I don’t know why, but it seems grape-based beverages get all the love during the holiday season. It is always wine served with the Christmas meal while Champagne is the order of the night on New Year’s Eve.
I am not dissing that choice—both are fitting for special events. I just wonder sometimes, as I stand with my flute of Champagne waiting for the midnight countdown, what it would take for beer to become a staple at this time of year. If I were to recommend a drink for the hockey playoffs, a Canada Day party or the Grey Cup, no one would blink. So why is it so hard to fathom a glass of beer to accompany the Christmas turkey or the New Year’s celebratory kiss?
Part of my mission as a beer educator is to change people’s perceptions of beer. To that end, I believe beer can serve as an equally appropriate accompaniment to the holiday. Let me offer a few ideas to get you thinking in that direction.
Let’s start with what to serve during a holiday-season party. There are always plenty of open houses, celebrations and family gatherings during this time of year, and it is customary to bring a bottle of wine for the host. Spiked eggnog and mulled wine are traditional servings, however, there are some interesting beer alternatives for your holiday party.
Nothing can replace the creaminess of eggnog, but you could go with a rich, sweet beer that can offer the same kind of warming. A nice possibility is Charlevoix’s La Vache Folle Imperial Milk Stout. Rich and creamy, it offers both substantive body, a bit of warming and a chocolaty tone. Plus, at nine percent, it is a bigger punch than you’d expect.
In addition to the fact it is served warm, the appeal of mulled wine is its festive spices. Nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and such offer a distinct combination of flavours that speaks of winter—good thing brewers have figured that out. There is no shortage of winter ale for interested beer fans, which offer the same qualities as your favourite mulled wine. One balanced example is Anchor Xmas Ale. The recipe is different every year. This year it has a moderately sweet malt base and a subtle spiciness suggesting clove, cinnamon, ginger and pine that can match up with any mulled wine.
And instead of wine why not present the host with a bottle of Ommegang Three Philosophers, a complex Belgian Ale, some Duchess Du Bourgogne, which remarkably resembles a tart red wine, or Flying Monkey’s City and Colour, an Imperial Maple Wheat Ale which is a collaboration with the pop icon of the same name. In all cases, the complex, rich flavours and higher alcohol content make them ideal for sharing and equally appropriate for cellaring.
Then there is Christmas dinner. This is not a time for a big hop bite or complex esters. There is simply too much other flavour on the plate. You want something earthy, delicately sweet and moderately dark. Any amber or brown ale would go well, as will the aforementioned Anchor Xmas Ale. But if you want to be a bit bolder, I would suggest trying Tripel Karmeliet, a recent entry into the Alberta beer market. This spicy Belgian Ale is often an accompaniment for dessert, but I contemplate it might nicely balance the earthy flavours of the turkey, root vegetables and gravy.
Alternatively, you might want to take a stab at mead, which is honey wine. Birds and Bees Winery has a sweet mead called Honey I Have Meads that might contrast the dry, earthiness of the meal.
Finally, there is New Year’s Eve. Champagne is ubiquitous, but, if you are honest, do you really like it? Why not offer something with the same effervescence, sharp taste and looks good in a flute? Two options work well here. The classic is Deus Brut des Flandres, a Belgian-made sparkling beer that is subject to the same production method as traditional Champagne. It is bright, sparkly and very refreshing.
Another option might be to try a lambic beer, something like De Ranke Cuvee Brut, which is infused with sour cherries. Tart, refreshing with a note of fruitiness, lambics are an intriguing, very non-beer-like addition to any festive event.
Your holiday celebrations deserve something special. This is a festive, special time of year. Good thing beer has enough versatility to meet your seasonal expectations. I have tried to suggest beer that have a unique, extra-special character to them to make sure that your holiday parties/dinner are their best yet. Happy Holidays! V
Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.