Christmas day is now less than a week away, and as the craft beer industry continues to grow more and more people will be reaching for beers this year. Whether you’re looking for the right beer to complement your meal or just something tasty to sip while the kids open presents, you’ve come to the right place. With Christmas traditions varying greatly from place to place, I’ll do my best to suggest versatile beers that are widely available so this is as useful to as many people as possible.
I know you’ve been waiting all year for this, so let’s get to it.
Before the Meal
For a pre-meal beer – what some would call an aperitif – you should look for something crisp, clean and refreshing to whet your appetite. You can definitely dip into some hoppy and/or tart beers here, but nothing too crazy.
Pilsners are a classic style that fit the bill for this, and no, I’m not talking about Miller Lite. There are several great examples of pilsners on the market today:
- Pilsner Urquell, if you can get it fresh, is an iconic example
- Victorys Prima Pils is a bit of a hoppy-er take on the style.
- Noble Pils by Sam Adams is another solid option.
All three of these are widely distributed, and all are tame enough that you could knock back a few before dinner without having to worry about keeping your forehead off the table.
As an alternative keep an eye out for Bell’s Winter White Ale, a Belgian Witbier that Bell’s brews as a winter seasonal. While not quite as light and clean as a pilsner, it’s still light enough to drink before dinner, and the fruity flavors of Witbiers are generally a crowd pleaser.
With the Meal
Now, if your Christmas dinner table is anything like mine, there’s gonna be a lot going on. Since meats are usually the centerpiece I’m going to focus on this aspect of the meal for both your sanity and mine. Many of the most common Christmas cuts – roast beef, roasted chicken, turkey, and roasted pork – will all be complemented nicely by a good Oktoberfest, which you should still be able to find on the shelves.
- Ayinger and Paulaner are two classic German takes on the style that you can’t go wrong with.
- Victory Festbier is an outstanding example of the style by a great American brewery.
- Brooklyn Oktoberfest is another good Oktoberfest from a renowned American brewery.
English Bitters and English Pale Ales will satisfy those looking for a somewhat more hoppy option, and also tend to complement the traditional Christmas dishes well.
- Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale is a great winter seasonal that fits the bill. Although it’s technically classified as a Winter Warmer, it drinks a lot like an English Pale Ale, and would work well with your Christmas dinner.
- Fuller’s London Pride is an excellent, widely available English Pale Ale.
- Rogue Younger’s Special Bitter is a good US-made version of an English Bitter, as is
- Goose Island Honker’s Ale.
Finally, I’ve separated ham out from the rest of the meats above because it’s often prepared as a much sweeter dish, and thus calls for a little different pairing approach. The Oktobefests will still pair nicely with ham, although the hoppier beers might not be as compatible. Instead you can try an Irish Stout (Guinness, duh), a Belgian Tripel (I like La Fin Du Monde and Chimay White) or a Belgian Strong Golden Ale (Duvel is the standard for the style).
Dessert is a great opportunity to feature some bigger beers, and all of the beers listed here can be enjoyed either by pairing them with something or on their own as digestifs. Most desserts, including apple pie, pecan pie, cheesecake, fruit tarts, and cookies will all be nicely complemented by a big sweet and full bodied Imperial Stout:
- Founders Breakfast Stout is an American Imperial Stout that features intense coffee/espresso flavors.
- North Coast Old Rasputin is a Russian Imperial Stout with prominent chocolate and hoppy flavors.
If pumpkin pie is on the menu a spiced seasonal is a good match. Although it’s a broad category and not all are spiced, a good option here is a Winter Warmer:
- Great Lakes Christmas Ale is world renowned as one of the best Christmas Ales out there, and while it may not be available to everyone, you should try it if you can get it. This is my personal favorite around the holidays, and what I will be sipping after Christmas dinner.
- Sam Adams Old Fezziwig is another option for a spiced winter beer if you can’t get Great Lakes.
I’ve done my best to make this as comprehensive as possible while keeping it relatively brief. If you have more specific questions feel free to drop a comment below and I’ll do my best to get back to you. I relied heavily on The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver to help with this article, and I would strongly suggest it to anyone interested in craft beer, and especially in pairing beer with food.
Dave Stokley is the author of the beer review blog Behind The Brews, where his goal is to tell you more about the beer and the people who brew it than you ever wanted to know. He has been a craft beer fanatic since his first sip of Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, a hophead since his epiphany with Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, and an avid homebrewer since his wife bought him his first homebrew kit (her biggest regret in life).