Craft beer’s far-out experimentation means that almost every Thanksgiving dish has had its beer equivalent.
One of the coolest things about America’s ascent to over 6,000 breweries is that brewers are willing to take risks like never before. Nowadays, no ingredient, and therefore no flavor, is off-limits in the craft world – at least when it comes to a one-off experiment. That’s not to say these beers are going to be year-round releases, fan favorites or, occasionally, even enjoyable! But at least forward-thinking brewers are out there giving it a try.
So even though pumpkin and spiced beers are the fall seasonal standards, in recent years, craft breweries big and (very) small have been pushing those boundaries, whipping up interesting brews with all sort of stuff that would make sense on a Thanksgiving dinner table. With that in mind, we set out to see if we could create an entire Thanksgiving feast entirely in beer form – and the results did not disappoint.
Since both beer and bread are made out of grains, stuffing beers – though maybe a bit odd at first blush – are actually one of the more common styles that would work in a holiday feast. For the past two years, the Crooked Thumb Brewery in Safety Harbor, Florida, has made a Cornbread Stuffing Gruit. “This brew was a surprising fan favorite,” explains Crooked Thumb co-founder Travis Kruger. “Our head brewer Kenjiro Tomita came up with the idea of trying to emulate the flavors of his favorite dish at the table during Thanksgiving.” Gruit is a lesser-known beer style, but Tomita incorporated “the spices redolent of cornbread stuffing in place of some of the other more traditional roots and herbs” used in this type of beer.
Of course, stuffing can be made with more than cornbread, but don’t worry: You can get other versions in beer form as well. Earlier this year, New Jersey’s Cape May Brewing Company released their One Off Wednesday: Cranberry Stuffing beer, a bright pink brew with cranberry and stuffing spices. “For these ‘stuffing’ based beers, [our chef] creates a vegetable stock called ‘mire a poix,’ comprised of carrots, celery, and onions, and seasoned with Cape May Sea Salt, bay leaves, sage, and thyme to create a delectable soup stock,” explains head brewer Brian Hink. “We reduce that down to a concentrate and infuse that into the beer, leaving a finish product that is strange at first but immensely satisfying as you continue to sip it.”
Oh, and for grocery store stuffing fans, at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, 3 Freaks Brewery from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, was serving up Adam’s F-ing Turkey Beer – a “turkey stuffing brown ale” made with Stove Top!
No Thanksgiving meal is complete without gravy, which is why Blackrocks Brewery The Whole Bowl of Gravy seems essential. Off and on over the past few years, this Marquette, Michigan, brewery has served up “a turkey gravy beer,” described by the brewer as “a bready and biscuity amber ale brewed with assorted poultry spices, black pepper, salt and turkey bullion.” “People thought it was a joke at first,” explains Chutte, the mononymous man behind the beer. “Most who tried it agreed it tasted like turkey gravy, but there were only a few who actually drank multiple pints. I think you have to be in a savory, bloody Mary type of mood to really enjoy it. It is a huge hit at beer festivals.”
Mashed potatoes are a Thanksgiving must, and though their use is less common now, spuds actually have a history in beer making. “I read somewhere that during WWII some of the big U.S. beer companies started using potatoes instead of corn/rice as an adjunct because the grains were being used to feed soldiers overseas,” explains Doug Grover, founder and brewer of Redline Brewing Company in Burton, Michigan. That historical tidbit led him to brew Mashed Potato Mafia, a stout with mashed potatoes. But be forewarned, despite the name, this beer doesn’t taste like the side dish. “If someone expects a potato flavor they will be very disappointed,” he says. “What potatoes do add is a smooth, silky almost creamy texture. The best way I can describe it is like an oatmeal milk stout without the sweetness.”
Sweet Potato Casserole
This sweet side isn’t just a Thanksgiving staple; it’s also a great beer flavor. Oakland Park, Florida’s Funky Buddha Brewery has been making its Sweet Potato Casserole beer since 2011. “It started as sort of an alternative to the pumpkin beers that had become so synonymous with fall seasonals,” explains John Linn, the brewery’s brand director. “We wanted to make something that felt very much at home around the October/November season and especially Thanksgiving. The beer is pretty much a spot on interpretation of a home-cooked sweet potato casserole, complete with marshmallow topping.”
Most major fruits find their way into beers on a regular basis and cranberries are no exception. In fact, those looking for a “cranberry sauce”-named beer don’t have to venture any further than Chico, California-based craft brewing giant Sierra Nevada who earlier this year offered up a Cranberry Sauce Saison as a limited draft release.
Meanwhile, another of the most traditional Thanksgiving sides, was extremely difficult to track down: Brussels sprouts. Only one example popped up from a small Canadian brewery called StoneHammer Brewing in Guelph, Ontario. Wurst Idea Ever Brussels Sprout Sour was a one-off experiment from way back in 2012, and the name might explain why other brewers haven’t delved into Brussels sprouts as an ingredient. Though the people behind that wild idea are no longer with the brewery, a current representative said that the next year, they went so far as to brew a beer called “Soury About Last Year” for the same event.
Green beans are another vegetable that might seem like an odd addition to a beer, but a few breweries have given it go. For instance, back in 2014, Tornado Brewing Company in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, whipped up a Green Bean Lager. “Actually has a fresh green bean aftertaste,” remarked one positive Untappd review.
With their subtle sweetness, carrots are an intriguing experimental beer ingredient. Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton, North Carolina, makes Alpha vs. Beta Carotene, an IPA aged on baby carrots. Brewer and co-founder Todd Steven Boera says he was inspired “shredding carrots one night for supper while drinking Hop Beard, our flagship IPA. The sweet, earthy, almost coconut aroma of the carrot played so well with the tropical-forward hops. We have been making Alpha vs. Beta Carotene seasonally ever since.” As for drinking it during the holidays, “This beer certainly pairs perfectly with a Thanksgiving feast,” he adds.
On the other side of the country, Boulder, Colorado’s Twisted Pine Brewing Company has also gone the carrot IPA rout. “We take a couple hundred pounds of carrots, shred them, then add it to the mash to extract its flavor and to convert the starch in the carrots into simpler sugars for fermentation,” says Hannah Olbrich, the brewery’s Director of Possibilities, explaining the method to the madness behind Roots Revival Carrot IPA. As for the flavor, “If a customer is expecting carrot juice, then this might not be the beer for them,” she continues. “Instead of taking the spotlight, carrots play a supporting role. The beer's aroma is reminiscent of freshly peeled carrots and lemon zest, and its assertive hop character is balanced with an earthy-sweetness that reminds me of brown sugar glazed carrots.”
Inspired by an aunt’s delicious homemade recipe, Michigan City, Indiana’s Burn ‘Em Brewing decided to use literal creamed corn for its Kreamed Corn cream ale. The ingredient adds “the faint sweetness that you would get out of eating a fresh piece of Indiana sweet corn,” explains brewery co-owner Rob Austin. The eye-catchingly named beer is “usually approached with hesitation and/or odd looks, but to many's surprise, [most people] really enjoy it. It has turned into a local favorite, for sure.”
A roasted garlic beer? You bet. In the fittingly named city of Brewer in Maine, the small Blank Canvas nanobrewery makes a German-style altbier that gets an addition of actual roasted garlic. “I paired these two together because the alt beer has earthy malt flavor and roasted garlic is earthy and sweet,” says co-owner Stephen Genthner, explaining the brewery’s Roasted Garlic Altbier. “It's quite popular and usually prompts people to get creative with both food pairings and cooking with the beer. I've used it to cook roasts and the gravy is amazing. My wife usually uses the leftovers to make the best poutine we've ever had.”
Chanterelle has become a trendy ingredient for mixing up typical Thanksgiving dishes, and apparently, the mushrooms can add a kick to beer as well. Scratch Brewing in Ava, Illinois, is a farmhouse brewery that isn’t afraid to utilize some delicious wild mushrooms. “All of the mushrooms in our Chanterelle Biere de Garde were harvested by hand by us in the woods around the brewery,” says co-owner and head brewer Marika Josephson. “We've brewed with half a dozen different types of mushrooms from our property but chanterelles are some of our favorites because of their pronounced apricot aroma and their buttery umami finish.” And how is a mushroom beer received? “Mushroom lovers love this beer and are astonished to immediately recognize the chanterelle,” she continues. “People who aren't as familiar with chanterelles always pick up on the incredible fruitiness that comes through in the aroma and are then surprised to learn it comes from a mushroom.”
Pumpkin Pie/Pecan Pie
For dessert, beer substitutions are a gimme. The brewing world has plenty of beers like Pecan Pie Porter, an annual release from Clown Shoes Beer in Ipswich, Massachusetts, or Pumpkin Pie Lust, a pumpkin weisse from the New Glarus Brewing Company in New Glarus, Wisconsin. It’s really comes down to picking your poison.
Turkey (or Just Poultry in General)
Of all the items served at Thanksgiving, the main was definitely the hardest to hunt down. In general, poultry isn’t a common brewing ingredient. It’s expensive and doesn’t really add anything fermentable. But brewing with birds does happen. Earlier this year, Richmond, Virigina’s The Veil Brewing and Brooklyn, New York’s Evil Twin Brewing collaborated on Fried Fried Chicken Chicken, a double IPA made with actual Chick-fil-A chicken tenders. As for a beer made with actual turkey, though the pure number of beers out there leads us to think someone has tried it, unfortunately, we couldn’t hunt down an example. Could this be the one area where craft brewers have yet to experiment? If not, hopefully someone will let us know for next year’s all-beer Thanksgiving.