Nov 19, 2015
The 28 Best Beers (and Ciders) to Drink This Thanksgiving, According to the NYC Beer Community
Thanksgiving is the Voltron of national holidays, an awesomely almighty foodbeast with the head of a fat, greasy turkey and a bod most accurately described as “muscular mush,” a firm physique somehow formed by the half-assed assemblage of mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and many other traditional slop-plop sides. The half-assed assemblage, I should note, explains why these sides exist in a perpetual state of ooziness, oozing from every orifice of its festive composition. Huh?
This leaking, laser-spewing behemoth’s annual arrival every fourth Thursday in November—probably the greatest month ever—could easily shock a lesser skilled swallower into a fear-filled food coma until the following Fourth of July. I’ve always performed unparalleled feats of eats on Thanksgiving, conversely, since I was born on the beloved holiday in 1984, a plump Butterbaby who arrived from Lisa Krommydas’ bellybox in the midst of dinner preparations and, several hours later, solely devoured the family’s entire meal.
Since that first, toothless time, I’ve happily spent every Thanksgiving at my parent’s house in Gobble Hill, a vibrant neighborhood overlooking the Brooklyn Gravy Yard. Their abode will be the venue for my 31st consecutive Thanksgiving Day, unsurprisingly, and it’s only a week from toda—Shittt! I’ve yet to pick the beers to drink at our feastathon! (Niko’s Note: I generously rate that transition a 4.4/10.)
It’s no secret to me: I’m a procrastinator, especially when tasked with picking beer for a special occasion such as Thanksgiving. The variety of foods and flavors, plus the dope-beer world’s increasing number of options; the potential brew-and-chew combinations are endless! What pairs best with mashed potatoes, an amber ale or a pilsner? Do I want to contrast the sweetness of yams with Kriek-like tartness, or compliment it with brown-ale maltiness? Help! As a result, I’ve recruited the industry’s best locally to help me decide what to drink. Thanks, homeslices (of turkey)!
Dieu du Ciel!, Péché Mortel
My personal Thanksgiving tradition has always been to drink Deschutes’ delicious barrel-aged imperial stout The Abyss, which is typically released every year around that time. However, due to me moving to NYC and the brewery not distributing here, I’ve had to replace that candle in my heart, that waxy dream on my annual horizon. So my go-to has since become Dieu du Ciel!’s Péché Mortel. This imperial coffee stout carries the same roasted notes and savory denseness as the Abyss, but without the barrels to distract me from the other business on my Thanksgiving table. It’s an ideal compliment to the meal and the coffee notes pop out wonderfully, among all the other fatigue-inducing parts of the meal. This is probably a good time to mention I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. — James Case, manager at Covenhoven
Hill Farmstead, Clara
For Thanksgiving, I always aim for a lighter bodied beer that carries a bit of acidity to cut through the holiday’s rich, starchy plates. This year, I’m going with Hill Farmstead’s Clara, a grisette of mixed fermentation that spends a little time in wood. The aroma is very bright with notes of pungent citrus stone fruit and floral, earthy hops. On the palate, the beer displays a soft lactic tartness, lemon, cracked wheat, and mellow yeast esters. The body is on the lighter side, along with soft to medium carbonation, and the finish is bone dry. I feel that it pairs well with all of the usual suspects among the Thanksgiving dinner table. — Anthony Sorice, bartender at Tørst and assistant brewer at LIC Beer Project
Grimm Artisanal Ales, Double Negative
I don’t like light or refreshing with a big meal like Thanksgiving; I prefer to go heavy and intense on this holiday, blanketed only by my food and drink. Grimm’s award-winning imperial stout Double Negative is the perfect fit for what I want. Silky and smooth, it’s a great beer made by a couple living in walking distance from any of our Brooklyn bars. — Ben Wiley, co-owner of Glorietta Baldy, Bar Great Harry, The Owl Farm, and Mission Dolores
Jolly Pumpkin, La Parcela No. 1 Pumpkin Ale
It’s fall, it’s getting colder, so we are supposed to move to the darker, spicier beers right? Well, I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin beers. I’ve often been asked if I would ever make one and my answer is always no. Why should I? I don’t like drinking them, so making one would not seem right.
Jolly Pumpkin and its brewmaster Ron Jeffries has always been someone I admired. When I got into craft beer many years ago and started tasting big stouts and hoppy IPAs it was something that I loved but also flavors that I felt I had tasted before. But the I first time I tasted a beer from Jolly Pumpkin, it was so different and unique. The tartness and funkiness from the wild yeast, the complexity from the barrel aging and just the overall uniqueness of everything Ron makes was something that I not only liked, but found very fascinating. Ron started barrel aging when very few people knew you could do that (and he does it with all his beers, not just the special versions like most) and his dedication to only using wild yeast made him ahead of his times.
Jolly Pumpkin’s first and only pumpkin beer La Parcela is kind of a joke. Because of the brewery’s name Ron has been asked multiple times why he only made pumpkin beers (!) and the fact was he had never made one. So one day he decided to do so, just to answer back, and he ended up creating what to me is the best and actually only pumpkin beer I’ve ever liked. It just so happens it works perfect for Thanksgiving, too.
Even before I became a professional brewer one of my biggest goals was to collaborate with Ron, so when that finally happened last fall, a beer-dream of mine came true! Our beer, a Jolly Pumpkin-style barrel-aged wild IPA with strawberries is due out very soon and is one of the proudest moments of my career. — Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, owner of Evil Twin Brewing
Greenport Harbor, Black Duck Porter
Thanksgiving is the ultimate challenge in “all things in moderation,” a long-ass day of eating, drinking, and football, with the main goal being not to take yourself out of the game in the first quarter. If your family is anything like mine, there are four solid hours of steady eating and drinking before the turkey even hits the table. So I definitely want a beer that I can have several of without the fear of drunkenly making inappropriate comments at that distant relative I never really liked.
That’s why this year I’ll be drinking Greenport Harbor’s smooth Black Duck Porter. Made on Long Island, Black Duck is a standby at the Spring Lounge, pouring here for about as long as we’ve hosted our Battle of the Breweries Chili Cook-Off. Malt forward but with a dry finish, super roasty with hints of coffee and chocolate, it can play nicely with your turkey, yams, or stuffing, as well as your chocolate pecan or pumpkin pie. — Jennifer Maslanka, general manager at Spring Lounge
Carton Brewing, Sit Down Son
Thanksgiving usually entails two things that don’t always go great together: long days and extended family relations. That’s why I’ll be reaching for a can, or cans, of Carton’s new dry-hopped session lager, Sit Down Son. At only 4 percent, this crisp and lightheartedly controversal lager is easy enough to knock a bunch back and still have the legs to make it through dessert and onto the big primetime football game. Just like grandpa would have wanted it. — Dan McLaughlin, owner of The Pony Bar, Kiabacca, and Lansdowne Road
Maui Brewing, CoCoNut PorTer
One of the reasons we love Thanksgiving is the variety of food, flavor, and tastes on our plates. So recommending a saison or bière de garde is perfect because it’ll hold up to the flavor barrage. But if you’re looking for a beer a bit outside the traditional lines that’s absolutely delicious and new to the NYC market from Hawaii, try Maui Brewing’s CoCoNut Porter. Like the name implies, it’s brewed with toasted coconut. It also has malt flavors of nuts and coffee and a subtle balancing bitterness. At 6 percent ABV and 30 IBUs, it’s not an obvious dessert beer, which means you can get away with saying you haven’t had any sweets when the pumpkin pie comes out. — Brendan Woodcock, Certified Cicerone
Aaron Burr Cidery, Elderberry Apple (2014)
As the resident go-to bev-nerd for my family, Thanksgiving is a magical time of year when I don’t have to try too hard to please regarding beer selections; a couple bottles of Au Baron’s Cuvée des Jonquilles go out on the table and I greedily dig in! This year, however, I intend to throw them for a loop with Aaron Burr Cidery’s majestic Elderberry Apple offering.
Andy Brennan’s ciders are very much a reflection of the land upon which the fruit grows. The tartness can play along harmoniously with your cranberry sauce, the acidity and tannins will keep things lively, and the earthy, red-fruit quality provides structure up against fatty meats and rich bread. Available only in severely limited quantities, Aaron Burr ciders are worth the hunt! — Cory Bonfiglio, general manager of Beer Street and Proletariat
The Bruery, Autumn Maple
Being someone who despises most pumpkin beers, Autumn Maple is a lovely spin on what’s usually released during fall. Brewed with 17 pounds of yams per barrel, as well as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, molasses, and maple syrup, this Belgian-style ale can pair well with anything on Thanksgiving—everything from deep-fried turkey to your nana’s green bean casserole to pumpkin-pecan pie. If you manage to get your hands on the sour version of this beer, I’ll bake you your own pie if you invite me over to share. Happy Thanksgiving, erybody! — Alicia Mekelburg, owner of Mekelburg’s
Transmitter Brewing, BdG1 (Biere de Garde)
My family’s Thanksgiving gatherings, like most families, involves a lot of different foods. Classics like turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce are always present, but also dishes like sweet potato casserole, stuffed mushrooms, and more. For my go-to Thanksgiving beer, I like to pick something that will pair well with all of those and more, because I definitely pile my plate with everything—and high!
This year I’m choosing Transmitter’s first in their Biere de Garde series, which can handle it all with ease. BdG1 is a great representation of the style and I love the addition of buckwheat; it’s nice and malty, biscuity, with a little touch of spice. And since this farmhouse ale is dry, I can have a couple glasses, one for each plate of food. — Kyle Kensrue, Certified Cicerone at Randolph Beer
This turkey day, to make up for the fact that I won’t be able to see my family in Florida, I’ll need something to make up for that lovely warm weather. So while I’m visiting my friends in the ‘burbs of Jersey for the holiday, I’ll do as the ‘burbanites do and swing by a Whole Foods for something to warm my belly—probably along the lines of a rich and hearty Trappist ale like Chimay Premiére. Not only are Belgian beers one of my first beer loves, but those Belgian reds will pretty much go with every dish that’ll be placed in front of me. That 7 percent ABV will also come in handy for easing my Florida blues and slaying at our post-meal game of choice, Cards Against Humanity. — Heather McReynolds, brewing manager at Sixpoint
De Dolle, Stille Nacht
As someone who spent most of his life in Ireland, Thanksgiving is an adopted holiday for me. But it’s a tradition-steeped holiday that I absolutely love to partake in every year. From the beer to the turkey to the football, can there be a better day?
For me Thanksgiving officially starts when I take my first whiff of De Dolle’s Still Nacht, immediately bringing me a sense of warmth on this usually crisp and cold day. Technically brewed for Christmas, this amazing dark Belgian ale swirls with rich maltiness, dark fruit, spices, and warming alcohol. They all come together perfectly to give you one hell of a taste explosion and pairs with almost everything you can cook on Thanksgiving! Since I start the day with this beer it helps me as I set up the poker table, clean the apartment, and do whatever else the wife tells me to! Of course the day wouldn’t stay on track very well by continuing with such a strong beer, so local beers carry me throughout the rest of the day. Likely I’ll have offerings this year from Other Half, Transmitter, LIC Beer Project, and Barrier. — Patrick Donagher, owner of Alewife NYC, Fools Gold, and The Jeffrey
Allagash Brewing, Dubbel
If you’re looking for a brewery with a diverse enough portfolio to pair with any Thanksgiving meal, look no further than Allagash Brewing from Portland, Maine. Allagash’s offerings have been my go-to Thanksgiving brews for a number of years now, including its Dubbel, which is this year’s choice. It’s malty and sweet, which contrasts nicely with the dryness of turkey. Finishing dry with notes of Belgian chocolate and fruit, this complex yet delicate beer plays nicely off of not just the turkey, but the potatoes, stuffing, and whatever else may inhabit your massively heaping plate of food. — John Kleinchester, editor of Beertography
Sierra Nevada, Celebration Ale
One of my favorite holiday traditions has evolved into a Thanksgiving staple. Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale is a true seasonal beer, brewed after the hop harvest with the freshest hops. This year I’m excited to have a few of this rugged, piney IPA while deep-frying a turkey with my dad. My Thanksgivings are in Maine where I’m originally from so I’ll be sampling some of the great local stuff there while also sharing Flagship with friends and family. Yet I still get just as excited about grabbing a six pack of Celebration as the first time I did. The beer is timeless! — Patrick Morse, brewmaster of Flagship Brewing
Cisco Brewers, Cranberry Woods
Throughout my youth, several dishes consistently made an appearance on the Thanksgiving table: moist turkey doused in rich brown gravy, buttery mashed potatoes, stuffing laden with Italian sausage, tender carrots, glazed yams, and the perpetually overlooked cranberry sauce. How ironic is it that the one dish that I held in such low regard is the focal point of what I most eagerly anticipate drinking this year?
Cranberry Woods, a wild ale fermented in oak barrels and aged for an average of two years with Nantucket-grown cranberries, Lactobacillus, and Brettanomyces, is my choice for this Thanksgiving. Light notes of oak, dried fruit, and restrained funk are complemented by an effervescent carbonation that cleanses the palate and mitigates an enamel-stripping sourness. Clocking in right around 5 percent ABV, I’d rather pour a second glass for dessert, if there’s any left after sharing, than loosen my belt a notch and try to find room for a slice of pie as a cap to the day’s festivities. — Brian Winget, beer manager at Barcade New York
Schneider Weisse, Aventinus
Turkey is usually the star of Thanksgiving because the bird always looks amazing with its beautiful browned and crispy skin. However, for me Thanksgiving has always been about the sides. Buttery mash potatoes. Herbal stuffing. Creamy sweet potatoes. The dairy-laden green been casserole!
The common thread linking most Thanksgiving sides are rich, intense flavors. Because of this I don’t want a beer that is overly carbonated, or intended to be consumed in multiples. Instead I want something that is big enough to stand up to the myriad flavors on the table, and also something with the alcohol or acidity to cut through all the richness and fat. I also want something that is so exotic that I can’t share it with Aunt Mary and have her enjoy it as well.
As a result my choice is Aventinus, an amazing wheat doppelbock that packs the punches to roll with all the rich foods in store for that Thursday afternoon. It has really nice raison, plum, and spice notes on the nose, and a reasonably rich mouthfeel. Doppelbocks are all about the malt, but the yeast plays a major role here as well. Considering the weight of the beer, the finish is nicely dry with some warming alcohol, and everything is very well balanced. — Mike Amidei, beverage manager at Tørst
Lagunitas Brewing, Born Yesterday
Each fall I track down as many wet-hopped beers as I can get my hands on, and this year I’ll be bringing my favorite to Thanksgiving dinner: Lagunitas’ Born Yesterday, a great pale ale stuffed with fresh hops—Mosaic, Citra, Equinox, and more!—from the Yakima Valley. Wet-hop beers are only available once a year for a limited time, right before Thanksgiving, and they’re made using hops that were harvested and used by brewers almost immediately. Talking about the beers we bring and how they’re made is a great way to keep conversation light on a day like Thanksgiving, so you can avoid the awkward and uncomfortable political discussions with your crazy uncle. — Will Stephens, co-founder of BeerMenus
Prairie Artisan Ales, Bomb!
As I was writing this from our bar I asked the bartender on the clock, Jeremy [Saccone], what he was drinking for Thanksgiving this year. I know I’ve the picked the right staff and everyone is in sync here because he chose the same brew as I was writing about! With that being said, Thanksgiving is about stuffing yourself with as many big and bold flavors as possible, so I like to finish the night off with a beer that can match that sentiment. And Bomb!, Prairie’s signature imperial stout, is that nightcap. The rich and roasty flavors of the chocolate and espresso, along with mild heat from the chiles, make Bomb! an intense palate cleanser, as well as a perfect sipping beer to pair with dessert. It’s the decadent exclamation point to a great meal. — Joe Najem, owner of Hops Hill
Brooklyn Brewery, K Is For Kriek
This year I’m proud to be hosting a “Friendsgiving” dinner, so naturally I’ve been regularly visiting the inevitable dilemma of choosing not only who will make what foods that evening, but more importantly what we’ll all be drinking. Much of my role at Brooklyn Brewery is from a non-sales perspective in the community, which can make choosing just one beer to bring to a party absolutely excruciating. That being said, I’m a big fan of tradition and I can’t remember the last Thanksgiving that didn’t begin with the fresh hop-forward favorite, Sierra Nevada’s Celebration. For the table this year, though, I’ve been dreaming about Brooklyn’s own K Is For Kriek.
Kriek is a decadent match for most Thanksgiving foods, from a plate of fatty pheasant to sweet corn stuffing to simple mashed potatoes. This barrel-aged Belgian ale whispers soft notes of oak and vanilla, but the stars of this dark holiday special are the dried Michigan cherries packed into each sip that balance with an appropriately dry finish. With bright esters from the wild yeast, dried fruit, and a decidedly tart finish, this beer just about gift-wraps the palate in a perfect pairing for Thanksgiving. — Gabe Barry, beer education and community ambassador of Brooklyn Brewery
I love this beer any day of the week, but for Thanksgiving, it’s my go-to. When there’s a long day of eating ahead of me I like to stick with lower-ABV beers. Ritterguts, a traditional German gose that’s all about balance, fits the bill. It’s complex and refreshing, with no one flavor competing against another. It has delicate straw and herbal flavors, and is slightly tart and slightly salty. To me this is a perfect beer to keep your palate cleansed and ready for the next round of eats. Also it’s really approachable, which is why I’m always sure to grab a few 500-milliliter bottles to share with the whole family! — Kaitlyn Haubrich, co-owner and vice president of Third Rail Beer
Boulevard Brewing, Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale
Now that Boulevard Brewing is sold in New York City, I’ll likely stock up on their terrific Tank 7 for Thanksgiving. The properly peppery, aromatically charged saison should hacksaw through the endless onslaught of rich food. — Joshua M. Bernstein, author of The Complete Beer Course
Devil’s Backbone, Vienna Lager
My girlfriend Carla and I will be drinking Devil’s Backbone’s Vienna Lager for our Thanksgiving meal, which will be completely vegetarian. (Tofurky!) We visited the brewery while in Virginia for my niece Nika’s wedding in October and bought three cases. Smooth and balanced, it really is the best Vienna Lager out there and I hope one day it’s available in New York.
We’ll also be enjoying Charlie’s Brown Ale on Thanksgiving, probably while watching the parade from inside our apartment. This is a brown ale I often brew that was written exclusively for us by homebrew and beer guru Charlie Papazian, and the latest batch uses the experimental hop HBC 438. Our shop did a public tasting recently with nine different beers made by the Brewminaries homebrew club using HBC 438, as all proceeds from the sale of this hop go to benefit Ales for ALS. (People can donate here.) Charlie’s is a malty brown ale balanced with the mint and melon notes from HBC 438. — John LaPolla, co-owner of Bitter & Esters
Captain Lawrence, Golden Delicious
Since it came out in 2010, my go-to Thanksgiving beer has been Captain Lawrence’s Golden Delicious. The aging in apple-brandy barrels sweetens up this Belgian-style tripel’s alcohol burn and coats the stomach after my big meal. And the recent move to 12-ounce bottles makes it more approachable to finish in a single sitting, although I do miss sharing that big 750-milliliter bottle with a few friends. With the change in size be assured we’ll each have our own bottle this Thanksgiving. — Jacob Berg, beer manager at Astoria Bier & Cheese and Milk & Hops
Grimm Artisanal Ales, Purple Prose
The latest release from the always-anticipated world of Grimm, Purple Prose is probably the gypsy operation’s most ambitious yet. Just in time for holiday consumption, let this indecently-hued American sour ale take centerstage during Thanksgiving’s pre-feast cocktail hour as a perfect pairing to funky, earthy cheese. Bright and juicy with clean acidity, Prose is loaded with black currents and raspberries. The ripe fruits help present woodsy spice from time spent on white oak, while aged European hops lend subtle layers of earthy funk to a long tannic finish.
I’ve featured every Grimm release to date at Brouwerij Lane. The hype is real, folks: Joe and Lauren Grimm are making some of the most exciting and innovative beer in America. — Joshua Whitehead, manager at Brouwerij Lane
Lost Nation, Gose
In our family, Thanksgiving is more of a marathon than a sprint. There’s usually a bigger breakfast and small snacks throughout the day leading up to the epic meal, and fair amounts of revelry afterwards. This year I’m training with the Lost Nation’s Gose for the bulk of my Turkey Day beverage selection for many reasons. The lemon zest and saltiness work wonderfully as a refreshing sipper without killing your appetite. And its lower ABV is a wise choice for a day that is peppered with all kinds of drinks. Sticking with this means that by the time the turkey hits the table, you won’t be too sleepy or full to enjoy all that food! — Zach Mack, owner of Alphabet City Beer Co.
Birra Del Borgo, Caos
During Thanksgiving I like to fully embrace the harvest season with beers and ciders that contain fruit and other harvest adjuncts. After all, one of the main reasons alcohol exists is to preserve the perishable grains and fruits we spend so much time growing. On this day I also like to raid the cellar and enjoy the bounty of past harvests. This explains why my main Thanksgiving brew will be the one I’m starting with: Birra Del Borgo’s Caos.
Caos is a fantastic golden beer-wine hybrid comprised of 25 percent Malvasia grape must. It has an unsual, fruit-forward, slightly funky nose and it’s finished with Champagne yeast for a clean, highly carbonated finish. I’m lucky to have a 2012 vintage of this unusual beer, but a current version would be great as well.
After finishing my Caos, I’ll be moving to two other offerings, and all three of these will be available at Owl Farm’s Harvest and Vintage Thanksgiving event. One is Allagash’s Interlude, a Belgian-inspired strong ale fermented with a mixture of saison yeasts and Brettanomyces, and with a portion aged in used red wine barrels giving it an almost tannic quality that plays well with robust foods.
The second can serve as a strong finish to Thanksgiving: Millstone Cellars’ Cherrykriek, a funky, tart, oak-aged cider with dark sour cherries. Pair it with some stinky cheese for dessert. — Steven Baird, managing partner of The Owl Farm
Millstone Ciders, Hopvine
If Cantillon and apples were to have a lovechild, it would taste a lot like Millstone Cellars’ ciders. Hopvine, one of their year-round offerings, is oak-barrel aged with Cascade hops for a month, then bottle-conditioned with wildflower honey. Millstone is committed to using native yeasts, harvesting apples within a 150-mile radius, and unafraid of malolactic fermentation. It’s the beer lover’s cider of choice, with complex, funky, and tart characteristics. And the cidermakers recommend drinking it with pizza, so how can you go wrong? — Jennifer Lim, co-owner of Wassail and The Queens Kickshaw
Shacksbury Cider, 2014 Lost and Found Cider
While it’s unlikely that beer was served at the first Thanksgiving, you can best your sweet ass there was cider. America’s first beverage of choice was fermented apples, and this bottle from Vermont’s Shacksbury is nearly as primitive as they come. The cidery forages wild and feral apples from forgotten orchards dotting the state’s Champlain Valley and ferments them with native yeasts found naturally on the fruit skins. The result is vibrant, earthy, and robust with just a touch of funky tang from the wild yeast. A killer food cider which is why it will be on my Thanksgiving table this year. — Justin Kennedy, producer of Beer Sessions Radio and Steal This Beer
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