The Real Thanksgiving Beer, By the Numbers

Eno Sarris, December 03, 2013

What's the official beer of Turkey Day? It's not as easy as looking at beer check-in patterns on the day of Thanksgiving. Too many people don't check in right away. Too many people hide in the back of their family gathering and check in beers they've had over the past week but forgot to check-in. Better to use a larger time range to be more certain the beers were bought and consumed that week.

So let's look at the top beers by quantity over Thanksgiving week. Here are the top ten beers by the number of checkins from November 20 to 30 minus the number of checkins from November 1 to 20.

Beer Brewer Style chg
Stone Enjoy By 12.13.13 IPA Stone Brewing Co. Imperial / Double IPA 743
Bourbon County Brand Stout Goose Island Beer Co. American Imperial / Double Stout 589
Bourbon County Brand Stout (2013) Goose Island Beer Co. Russian Imperial Stout 406
Bourbon County Brand Barleywine Goose Island Beer Co. American Barleywine 328
Blackout Stout Great Lakes Brewing Company Russian Imperial Stout 277
Old Man Winter Ale Southern Tier Brewing Company Winter Ale 257
Samuel Adams Merry Mischief Gingerbread Stout Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) Stout 253
Cold Mountain Winter Ale Highland Brewing Company Winter Warmer 252
Samuel Adams Cherry Chocolate Bock Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) Bock 180
Furious Surly Brewing Company American IPA 170

Before we anoint Enjoy By the Thanksgiving beer, we should recognize the fact that it was recently released, and therefore much of the bump in drinking probably comes from the fact that it's making its way to shelves at an uneven rate. And is it really the beer 'of Thanksgiving' or just 'of the moment right before 12/13/13?'

So let's look at the release dates for these beers and see what they tell us about these beers. Look at that. Every single beer in the top ten had a mid-November release date... save one. Enjoy By was released on the eighth, the Bourbon County suite comes out Black Friday, Samuel Adams released its winter seasonals in early November... you get the picture.

Which beer was the only beer not released in November to get a major leap forward in check-ins? Surly Furious. It makes sense to have a beer named Furious be the beer of Thanksgiving -- after all, crazy things happen when you get the family together around a table and drink -- but it's an IPA and doens't seem of the season. So why the big advance in check-in count? Oh look here. Surly just announced in mid-November that it was coming back to Chicago. And surely Surly's added bar and retail accounts in that city had a lot to do with the added check-ins.

If we open up the list into the next ten, we immediately run into seasonal creep: Bell's Christmas Ale, Three Floyd's Alpha Klaus Xmas Porter, Anchor Brewing's Our Special Christmas Ale, Terrapin's White Chocolate Moo-Hoo, Southern Tier's 2XMAS, Mikkeller's Santa's Little Helper and so on and so forth. Deschute's Abyss is down there, and it's great, but it's the same thing: released in November, and so the numbers aren't goosed by Turkey Day in particular.

Maybe we should return to the top of the list. The Bourbon County releases dominate the top of the leaderboard -- and they're traditionally released on... Black Friday. That makes calling them a Thanksgiving beer a little problematic, but there are a few reasons this crowning is not so suspect. For one, Untappd is littered with checkins for this beer on the 28th. Many of them thanking "someone" for selling them early. And second, most Bourbon County lovers buy multiples each year and break them out after a year or two to see how age has changed the beer. What better time to break out the 2012 Bourbon County Stout than on Thanksgiving, a day before the new version hits the store?

So, between the pale ales with increased November distribution, and the Christmas Ales coming out before Thanksgiving, there might actually be a true Thanksgiving Beer: Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout. Fittingly, there's a whole family of them.