The Ultimate Tucson Beer Pairings Guide For Thanksgiving Day, Featuring Barrio Brewing, Pueblo Vida, Iron John’s & More

Well, it’s that time of year again in Tucson. You know, when our Facebook friends from around the country post pictures of leaves changing colors and the season’s first snow storms. Those few weeks when the half-priced Halloween candy is replaced on store shelves by whatever politically-correct holiday candy is next in line.

It’s Thanksgiving time! And who are we at Beer Buzz thankful for? Ninkasi, Louis Pasteur, hundreds of Belgian monks, and Arthur Guinness, to name a few.

To get in the spirit of the season, we’re going to add a new element to the traditional Thanksgiving Day festivities in the best way possible. With beer of course! As we’ve said before, there’s a beer for everybody and a beer for all times.

So take a look at our Tucson beer pairings for the day’s festivities — from food to football and everything in between. We don’t, however, suggest you drink all the suggested beers. You may not make it to pumpkin pie, or worse yet, those late-night leftover turkey sandwiches.


I’ll admit, I’m not a big breakfast fan. Give me a pot of joe and I’m good to go. And honestly, why would you want to eat a hearty breakfast before you fill yourself with more food in one day than the last week combined?

Flickr/Morgan Burke

Flickr/Morgan Burke

But for those looking for a better combination of beer and breakfast — called “Beerios” back in college — I suggest a good, hearty, java stout. Yeah, it may seem a little heavy, but it’s a beer style that lends itself to slow, less-deliberate drinking. The roasty coffee and sweet chocolate notes offer a nice pick-me-up and compliments fatty foods like ham, bacon, basic cheeses, and even eggs. While a java stout may be a little overwhelming for simple carbohydrates like cereal and oatmeal, it does work well with milder peppers and seasoned potatoes. And honestly, given the density of beer, you can probably skip breakfast altogether and just go with the beer.

Local suggestions:

Midday Football Games, First Half

Look, when you jump off the line of scrimmage, push your petulant nephew out of the way, double move dad like Jerry Rice, and make that one-handed grab thrown from grandma as you perform a Baryshnikov-style dive into the makeshift endzone, the last thing you want is a ton of heavy liquid in your belly. Maybe that’s why somebody invented Gatorade.

Borderlands La Morena

Borderlands La Morena

But trust me, you don’t want to be the guy who brings Gatorade to Thanksgiving. You want to be the guy who brings the beer.

And just like the plays you design on the palm of your hand when surrounded by multigenerational family members, you want something light and crisp. You want less carbonation, decent carbohydrate count, thin body, and low ABV.

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Now I’m not a professional football player, but I am a professional beer drinker. So in my professional opinion, I suggest a nice, smooth, tasty amber or brown ale. Traditionally, both serve as the epicenter of the beer spectrum. The malty back provides enough sweet, caramel flavor for stout and porter fans, but without the heavy body. Ambers and browns won’t meet the needs of hopheads, but when playing a game football, that’s the last thing you want. And like a pale lager, both have a light body that won’t weigh you down.

And yes, after a few, you’ll be going Beast Mode on your kids and spiking the ball like Gronk!

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Midday Football Games, Second Half

For many, this is the best part of the Thanksgiving Day festivities. They’re called Dallas Cowboy fans. For others, it’s the worst. They’re called Detroit Lions fans. For the rest of us, it’s a great chance to relax on the couch, drink a cold brew, and snack on salty, deep-fried potatoes and bready pretzels.

Enter the American blonde. Actually, given all of the cheerleaders and beer commercials during the game, you are not going to get away from this beer style. But while the big three — you know who they are — will jam their products down your throats with catchy scripts, people who really don’t look like beer drinkers, and a few horses, there are plenty of options that don’t end in “light” — or “lite.”

Barrio Blonde (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Barrio Blonde (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

When eating most salty snack foods, you want a simple beer. Something that replaces the water your body is craving, but with the taste your brain is craving more. American blondes are the perfect beer for watching the game because they aren’t too filling and the slight fruit undertones balance well with the low bitterness profile. You won’t find yourself filling up on either beer or pretzels and corn chips, leaving plenty of room the main course.

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Main Course

Okay, let’s talk turkey. Now I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of turkey. A little too bland for me, even the dark meat. But what I do like is what you put on the turkey. It’s kinda like a white piece of paper that absorbs all the colors in the Crayola box (aside from white, whose inclusion in the set perplexes me still).

First, let’s take a ride on the gravy train — brown and white. Brown gravy tends to be dense, rich, sweet, and pretty fatty. On my Thanksgiving fantasy beer team, I’d start with a nice, semi-sweet porter or a nutty brown ale. These beers enhance the sweet flavor of the gravy while cutting through the fatty body. White gravy, while also pretty fatty, lacks the sweet complexities of its darker sibling, but presents more of a bready, floury taste. While a brown ale also may work here, I’d take an American pale ale. I find the increased bitterness from the hops adds a little extra taste without being too overwhelming.

For the carbohydrate-rich offerings, stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls, things like that there are a couple good options, depending on your own flavor profile and what spices are used in the process. But there is one on the top of my list. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are more than just catchy song lyrics — they also pair well with sour, fruity beers such as lambics or even a geuze. Inherently sour with a velvety, low-carbonated body, these Belgian beers bring out and add to many of the typical spices used for most Thanksgiving side dishes. And for the cranberry sauce? A cherry, raspberry, or currant lambic pairs best, enhancing the bitter flavor of the cranberry.

Iron John's Session Sour (Credit: Iron John's)

Iron John’s Session Sour (Credit: Iron John’s)

And then we have the vegetables. I can’t provide much help on that given I find this part of the Thanksgiving experience unnecessary and a waste of stomach space. But, my good friend and former beer-colleague Vegan Jenny swears by German hefeweizens when eating all those foods I haven’t touched since I moved out of my parent’s house. Hefeweizens, heavy-bodied, and little fruity, yet crisp, don’t mask the flavor of vegetables like green beans, brussel sprouts, and lima beans. Plus, given their generally higher ABV, if you drink enough of them, you forget you are eating green beans, brussel sprouts, and lima beans.

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At this point in the day — or while reading this column — you probably have taken a nap and are back for more. That means desert! I’m going with the classic pumpkin pie. Unlike most other pies on the Thanksgiving Day menu, pumpkin pie is not overly sweet and not super bready. This calls for some help. Now when it comes to dessert beers, I go with a creamy, chocolate stout. The heavy body balances with density of the pie, while not overwhelming the pumpkin flavor. And the creamy nature of the beer can even replace the taste of whip cream. But honestly, why do that?

Mocha Java Stout at Barrio Brewing (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Mocha Java Stout at Barrio Brewing (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

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Well there you go. Everybody’s palate is different, so don’t take it as beer gospel. But if anything, we’ve given you a new reason to drink more beer during Thanksgiving. And from what some of my friends have told me, when they meet up with their families, any reason to drink a few more beers is always welcome.

Ty Young has worked in the Arizona Craft beer world for 15 years, including time at 1702, Old Chicago, Casa Film Bar among others. He's also a longtime local journalist reporting for the Tucson Citizen, The Arizona Republican and the Phoenix Business Journal.