why not beer?
By Brad Kraus, photo by Sergio salvador

Tis the season for food and drink! What are you drinking with your holiday meal? While many naturally turn to wine, I would suggest adding beer to your holiday repertoire. For those of us who prefer beer to wine, this is a great time to sample some of the heavier craft or artisanal beers that pair so well with holiday foods.  Many of these beers pair more easily with a variety of dishes, and lend a complexity and nuance that can be surprising. You can actually find beers that will carry you all they way through the meal, including dessert, but why limit yourself? Choose a variety and turn your feast into a tasting, an exploration!

Generally the centerpiece of most holiday meals is some kind of roast fowl or meat. A lighter beer will get lost in the richness of these dishes, while a stronger Trappist or Abbey ale, or a bock beer would compliment roast turkey or goose. Dubbels, tripels, doppelbocks and strong, dark Trappist beers pair remarkably well with many of the sweeter side dishes such as candied yams. A good all around choice is a German style dark lager, a dunkel. If you chose ham this year, Oktoberfest beers, helles bock, and Irish stout are great companions.

To compliment the wide variety of sweet and savory dishes on holiday menus, Brown ales, porters and stouts can cover a range of foods and stand up well to the main course. Cream stouts, oatmeal stouts, and strong Baltic porters will work with many desserts, including the classic apple and pumpkin pies. Definitely try the stronger Imperial stouts with your desserts, and remember that stouts pair well with chocolate.

Some of the malty, stronger winter beers, including the spiced ones should not be overlooked. If some guests are afraid of the darker beers, try some maltier lagers like Munich style helles, Dortmunder, or a helles bock for something lighter in color but still full of flavor. Even the tripels mentioned above or Belgian strong golden ales will lend a festive sparkle.

All those pairings are starting points. Don’t be afraid to try your own combinations, to explore and be adventurous. If you have some food in particular you want to pair with, here are a few basic guidelines:

  • Hop bitterness, roast malt bitterness, alcohol and carbonation help balance sweetness or richness from fat.
  • Hop bitterness will accentuate spiciness.
  • Maltiness or sweetness help balance spiciness or acidity.

So try something new this year, try beer!

Brad Kraus has been a professional brewer for over 20 years. He currently is the head brewer for Blue Corn Brewery and brewmaster for Abbey Beverage Company-Monks’Ale.

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