Just like the food you’re counting down the days to devour, the characters encountered on Thanksgiving are plentiful: Along with appetizers and desserts, your guests bring with them a buffet of strongly held opinions and character flaws. So this year, rather than suggesting beer pairings for particular Thanksgiving dishes, we’re going to recommend the perfect beer for every fraught social situation you’ll inevitably encounter this Thursday.
This was an assignment that I knew I couldn’t handle alone, so I reached out to my friend Keith Gabbett, Brewmaster at Lord Hobo Brewing in Massachusetts, to add another layer of professional opinion and moral support.
Scenario: Hair of the dog
You know you’re too old to rage the night before Thanksgiving, but the college spirit never dies, and you can’t resist catching up with old friends outside of Facebook. Now it’s Thursday morning and you have regrets. Fix that fuzzy brain feeling with a cold-ass michelada.
If you’re lucky, your liquor store will have a quality michelada mix. If not, Google exists for this reason (BigMich.com). Regardless, a good michelada always starts with a deliciously crisp Mexican lager. The low bitterness, nice floral aroma, and slight breadiness will quench your thirst and have you coming back from the dead in no time.
Gabbett prefers a pickle beer mixed with a solid bloody mary mix, which is what we will now refer to as a Boston Chelada.
Scenario: Watching bad football and snacking on snacks
Chances are you’re in for a terrible football game, but at least there’s a coffee table loaded with snacks—so you’ll need a beer that compliments the handfuls of chips you’re devouring. Now is not a great time to commit to a complicated beer.
Macro breweries make enough money as it is, so grab an American amber ale from a local brewery. Amber ales are highly crushable, medium-bodied beers with a nice hop character that balances with their malt bill. They’re a no-fuss option for when you’re stewing over the Detroit Lions for four excruciating quarters.
Because he’s a lager guy, Gabbett would go with an amber lager as opposed to an amber ale on this one. While they’re similar in some ways, amber lagers are not as floral, with more clarity, less bitterness, and (usually) a slightly lower ABV.
Scenario: Catching up with your cousin who’s back from his first semester of college
You know your cousin just been plowing through crappy domestic lights for $2 per pitcher in their college town, so here’s your chance to show them that a better beer world exists. You want to be hip and cool, not stuffy and out of touch. Go with a hazy IPA that isn’t too bitter. The nice tropical aromas and juiciness almost resembles a boozy Hi-C. Plus, they’re all the rage so every local brewery has at least one on their roster.
Keith said he would go with a milkshake IPA because they’re “for the kids!” Milkshake IPAs are the sweeter cousins of hazy IPAs. Brewed with lactose sugar and usually a variety of fruits, these are a hit amongst the younger beer drinker.
Scenario: Catching up with your other cousin, the ex-military conspiracy theorist
Get yourself an English-style barleywine—bonus if you can find a local, bourbon-barrel-aged one. This rich, caramel beast will warm up your chest as you begin to tune your cousin all the way out. Barleywines tend to be between 8-12% ABV, which is perfect, because you’re going to need something strong while cuzzo schools you on the truth about 5G.
The barleywine is just for you, though, not your cousin. Gabbett insists that the only thing a true conspiracy theorist would drink is homebrew, because, well, DIY EVERYTHING. (He speaks from experience.)
Scenario: Your uncle needs a hand with cooking while dumping his political opinions on you
At the first mention of “fake news,” the best course of action would be to take a swig from a big imperial stout. Gabbett and I are in total agreement on this. These beers are almost as boozy as a shot of bourbon, and you’ll need the big guns for this social situation.
Now, if you’re just going to kick your uncle out of the kitchen and finish the meal prep yourself, Gabbett suggests a session IPA because they’re low hop and low ABV. You can sneak a couple without getting too sloshed to cook.
Scenario: Sitting next to your aunt who’s still friends with your ex on Facebook
After asking what your ex is up to these days while your current partner passes the mashed potatoes, your aunt will lament that there’s no more wine left as you head to the kitchen to grab everyone a fresh beer. Give auntie a citrus wheat ale. Even though she’s not much of a beer drinker, she’ll take a sip, nod her head, and proclaim with surprise, “Oh, I like this!” The orange flavor and overall creaminess will win her approval. (As will your new partner, hopefully.)
Gabbett suggests a rauchbier because he assumed an out of touch aunt probably still smokes, so what better than a smoky lager to pander to a smoker? Rauchbiers are a malty, smoky delight, plus they go great with roasted foods.
Scenario: Grandma used to party, and don’t you forget it
Grandma’s taste buds aren’t what they used to be, so it’s up to you to help her out a little. Give her a Gose. She might not detect the subtle nuance of the coriander or the stone fruit in this beer, but the kiss of salt and the high effervescence of the Gose will make her feel like the spicy broad she was back in the day. With a little beer in her system, she might even have some stories to tell.
Scenario: Family has left and it’s time for your second dinner
Gabbett and I are both fans of eating leftovers as soon as we have a moment to ourselves (and our first dinner has had time to digest). In this case, I would reach for a dark lager, preferably a schwarzbier. They’re crispy like a pilsner, but they taste like a malty, roasty espresso. Perfect for the last beer of the night. Gabbett’s pick is a Wee Heavy beer, which is like having a rich and slightly boozy dessert with your turkey sando.
This Thanksgiving, you’ll be ready to take on any awkward situation, every uncalled-for comment, and each eye-roll-inducing implication with the help of the right beer. Drink wisely.