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Lumpy potatoes are OK. Hoppy beers are not.

William Bradford Weston Jr

You can make a lot of mistakes on Thanksgiving. Traditionally, the biggest holiday regrets revolve around food: lumpy potatoes, turkeys not fully cooked at the thigh, a soggy bottom crust on the apple pie.

Recently, as beer has taken its rightful place on the holiday table, the potential for error has increased. The biggest beer mistake you can make at the big fall feast is going too heavy with pairings. “No IPAs,” says Chris Sheridan, beverage manager at the Rattlesnake Bar & Grill, in Back Bay. “I am an IPA lover. However, the flavors will tend to be too harsh for what you are planning to eat. If you have to have your hops, think pilsner, less pine and more pepper and grass.”


Sheridan isn’t alone in steering holiday drinkers away from big flavors. In addition to bitterness, Idle Hands Craft Ales’ Chris Tkach suggests you avoid anything too syrupy. “Typically, Thanksgiving is a very heavy meal unto itself, and adding a heavy, roasty stout on top of that is going to make you feel full,” says Tkach. Idle Hands, which operates out of Everett, makes a beer especially for the occasion. Rosemary for Remembrance is a Belgian field beer, brewed with sweet potato, fresh rosemary, and a touch of smoked malt. The flavors are drawn from the menu without replicating them.

Browyn bar manager Billy Weston recommends saisons, pilsners, and doppelbocks to pair with the big bird. He points out the light, spicy flavors of saisons and pilsners, while also praising the roasted, bready notes of doppelbocks, which he considers “a great choice because you’re playing up the rich tones of the food with a rich, malty dark beer.” Noted examples of the style are Ayinger Celebrator from Germany and the award-winning Double Bock from Samuel Adams.


Malty beers work well with the harvest menu, says Jonathan Kopacz, executive chef at Somerville’s Brass Union. “I feel that the best beers for Thanksgiving are amber or brown ales that are not too hoppy,” says Kopacz. “They are rich and malty, so they complement subtle roasted flavors in turkey, instead of overwhelming them.”

Other mistakes folks make have to do with pacing and preference. “Remember it’s a long day,” says Sheridan. “Try to save the high-gravity bombers” — his word for large-format, high-alcohol bottles — “until dessert time; otherwise odds are you will miss the
8 o’clock game.”

And as much as you want to impress your family with the latest sour stout you found, don’t be too much of a beer geek. “Just because you have become an avid beer drinker does not mean everyone at your table has,” says Sheridan. “Make sure you have some staple beers, gateway or bridge beers available in case crazy Uncle Ernie makes a scene because you don’t have Budweiser.”

Gary Dzen can be reached at