There you are gazing down at your perfectly set Christmas dinner table with pride. You appreciate your ability to bring the outdoors in with the crisp winter colour scheme of your place settings, the natural yet festive adornments you’ve chosen for the mantle and the lovely flicker of softly glowing tapers that tie it all together.
You had to take a week off from work to do it, but after planning and shopping, cooking and baking, everything is perfect and ready to host your family and friends for what is sure to be the best Christmas meal yet, right down to the beer.
Don’t you mean wine? Doesn’t hosting Christmas dinner automatically mean wine must be served? Isn’t that the way the pioneers did it? And who are you to mess with tradition?
Well, buck tradition.
Beer is very often overlooked as a pairing for festive dinners. But given all the different flavours present within a Christmas spread – from the mildest of meats to the spiced sweetness of pumpkin pie – there is, as most craft brewers will gladly tell you, a beer to match.
Before you envision serving your Christmas pride and joy from the depths of The Man Cave, keep in mind, this isn’t the type of beer that ruled all those college keggers you went to (a.k.a. Bud Light, Coors, Blue Light, etc.). While there is certainly a time and place to enjoy those beers, Christmas isn’t one of them.
Start thinking of craft or microbreweries and all that they can offer your Christmas food and drink palate – which, by the way, is a tremendous amount. After all, trying to pair one red wine and one white to an entire meal you slaved over for the past day and a half doesn’t seem like the best way to reward your guests or yourself.
So, okay, beer it is then! But what do you do now?
Don’t worry if the idea of pairing different types of beer with each of your dinner courses makes you want to chug your entire stash. You think of what you’re serving and how it tastes before choosing your wine, right? The same rules apply when choosing beer. Just keep in mind the different flavours and textures of the food that will be served during each stage of your meal because, like wine, there will be different beers that pair better with different foods.
Arguably the best Christmas items on your dinner table are the ones that come out of the oven. Turkey, stuffing, biscuits, roasted vegetables, not to mention pie (oh, glorious pie!). The key to these foods tasting so wonderful is caramelization, otherwise known as the browning of sugar. This process is what gives everything from the oven that lovely golden brown colour and slightly sweet, nutty flavour.
With that (and maintaining your sanity) in mind, a great overall choice to serve with Christmas dinner is Biere de Garde (“beer for keeping”) such as the one from Niagara Oast House Brewers in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is a robust pale ale that was traditionally brewed in France by farmers during the winter months. This type of brew is strong enough in both alcohol content and carbonation to not only compliment rich flavoured dishes such as biscuits with butter, gravy-laden stuffing or sweet pie but also blend nicely with something a little milder, like mashed potatoes or turkey. The trick comes from the way a Biere de Garde is prepared for brewing in that it, too, undergoes browning and even caramelization when it’s kilned.
A close second to Biere de Garde is Saison. French for “season,” Saison is a pale ale that is highly carbonated like Biere de Garde but has fruity and spicy notes. Most are an opaque, golden colour and are brewed with spices such as coriander, orange zest or ginger, making it obvious why a beer of this style would pair nicely with your Christmas smorgasbord. You can find a selection of this beer style brewed from the U.S., Belgium, Norway and even Ontario.
Before you buy out the entire craft brew section of your liquor store, a word of advice:
If you’re not generally a craft brew drinker, it might be a good idea to seek a few out and try them first. After all, a good rule of thumb for any meal you’re serving to guests is not to serve anything you have never made or tasted before.
Many will swear by a pumpkin beer for dessert, especially at Christmas because of the whole pumpkin pie tradition. In fact, most pumpkin beers don’t sell after Christmas for this very reason. But while there are lovely pumpkin beers to be sampled, you may be more satisfied with a beer that is complementary to the strong, distinct spices used in pumpkin and other pie flavours rather than trying to match them.
The full-bodied, aromatic taste of an imperial stout or porter, the subtle sweetness of a milk stout or the flavourful, distinct notes of a Scotch Ale are all good choices to serve during dessert. Brewed using roasted malt or barley, these beers are traditionally quite dark and quite rich. Some, like Guinness (the world’s best-selling stout) are dry but velvety smooth whereas others, like Maclean’s Armchair Scotch Ale, will have a malty flavour that’s ideal for sipping while you munch away on dessert.
With a little bit of research, a trip to the LCBO or your local craft brewery and a taste test or two (or six, just to be sure), beer just might end up edging out your favourite carbonated grape juice as the go-to beverage for Christmas dinner and other meal-centric events. And it’s about time, too. With its variety, availability, and versatility, beer isn’t simply “just beer” anymore.
Updated by Lin Parkin
Written by Jess Campbell