Thanksgiving and Beer – Don’t Ask Me.. But I’ll Tell You…

As the owner of this website I often get asked my opinions on the type of beers to drink for specific occasions. My response is and will always be: “What is your favorite beer?”

taste is personal.

Because as I have said many times before, taste is personal. I can’t recommend a specific beer to “You” that you will enjoy on any said holiday, least of all a holiday like Thanksgiving.

Many craft beer busybodies try to make this a historic type of thing. They will point to the long debunked reason that they settled in Plymouth Rock is because they ran out of beer. The Passengers maybe did but the crew had enough beer for their voyage home.

Probably “No Beer” at the first feast.

So – many will ask “Well what kind of beer did the Pilgrims drink?” many have speculated and to be honest the recipes of beers were often held very close to heart back in the day. Speculation that seems to run common is that the Puritans drank some sort of “Small Beer”

“Small beers” or “small ales”, for the un-hopped variety, are mildly alcoholic but drinkable in volume without the unfortunate effects. While Beer was very common back then it was not like people spent entire waking hours with a beer in hand. You consumed with meals and when and if you were really thirsty at the end of the day, pretty much like most drinkers do these days.

Now the First Thanksgiving probably saw very little if any beer at all. They had yet to plant any grain and any grain they had was used to make breads and other food. If they had any hops they brought with them they may have brewed some “Small beers” in the following years, but more likely hops were not brought over till much later and thus they drank ales.

So what did they drink?

You almost don’t want to know. Bear in mind that beers back then were made out of lots of ingredients that we’d think of as odd. Cock ale was obviously a thing, which was beer that was fermented (or boiled) with a rooster in it. Lots of beers would also have been strained through spruce post-boil which would’ve given them some wood or pine quality. Lots of other flowers were often involved.

Many speculate that any beer was probably much like George Washington’s beer.  (George Washington’s small beer recipe is transcribed from his personal notebook here.) Though this is a poor transcription and a lot of folks agree that it should read “Bran, Hops to taste”, it’s still pretty clear that the grain is sort of a “for taste, whatever you can spare” thing while the molasses is the main ingredient. Thus, lot of early drinks were like that, involving some sort of concentrated or burnt sugars in addition to grains, which generally weren’t barley at the time.


(Courtesy of Harpoon’s Website)

However, in the most ideal case, where you had access to the best beer you could find…it would be some form of brown ale or lighter porter. Maybe an amber ale if you could find one that wasn’t very hoppy. The stable kilning process that enabled people to make pale malt wasn’t really invented until the mid-1600’s and wasn’t very popular until the 1700s, so brewers in the 1600s would’ve used a sort of generic-y brown malt that might taste slightly burnt and premium beers may have been able to include some lighter malt that was much harder to make and find. And it’d probably still have some molasses in it.


So you’re all like: “Great MrJoelieC, Thanks for the history lesson, SO –  what beer should I drink on Thanksgiving?” My answer is simple: Drink whatever beer that makes you content while thinking about those things that you are most thankful for.

But if you are still demanding a suggestion I would go with an unfiltered type of beer. I mean for purity sake it’s a given that many of the first beers at Plymouth were certainly not any type of filtered offering. Harpoon Brewery just so happens to have a collection of unfiltered varieties of beer. Otherwise, seek out a Brown ale as many agree that brown ales pair well with turkey to bring out its natural gaminess.

Regardless of what you choose for your feast, make sure to be thankful you are doing so with those around you at the table and/or under your roof. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Leave a Reply