Here’s the bottom line for food and beer pairings: No one can truly tell you that your choices are right or wrong. You can base your recommendations on flavor wheels, various philosophies, or a fiendishly complex grid of your own devising, but in the end, this is something that comes down to personal taste. A cicerone can no more tell you what beer to enjoy than a chef can tell you what tastes you prefer. But they can make an educated guess. And that’s what we’re doing today.
Thanksgiving dishes vary from region to region and household to household, but the one constant is that any good dinner has a variety of beverages for pairing at all points of the day—not just the dinner itself, but before and after as well. Craft beer is remarkably versatile in this regard. Here then, are 10 locally produced beers that are perfect to have on hand on turkey day.
Three Taverns Prince of Pilsen
As one of the most hop-forward lager styles, a great Czech pils hits many of the same notes as a great IPA, and this is especially true in the case of Prince of Pilsen, which uses an intensely citrusy blend of American hops instead of the traditionally spicy buzz of the Czech Saaz variety. The result is a refreshing, palate-cleansing, citrusy (but dry) pilsner. Ideal for: football game hors d’oeuvres
Creature Comforts Athena
Athena is a beautiful example of how the American craft beer market has put a claim on the style of Berliner weisse and the flavor profile this has come to evoke: Light, grainy wheat, a punch of lemony citrus, and mild-to-moderate tartness make for thirst-quenching drinkability in the same way that lemonade might. Ideal for: fatty snacks like potato chips or potato skins.
Blue Tarp BantamWeight
Decatur’s Blue Tarp Brewing Co. recently started canning their first run of beers, including the Funk Weisse (another Berliner) and IPA/DIPA hybrid Cascade Killa, but their “session ale,” BantamWeight, fits particularly well as a pre-dinner selection. Its ABV is low and approachable at 4.2%, but the beer is surprisingly assertive, driven by malts with mild roast and nutty notes. Ideal for: casual sipping or a handful of salty pretzels.
Orpheus Lyric Ale
A classic French saison is an outside-the-box appetizer pairing and brings a bit more complexity and body to the table. The combination of spice, funk, and fruity hops in the beer is well-suited to a variety of flavors and is indicative of why saison is usually good “food beer” in general. Lyric Ale tends to drink significantly lighter than its surprising 6.5% ABV, so watch out if you’re trying to stay sober before dinner. Ideal for: Cheeses, charcuterie, pitas and hummus or veggies
Wild Heaven White Blackbird
Unlike the Orpheus Lyric Ale, Wild Heaven’s White Blackbird takes a fruity, herbal, spicy route. Saisons and farmhouse ales have been my personal favorite pairing for Thanksgiving dinner for a while now. Ideal for: Herbal and peppery qualities complement traditional Thanksgiving dishes, from stuffing to an herbed turkey breast to a mountain of potatoes and gravy.
Has to be an IPA in there somewhere, right? Here, I’d argue you don’t want a punch of tropical fruit as much as you want balance and a more classical IPA profile that is citrusy, floral and piney. Ideal for: An outstanding value that you can probably find at your corner gas station.
Second Self Thai Wheat
Here’s a clever twist on the often uninspired American pale wheat style. Employing ginger and lemongrass as flavor agents, in the present-but-subtle manner that has become one of Second Self’s calling cards, Thai What quickly became Second Self’s most popular (and versatile) beer. Ideal for: Herbaceous and spicy qualities make it an obvious pairing for side dishes such as stuffing, green bean casserole, black eyed peas or even cranberry sauce.
Burnt Hickory Big Shanty
This decadent imperial stout from Burnt Hickory in Kennesaw is made with honey and “graham cracker crumbles,” making it a natural dessert pairing (it’s half pie already!). Falling somewhere between the autumnal/pumpkin beer style and a more traditional imperial stout, it brings cinnamon and nutmeg flavors into play in addition to the expected roastiness and brown sugar/molasses-like sweetness. Ideal for: Pecan pie. This is one to share, so maybe crack open a bomber and portion it out.
Wild Heaven Ode to Mercy Special Winter Ale
Special Winter is the seasonal winter version of Wild Heaven’s imperial coffee brown ale, Ode to Mercy. An already rich beer in its base form, the Ode is then aged on bourbon-soaked oak chips. I find that it smooths the imperial brown ale’s coffee and roast flavors somewhat, reducing their assertiveness but simultaneously introducing barrel notes of vanilla, oak, toffee and spice that make for a very memorable, frighteningly easy drinking 8.2% ABV beer. Ideal for: Just about any dessert, from pumpkin pie or peach cobbler to a slice of chocolate cake.
Monday Night Brewing Laissez-Faire Wheatwine
If you’re still able to think about drinking an after-meal digestive (perhaps after waiting an hour or two), close out with a massive beer like this one. Laissez-Faire is a “wheatwine,” the little-seen spin on barleywine that essentially takes an American wheat ale and cranks the amount of malted wheat (and thus ABV) up to 11. Or in this case, 12. That, combined with its cabernet barrel-aging, create a massively rich, boozy, chewy beer redolent in dried fruit and toffee. It’s the beer equivalent of a well-aged brandy or perhaps a tawny port. Ideal for: You’ll want to share this with the entire family, portioned out in little cordial or liqueur glasses.