Pumpkin Ale Pairing: Brown Sugar Chicken Thighs with Apples

It's pumpkin ale season!! Are you as excited as I am? I think pumpkin ales come and go too quickly every autumn. They get released in August when it seems way too hot to even think about the changing of the seasons. I usually begin craving them sometime in September, but this year summer still stuck around too long. And then last week October 1st hit. The temperature dropped and the rains came. I'm currently wearing sweaters and slippers. Pumpkin ale season has finally arrived.

Fall is my absolute favorite time for beers because both Oktoberfest and Pumpkin ales are released. Even better, there are two types out there for us to choose from. There are the sweeter, spiced ones that taste like you're eating a piece of pumpkin pie, and then the ones that are just... PUMPKIN. I like them both, of course, because anything pumpkin is a winner in my book.

The Pairing

Right off the bat it can seem overwhelming to pair pumpkin ale with a meal. Sure, we like to drink them, but do they actually pair well with food? The answer, my friend, is YES.

For this brown sugar chicken thigh recipe I made, I chose the new pumpkin ale Alaskan Brewing just released. In previous seasons they made a pumpkin porter, but this year they lightened it up into a brown ale. The beer has some of the cinnamon and nutmeg flavors we all love in pumpkin ale, but its definitely more of a PUMPKIN beer than a sweet dessert beer. If you're not a fan of tasting super sweet pumpkin pie and want more of a "beer" flavor in general, then this ale is for you. How does it pair? The slight sweetness from the pumpkin spice complements the brown sugar in the chicken thighs, but isn't too sweet to overwhelm it. Since it is a style of brown ale, the caramelized and toasty malt really plays on the charred, roasted skin on the chicken. And the slight sweetness coming from the apples ties it all together. Is your stomach grumbling yet?

Other Beers That Work

If you're reading this and pumpkin beer isn't in season, fear not--other beers will work. Pick a beer with those caramelized, toasty flavors, like a brown or amber ale. You could even go as dark as a porter, but be careful: if the beer is too roasty or burnt (like stout), it will overwhelm this dish. Also, stay away from hoppy beers like IPA or pale ale that will be too fruity and bitter.

The Recipe

I've got to make a shout-out to Chung Ah over at damndelicious.net for providing the original recipe for this dish. It is amazing what a little brown sugar and butter can do to a seemingly boring weeknight chicken dish. Feel free to make this with any cut of chicken, but bone-in chicken thighs are particularly juicy (and budget-friendly). To make this an autumn-appropriate meal, I added thinly sliced apples to give it that hint of sweetness. It really was a match made in heaven with the Alaskan Pumpkin Ale. Serve with mashed potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts for a complete meal!

Brown Sugar Roasted Chicken with Apples

Author: Dani (CaretoPair.com)

Prep time: 5 mins

Cook time: 40 mins

Total time: 45 mins

Serves: 4

Original recipe adapted from damndelicious.net


  • 4 large bone-in chicken thighs
  • 3 Tbsp butter, devided
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/4 Cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In an oven-proof skillet, melt 2 Tbsp of butter over medium-high heat. Add the chicken thighs, skin side down. Sear until golden brown for about 2-3 minutes. Flip chicken over and sear other side the same.
  3. Set the chicken aside when both sides are golden brown. In the same skillet, melt the remaining 1 Tbsp of butter and add the garlic, stirring frequently until fragrant, about 1 minute more.
  4. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the brown sugar, honey, oregano, thyme, and basil. Place the chicken back in the skillet, skin side up, then place in the oven.
  5. After 20 minutes of cook time, remove the skillet from the oven. Place the sliced apple into the sauce of the skillet and stir. Return the skillet to the oven and cook for an additional 15-20, or until the chicken juices run clear when cut into.

Happy Pairing!