I was shopping at our local Whole Foods last week, and saw that the giant display of Southern Tier Pumking had been replaced with a giant display of Tröegs Mad Elf. Both are excellent beers, but I couldn’t help feeling as if we’d missed something. That something was Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is widely celebrated across the U.S., but not nearly as marketed as Halloween or Christmas. This trend applies to beer as well. As with the seasonal creep of pumpkin ales in July, Christmas beers and winter warmers start making their way onto shelves as early as Columbus Day. It seems like a lost opportunity, though, to not have more beers brewed and marketed for the Thanksgiving season.
Pumpkin beers, in particular, seem ripe for Thanksgiving. Their flavor profile is often compared to pumpkin pie, which appears more on Thanksgiving dinner tables than at Halloween parties. Yet several pumpkin beers invoke Halloween on their labels, with jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and skeletons on the artwork; and names with Halloween or horror movie puns dominating the field. Whether or not pumpkin ales are tied to Halloween, though, they are almost always cleared out in November to make way for Christmas and winter beers. This is a lost opportunity, as November is when it starts to consistently feel cool enough for a sweet and spicy pumpkin ale, and yet is still too warm for the heavier winter warmers (winter doesn’t even begin until December 21st).
In addition to prolonging (or shifting) the typical pumpkin ale season, I would love to see more beers utilizing autumnal flavors through Thanksgiving before giving way to flavors like gingerbread. Cranberry has become a dark horse ingredient for Thanksgiving beers. I don’t see it often, but it crops up here and there — Terrapin recently released a version of their Pumpkinfest with cranberry, and Harpoon brews a cranberry ale called Grateful Harvest (they actually market this one as a Thanksgiving beer). I have also seen beer brewed with herbs you’d find in stuffing or brine, such as rosemary and sage — these too would be worthy Thanksgiving flavor profiles.
Thanksgiving beers may have yet to become a thing, but there are still candidates out there that I enjoy sipping alongside my mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Here are a few favorites:
1) The Bruery Autumn Maple – this is a yam beer that I associate more with November than October. It has a rich, sweet taste that is best enjoyed on a cool November evening. Aside from pumpkin pie, this evokes — and pairs well with — glazed roasted yams, or my particular favorite, sweet potato casserole baked with pecans and Jack Daniels.
2) 3 Stars Nectar of the Bogs — this is a saison brewed with cranberries. The tart cranberries pair very nicely with the sweet and spicy kick of a saison. This is currently draft-only, but if you’re at a bar or restaurant for your Turkey Day festivities and see it, get a glass.
3) Starr Hill Grateful Pale Ale — this beer is year-round, and while a pale ale doesn’t exactly evoke cool Autumn thoughts, I would feel remiss to not include a beer with a name brimming with gratitude for Thanksgiving. Name aside, this beer is delicious any time of year. It has excellent citrus flavors, namely lime; and the hoppy bitterness is more of a bite than a slam. This pairs well with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, football, or any pre-feasting tradition you may have.
Do you have a favorite beer for Thanksgiving?