Beers to Bring to the Table this Holiday Season

I spent this Thanksgiving Eve Eve doing my own Beer & Holiday Food Pairing research, so I thought I’d do everyone else a favor and compile my findings in one place, so your search is more easily answered. I’ll start with an excerpt I found from Garrett Oliver’s–the Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewing Co.–book, The Brewmaster’s Table, which I think perfectly sums up the argument for bringing beer, not wine, to any holiday feasts you have planned for the coming weeks:

I love wine and frequently enjoy it with my meals. But I’ve never enjoyed wine with all the types of food that I actually eat every day. A roast rack of lamb? Sure, I’d love to have a bottle of Burgundy (though I know beers that will match the lamb just as well). But how about Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Cajun cuisine, and American barbecue? I love this stuff too, and I don’t want wine with it. Yes, I’ve had all the wines that will supposedly match these foods. Guess what? They are a poor substitute for traditional beer. Why? Because spices distort wine flavors, turning white wines hot and red wines bitter. Because wine doesn’t refresh the palate the way beer does. Because wine has no caramelized or roasted flavors to match those in our favorite dishes. And because, even according to wine experts, there are many foods that are simply no good with wine.

The art of pairing food & beer is one which is difficult to master, but even tougher to screw up. Because of the many diverse flavors found in plenty of craft beers, its highly likely that at least one of those flavors will accent whatever dish you’re creating quite nicely. Besides, everyone and their mother will bring a cheap bottle of red to a holiday party; why not dare to be a little different–and in turn impress the daylights out of everyone else at the party–and show up with an intriguing craft brew, and the knowledge to back its pairing up?

The Gentlemen at were kind enough to compile a list of beer suggestions which perfectly augment each course of a holiday meal; here are a few of their suggestions,

For the Apéritif (before dinner) course, they suggest not burning the palates out early, but sticking to a light-bodied Pilsner or Lager. Think: Brooklyn Lager or Pilsner, Otter Creek Vermont Lager, Sam Adams Boston Lager, Victory Prima Pils, etc.

For the Hors d’oeuvre Hour, the Alström Bros suggest you,

Kick things up a notch with a moderate level of hops. The hoppy characters in Pale Ales will pair nicely with salads, a slew of cheese varieties, fruits, and many hors d’oeuvres, without overwhelming any flavors. But don’t go too bitter.

Try Anchor Liberty Ale, Smuttynose Shoal’s Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Three Floyds Alpha King Pale Ale.

For the main course, which will undoubtedly feature some kind of poultry (or tofurkey!), stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, etc., try a higher alcohol Belgian-style brew, such as Allagash Grand Cru, Avery Salvation, Russian River Damnation, Ommegang Rare Vos. The alcohol in these beers will cut through the fat & starch common in this course of the meal, and will add nice sweet notes, which might be otherwise missing in this round. Or,

Another recommendation is to reintroduce more Pilsners and Lagers, as they will not only act as a palate cleanser in-between bites, but their lightness and spicy tones complement poultry and the contrast with gravies and stuffing is often welcome.

Finally, dessert! Not only the best course of the evening, in my opinion, but also one of the most fun to pair up. Big, hearty stouts & porters are often the best to try during this round. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Founders Breakfast Stout or Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout or Oak Aged Yeti, and Stone Russian Imperial Stout all work well. But be warned,

…the last thing you want to do is kill a beer with a pairing that is too sweet, so ensure that your beers are sweeter than your desserts.

These of course are not the only options for beer & food pairings — and half the fun of the pairing is in the experimentation — they’re merely suggestions. But what do you do if you can only bring one beer with you to the party? Oliver suggests,

Biere de garde is brilliant with turkey. And not just with the turkey – it is also brilliant with the turnips, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the potatoes, the whole darned thing. Biere de garde is the Thanksgiving beer. My sommelier friends rack their brains every year, trying to answer the constant nagging question everyone asks them – what wine is good with turkey? The answer, or course, is not wine but beer.

While I admittedly know very little about Biere de Garde, I certainly hope these suggestions have got your mind spinning and will help improve your otherwise mundane, wine-filled holiday meals (I know I’m excited to try some things out this Thursday). As un-original as it may be, I have to end this post the way the the Alström Brothers of BA fame ended their article, with a 16th century English proverb:

Wine is but single broth, ale is meat, drink and cloth.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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