Three Courses of Beer for Thanksgiving Day

With Turkey Day right around the corner, now is the time to start thinking about what beers you’ll be enjoying on the greatest feast day of the year.

Instead of just focusing on what to serve alongside your turkey (or deep-fried turducken if you’re Don), let’s break it down to three distinct courses: Before Dinner, Dinner, and Dessert after the big meal.  Or as I like to call them Football, let’s hurry up there’s Football on, and yay more Football!

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Jim, that means I’ll have to drink THREE OR MORE BEERS on Thanksgiving!”  I know it’s a hardship 😉  but if you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming it was going to happen anyway.

The important thing is to have a separate strategy for each part of your day, as each has a distinct set of functions and flavors associated with it. 

Before Dinner

At my house, we really don’t do appetizers before the big meal.  Instead we let our bellies rumble in anticipation of tearing into the turkey and stuffing that are perfuming the air.  So, I really have no need to think about flavor pairings, just function.  I look for a beer that won’t get me hammered, but has good flavor that gets me in the mood for the feast to come.  I also like beers that come in 12oz. bottles here, so I don’t have to commit to 750ml’s of beer on an empty stomach.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Victory Prima Pils: Light, crisp and full-flavored, this spicy pilsner tingles the taste buds and gets them ready for the main event.
  • Dales’ Pale Ale: It’s like the family dog at my house, always there when you need it. Its strong but not overpowering hop flavor and a pleasant earthiness are the perfect warm up for what’s to come.
  • Sam Adam’s Oktoberfest: Its seasonality, earthy sweet flavor and lower ABV make it a natural fit here. Plus it’s a brand that your non-beer-geek guests will be comfortable with. Save the fireworks for the dinner table!


Now for dinner, I want a beer that pairs well with what were having and has a certain elegance about it. It is a fancy feast after all (but not the cat food kind).  I tend to lean towards Belgian Dubbels and Quads here, as well as beers brewed with autumnal flavors.  Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • The Bruery’s Autumn Maple: A 10% ABV ale brewed with yams, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla molasses and maple syrup.
  • St. Bernardus Abt 12: a 10.5% ABV Belgian Quad that tastes of cloves and candied malt. Let it warm for maximum flavor.
  • Chimay Premiere (Red): At 7% ABV, this is the quintessential Belgian Dubbel, with tastes of dark fruits and caramel. A classic.


Whether or not you’re having pumpkin pie, apple pie or just stumbling to the couch to unbuckle your pants, there’s always room for beer!  Here’s where you’ll want something with big, rich flavors and a higher ABV to team up with that tryptophan and send you into a delightful post-turkey coma.  Or, if you’re not a caveman, maybe just a nice sipping companion for post-dinner chit chat.  Either way, it’s time for the big boys!

  • Schlafly’s 2008 Reserve Imperial Stout: This 10.5% ABV barrel-aged delight is rich and delicious and a bit boozy, with dark fruits, cocoa and caramel dancing together in perfect harmony.
  • Southern Tier Pumking: Forget the pie and go for the goblet. This 9% ABV pumpkin ale is pumpkin pie in a bottle, with great spice notes and a satisfying finish. Got vanilla ice cream on hand? Make a Pumkin float!
  • Southern Tier Choklat or Mokah: Yes, I’m double dipping on Southern Tier here, but they do big, smooth, sweet flavors better than anyone.  Choklat is an 11% ABV Imperial Stout that is gushing with pure milk chocolate goodness.  It’s like drinking a chocolate pie.  If you prefer a little coffee with your chocolate pie, grab a Southern Tier Mokah. This 11% ABV stout will definitely make your toes curl with pleasure.

Thanksgiving is an awesome day to celebrate your love of great beer.  Take advantage of it.  Whatever you decide to drink, make sure to share, to enjoy, and to be grateful that there are so many wonderful beers out there to choose from.  I’ve said it before – this is the Golden Age of craft beer, and I’m very, very thankful for that.



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Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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33 Comments on “Three Courses of Beer for Thanksgiving Day”

  1. Rob Crozier
    November 18, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Great choices. I love that the beer is the main focus and not so much what’s being served. I used to be a wine guy and picking a wine for Thanksgiving was fairly simple – beer offers so much in the way of variety that the pairings are more exciting and can be very adventurous.

    • November 18, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

      Oh yeah, the food – I forgot! 🙂

  2. November 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    This is my line-up…almost.

    Before dinner, I like to start with a low ABV lager to get the taste buds going without getting too tipsy. We usually have a cheese plate for before dinner. Your Prima Pils would also work well as the hoppiness pairs well with strong cheeses. However, I typically go full-on IPA/DIPA for the stronger cheeses.

    My “traditional” Thanksgiving beer is the St. Bernardus Abt 12. That’s the part of this post that caught my attention right away. This beer works so well with so many foods, but I particularly like it with the turkey I spend most of the day smoking.

    Dessert seems easy. Just grab a big imperial stout. I’ve actually had the Schlafly one the last three years in a row. The ’08 might be my favorite, but the ’07 I pulled out last year really did the trick.

    I blogged one Thanksgiving’s menu here:

    • November 18, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

      Wow, that’s uncanny, Zac. You’re obviously a man of impeccable tastes. 🙂

  3. Heather
    November 18, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    I love Pumking, and I am really excited that my local shop will be selling growlers in anticipation of Thanksgiving. The idea of a float feels like it may be sacrilege though. Would that not be super gross?

    • November 18, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

      A growler of Pumking would be an awesome treat for Thanksgiving – I’m jealous!

      I don’t think the float is sacrilege, but I’ll be honest – I haven’t tried one yet. It’s been recommended to me by a couple of different folks and I’m very interested to try. Hmm..that’d be a good blog post…

      • November 18, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

        Agreed. I don’t think the float is sacrilege, but choose the beer you pour over ice cream wisely. I’ve used Rogue’s chocolate stout in a float. It was tasty, but I’d never use something like FFF’s Dark Lord or even the Schlafly one mentioned here in a float.

        • November 18, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

          I agree 100% the beer makes all the difference. I’d start with a tine bit of vanilla and a little Pumking and see what it’s like.

      • mark
        November 18, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

        Brooklyn Chocolate Stout would be sweet…literally.

        • November 18, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

          I still haven’t had that one yet – not sure how I keep missing it.

    • Heather
      November 26, 2010 at 4:21 am #

      To update you on the float, I tried it, and although not 100% gross, the sweet ice cream makes the beer taste more sour in comparison, and is not the most palatable combo.

      • November 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

        Thanks for sharing how it turned out. I have some leftover vanilla ice cream, so I’m gonna give it a whirl myself this weekend. I’m gonna go small and take it from there. Hopefully it’s not totally gross.

  4. David
    November 18, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

    For the last couple of years, a friend has been sending me bottles of New Glarus Belgian Red. It’s almost a holiday tradition. Good stuff, and goes so well with the feast……

    • November 18, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

      You probably don’t mean to, but you’re making me very envious. Our folks live in Wisconsin – I had better get mom to the beer store and then the UPS Store (just tell them they’re “yeast samples” mom!)

      • David
        November 19, 2010 at 12:51 am #

        Well, being that your folks are in Wisconsin, you have probably had Belgian Red, if you haven’t, it’s fantastic. It’s reminiscent of a lambic on the sweeter side, with tons and tons of cherry in it. My wife says it tastes like cherry pie in a bottle.

        • Don
          November 19, 2010 at 11:03 am #

          Man, David, you’re speaking my brother’s language! He loves him some cherry beer!

        • November 19, 2010 at 11:06 am #

          I haven’t had it, and now I want it!

  5. November 18, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    Yo Jimbo!

    Great list! Can you make room for one more? Sadly… from a beer perspective, I’ll be dining in a mostly lager household (the In-Laws). Great company, lovely dinner, but very lackluster in the brew department. I may bring a bottle of Farmhouse Ale and a Pumpkin Beer or two to “spice” things up a bit. And if they don’t like it, then more for me. 🙂

    Peace Yo!

    • Don
      November 19, 2010 at 11:02 am #

      If they like lagers, bring a six of Kona Longboard or Victory, or even Boston Lager! Keep it comfortable, and gradually bring them into the fold! 😉

    • November 19, 2010 at 11:07 am #

      Yo, G-LO!

      Good idea to bring your own and offer to share. Who knows, maybe you’ll made a convert while you’re there. If not, they can talk about you and your silly beers after you leave. Good times, good times.

  6. November 19, 2010 at 1:42 am #


    I like the appetizer and dessert choices, but for the main course I like something that balances better. Nothing wrong with a quad or a big harvest beer, but they tend to overpower the lighter flavors in the meal. Heck, even turkey stuffing isn’t that bold!

    One thing that Thanksgiving meals usually are is heavy, which is why Pinot Noir or other slightly more acidic wines get paired with them. Personally, I’m a *huge* fan of a tart Kriek like Cantillion or Drie Fonteinen with a dinner like that, and a flanders red like Rodenbach Grand Cru is also very nice. I know you guys aren’t huge sour fans, so that New Glarus Belgian Red mentioned up there is a good, less sour alternative.

    • Don
      November 19, 2010 at 11:05 am #

      Those go well Gordon, I personally like a bottle of La Crema Chardonnay with my turkey. That is one of the only wines my wife actually likes! So that will be on the table, along with a bottle of autumn Maple I picked up for the occasion.

    • November 19, 2010 at 11:05 am #

      I’d be all for the New Glarus Belgian Red, but it’s an impossible “get” here, Gordon.

      I’ve had good luck with Belgians and Autumn Maple in the past for Thanksgiving. Our stuffing is usually pretty flavorful, and those beers complement the flavors on the table well.

      But as you noted, I’m not a fan of sours, but like cranberry sauce, the addition of tartness to the meal can be very pleasurable. It’s a good recommendation.

  7. November 19, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    Jim – good write up and as always, you got my mouth watering for a beer that I don’t have yet (Southern Tier). I had already put some brain power into what I wanted to do for Turkey day and beer so I lined up the following:

    Pre dinner: Bell’s Best Brown, delicious and low ABV

    Dinner: Widmer Brothers Prickly Bear Braggot or a La Chouffe.

    Dessert: This one’s a toss up. Funny you mentioned the Schlaffly’s, I just picked up a bottle so it’s that and/or Founders Dirty Bastard or Brooklyn’s Black Choco.

    • November 19, 2010 at 11:51 am #

      Super solid line up, Greg. You and Gordon have me thinking of a lighter, tarter beer for the table. Hmm…

  8. November 19, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    We talked about this article on the podcast last night, you guys provide some great material!

    Reading through the comments has me thirsty and trying to figure out what to bring to my sister’s for TG now. Most of my family won’t experiment too much with beer but it doesn’t keep me from trying.

    Last year I brought a growler of smoked porter from a local brew pub (Barley John’s), I thought it would go well with the turkey. Also brought some New Glarus Cran-bic because ya know, cranberries & Thanksgiving! A couple pumpkin beers made an appearance too but like I said, not much went over well. I’ve got them to move a few inches since then though so I’m trying again!

    I really liked the St Bernardus 12 idea and was set on that until Wisconsin Belgian Red came up. I have a couple/few of those too and thought it would be nice. So do I want quad or cherry? Quad or cherry? Hmmmm, got it. I want both. I’ll bring a bottle of Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad. Problem solved.

    I’ll also bring a bottle of my Mokah, that has done very well with my non-beer-drinking friends as well. And of course, a few more pumpkin beers. One of my brothers-in-law who was absent last year will be there this year and is open to some pumpkin beers. I have an ’09 & ’10 Pumking and a Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin (truly pumpkin pie in a bottle) and maybe I’ll grab some of the new Summit Unchained Imperial Pumpkin Porter.

    I’m really hungry and really thirsty now. Great article guys.

    • November 19, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

      Thanks, Mikey. Glad you think our stuff is worth talking about!

      You might want to dial it back a hair and bring a Belgian Dubbel, specifically a Chimay. It’s a great beer for non-geeks to start with, but it still counts as an authentic craft beer. Quads are great, but it might be too deep to fast for some. Anyway, my 2 cents – looks like you have it under control!

      • November 19, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

        Funny you should say that, Chimay Red was also on my list as was my La Trappe Dubbel. I was at a tasting on Wednesday night where the latter was being served (with other dubbels and quads as well) and they provided chocolate chips to melt on your tongue before taking a sip of the darker beers. It was like magic on the tongue.

        So I’ll probably grab that La Trappe to give the same experience on TG, if they don’t like that I might have to see if your family has room for me next year. I promise to bring good beer 😉

        • November 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm #



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