The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock nearly 400 years ago, shortly after running out of beer. Certainly beer was consumed the following year at the first Thanksgiving. So surely beer belongs at your own table this Thanksgiving!
But which one . . . or ones? Anyone who has walked into a package store lately understands this won't be an easy decision — the past few years the market has been absolutely flooded with quality craft beer from all over the world! (It's one of those good kind of problems.) The feast that is Thanksgiving isn't an especially easy meal to choose pairings for either. With so many different flavors present, you could go in a lot of different directions. Fortunately, beer is incredibly versatile and really quite easy to pair with food.
The general rule of thumb is that lighter foods require lighter beers, and heavier foods need something a little darker. (That said, sometimes it may be more appropriate to contrast flavors, highlighting the opposing characteristics in each.) Hoppy beers are more appropriate with bold or spicy dishes, so don't really work with the sweet and earthy nature of most Thanksgiving staples.
Now if your family is anything like my own, there is going to be so much fantastic food that you won't want to fill up on beer. For that reason, I recommend shying away from malty amber's and those few remaining Oktoberfest's. Also, I'm looking for beers that are fairly accessible since family gatherings are the perfect opportunity to win over new craft beer converts! While SIERRA NEVADA'S BIGFOOT BARLEYWINE STYLE ALE might go well with dessert, its intense nature is sure to scare away whoever you are sharing the bottle with. Beer is a great thing to socialize with and bond over, so be sure to bring enough to share.
So let's get to it. Personally, I'm planning on bringing three different beers with me to Thanksgiving, one for each segment of the meal. For starters, you'll want a light but flavorful beer to go with appetizers. A Belgian Pale Ale like DUVEL fits this description perfectly. Easily one of my five all-time favorite beers, Duvel is crisp, fruity, yeasty, and has a depth few can rival. This is certain to be a crowd pleaser. If Duvel's hefty price tag makes you hesitate, a hoppy pilsner like VICTORY'S PRIMA PILS makes a very suitable (and very sessionable) replacement.
Far more difficult is selecting a beer that goes with turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes (both regular and sweet), cranberry sauce, and all those other family favorite dishes. Conventional wisdom says to play it safe and complement the subtle nature of these dishes with a beer of the malty persuasion. I would recommend, rather fittingly, MAYFLOWER'S THANKSGIVING ALE. Now when I first saw this beer on the shelves it seemed a little gimmicky, but it does earn its title! With caramel and nutty malts and a hint of vanilla there is a delicateness and depth to this beer that complements the meal very nicely.