives who insist they don’t drink beer. A kriek lambic is a Belgian beer made by fermenting lambic with sour cherries, and it barely registers as a beer in terms of flavor. It’s fruity, sweet and at just 3.5% ABV, it’s barely alcoholic. Naturally, given its fruity sweetness, most of our tasters found this one paired best with our cranberry sauce, but one suggested pairing it with the brussels sprouts or something more tart to balance it out. Interestingly, a few of us noticed an odd “beachy” nose here, but don’t worry — you won’t find any fishy flavors in this one.
New Belgium Oakspire Bourbon Barrel Ale
Style: Strong Ale
It wouldn’t be a proper Thanksgiving without something bourbon barrel-aged on the table, and since we’ve already sampled all of this year’s Goose Island Bourbon County Stout variants, we decided to go with something a little different this time. This year’s edition of New Belgium’s Oakspire was brewed in partnership with Four Roses Distillery, but while the booziness comes through, it’s difficult to pick up any actual bourbon flavor in the beer itself. It failed to make an impression on most of our tasters, save for one, who described it as “very pleasant” and noted it paired well with dark chocolate.
Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA
Style: Fresh Hop IPA
There’s a reason that so many professional brewers listed Sierra Nevada’s Celebration IPA as their go-to Thanksgiving beer. It’s a remarkably well-balanced brew with a malt character that coexists harmoniously with its piney hopiness — making it robust enough to hold its own against a heavy meal. Nearly all of our tasters found that its pine flavors especially help cut through the richness of most traditional Thanksgiving foods. A few mentioned that it paired nicely with cheese — worth noting if you’re looking for something to sip on while tearing into that baked brie your cousin brought over — and several found it worked best with the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.
St. Bernardus Prior 8 Abbey Ale
As one professional brewer explained to us in 2020 when he recommended pairing a Trappist ale (specifically, a dubbel) with Thanksgiving dinner, “At Thanksgiving, I want something that’s going to stand up to all that rich food but not overwhelm it. Even wine snobs tend to like it since it has so much character but doesn’t taste like ‘beer.’” I wouldn’t say we have too many wine snobs on staff here at InsideHook, and maybe we need a few more, because St. Bernardus’s Prior 8 didn’t do much to stand out at our table. Some of our tasters found it to be “nutty, nice and well-rounded,” but others noted that it “looks like the gravy, smells like feet” and “tastes like fennel.” Still, even the nay-sayers had to admit it paired nicely with the stuffing, making the bready side dish taste a little sweeter than it actually was.
Leffe Brown Ale
Style: Belgian Dark Ale
This one requires a bit of a disclaimer: when we were putting together the list of beers we wanted to include in this tasting, we knew we wanted at least one brown ale in the mix, but we were hoping to get our hands on an English-style brown ale. Unfortunately, the closest we could get last-minute was this Belgian-style brown ale — an albeit delicious beer that wasn’t quite the vibe we were going for. One taster wrote that it “tastes amazing on its own” but found it to be slightly too heavy to pair with most Thanksgiving foods, while another found it went best with starchy sides like sweet potatoes and stuffing.
Unibroue La Fin Du Monde
It’s not every day you hear a 9.0% ABV beer described as “light,” but that was a recurring comment about this Belgian Trippel from our tasters. It’s certainly crisp and easy-drinking, with some pleasant floral notes to it. Most of our tasters singled it out for pairing especially well with the turkey, but a few of them also noted that might work best as an after-dinner drink. “Good beer to end with,” wrote one, while another noted that it’s “probably good for after you’ve inevitably eaten too much.” Just don’t be fooled by how smooth it goes down; if you’re looking to counteract all that tryptophan, its high ABV won’t do you any favors.
Firestone Walker Parabola
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
This legendary barrel-aged stout is a perennial favorite, and its notes of coffee, chocolate, cherry and oak make it perfect for pairing with dessert. (If you’re a fan of Goose Island Bourbon County, this one’s a no-brainer for you as well.) Some of our tasters found Parabola to be a bit overwhelming (“big beer…too big,” one wrote), but others loved it. “She’s hefty,” one taster wrote. “I appreciate her intensity.”
Best Beer to Pair with Dinner: Goose Island Sofie
Runner-up: Blue Point Toasted Lager
Goose Island Sofie was the overwhelming favorite here, with seven out of nine tasters choosing it as the beer they thought paired best with the savory portion of the meal. It makes sense; it’s a crisp, classic beer that, as mentioned earlier, goes well with just about everything and won’t leave you feeling bogged down by any sort of heavy booziness. If you’re looking for one single beer to stick with all day this Turkey Day, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Best Beer to Pair with Dessert: Founders Breakfast Stout
Runner-up: Firestone Walker Parabola
The dessert category was a much tighter race than the dinner beer battle, with Founders Breakfast Stout edging out Firestone Walker Parabola by just one vote. They’re similar beers, of course — both boozy, coffee-forward stouts — and both pair extremely well with anything sweet. Which one you choose as your favorite likely will depend on just how sweet you want your dessert course to be; Parabola is barrel-aged and higher in ABV, so it’s got more boozy sweetness to it than the Breakfast Stout, which tastes a little closer to a black cup of coffee.
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