The Thinking Drinkers’ Guide to Christmas Beer

 

 

Festive beers: Shepherd Neame Double Stout, Orval, Trappistes Rochefort, Rodenbach Grand Cru
 
Christmas is coming. So you’re going to need some beer. With so many wonderful ones available, there’s absolutely no excuse for cracking open a can of humdrum cooking lager this year.

So here’s our list of cracking Christmas beers to bring comfort and joy during the festive season. Buy them. Drink them. It’s what Jesus would have wanted.

Christmas Eve Beers

As fish tends to be the traditional dish served on Christmas Eve, what you want is a light Belgian witbier such as “Blanche de Namur”.

Brewed with coriander and orange peel, it’s spritzy, citrusy character suits delicate fish such as sole, trout, turbot –or pretty much any fish dish enhanced with a squeeze of lemon.

Serving seafood? Then there are myriad beer matches to explore. “Duvel”, an iconic bottle-conditioned Belgian blond abbey ale, pairs perfectly with prawns dipped in garlic butter; lobster likes the delicate hop bitterness of a North German Pilsner, such as “Flensburger”, while the creamy combination of fresh oysters and dry stout is a classic one.

Shepherd Neame’s velvety “Double Stout” has enough bitterness to mellow the oyster’s metallic, briny character. Shuck it and see.

Blanche de Namur, Jenlain, Harviestoun Ola Dubh

Blanche de Namur, Jenlain Anbree, Harviestoun Ola Dubh

Christmas Day Aperitif Beers

It’s Christmas Day. Exciting isn’t it? Pace yourself though, ease your way in with “Taris Boulba” (4.5%), a dry, aromatic blonde from Brussels and an ideal aperitif ale. It will effortlessly slake a salty-snack-induced thirst yet won’t trample all over the smoked salmon. Alternatively, fill your Champagne flute with “Pilsner Urquell”, whose flint dry finish comes courtesy of the Saaz hops. 

For something really alternative, try Cloudwater Brewing’s “Waiting Forever Pale Ale” which has been aged for five years in a Tequila Barrel with Yuzu and Salt and then blended with a young foudre beer.

Christmas Lunch Beers

The thing to remember here is that different birds suit different beers. Traditional turkey is a tricky bedfellow for beer as, on its own, it doesn’t offer much to complement or indeed contrast. You’ve got to take all the trappings and the trimmings into consideration – stuffing, parsnips, Brussel sprouts, roasties, cranberry sauce and all that carry on.

For this you require an all-rounder. Look no further than a Belgian-style Saison or the Biere de Garde from France, two similar beer styles that were historically brewed as ‘keeping’ ales in the winter so that thirsty, scythe-swinging farm hands or ‘saisonnieres’ could drink them in the summer.

These rustic, refreshing farmhouse beers are fabulously flexible friends to food. Generously hopped and often brewed with spices, there’s enough peppery bitterness here fight any fatty textures, the herbal notes sit superbly with the stuffing and the gentle sparkle will help scrub the palate clean.

The ideal starting point is “Saison Dupont” – a legendary, hazy-golden liquid hailed by many as the world’s best saison that can be the Kofi Annan of Christmas lunch, harmonising disparate elements and bringing peace to your plate.

Biere de Garde tends to be slightly sweeter with more malt flavours going on and two of the most illustrious examples are “Duyck Jenlain Ambrée” and the drier more aromatic “Trois Monts”, both classics that come caged and corked like a Champagne.

If you’re going for goose then reach for “Rodenbach Grand Cru”, a famous Flemish Red Ale with the funky, farmyard acidity capable of carving through the fuller, fatty textures. Grand Cru is great but if you can find it, the unblended “Rodenbach Vintage” is even better.

What do you with duck? “Kwak” (do you see what we’ve done there?) seems the obvious choice and, if you ever watched the Keith Harris Show, you could also open an “Orval”.

Piss-poor puns aside, both of these will dovetail deliciously with duck – as will the slightly sour cherry notes of “Duchesse de Bourgogne”.

Christmas Cheeseboard Beers

This is where beer goes up a gastronomic gear or two. The cheese board is where beer really excels. Unlike wine, it has the bubbles to lift cheese’s rich, indulgent textures off the palate while cheese, in return, mellows out beer’s bitter hoppiness. Citrusy, herbal hops, meanwhile, are endowed with the flavours of fruit chutney, quince jelly and raw apple – all common accompaniments to a cheeseboard.

The easiest and most successful rule for beer and cheese pairings is to match their intensities of flavour. Pity the fool that drinks port with their stilton as “Harvest Ale”, a strapping 11% barley wine from JW Lees, works much better.

Brewed every Autumn in time for Christmas using newly harvested Maris Otter barley and East Kent Goldings hops, it ages exceedingly well and stays happily in the cellar for years. Different vintages are available, dating back more than a decade.

With a chuck of strong cheddar, make room for Lagunitas IPA, an iconic American-style IPA with the rich, resinous hop oils to cut through the cheese and the carbonation to lift it off the tongue,

For something ponky and punchy like the royally ripe Brie de Meaux, you can’t go wrong than bringing out a bottle of “Rochefort 10”, a dark ruby blend of chocolate, plums, fruit cake and anejo rum.

Beers to drink with Christmas pudding and mince pies

Even though no-one actually likes Christmas cake or mince pies, they’ve got to be eaten. Them’s the rules. Opt for something with a spiritual edge such as Ola Dubh 12 year-old – a viscous and velvety whisky-finished collaboration between Harviestoun brewery in Scotland and Highland Park single malt whisky – and a sublime swirl of chocolate, espresso and cardamom.

 

 

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