Experts Chime In: 2012 Holiday Beer Pairings

The holidays are a time of good food, good cheer and good friends. So I decided to poll some knowledgeable, food-loving beer professionals and ask what beers they will be enjoying over the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays and what foods they will be pairing with the beer. Avec Les Bons Voeux from Brasserie Dupont turned out to be very popular, and for good reason. At about the price of a decent bottle of champagne, it’s a refreshing, balanced beer that complements just about every holiday course. Of course, there were other provocative suggestions as well.

Eric Cripe, Certified Cicerone and Beer Manager, The Jug Shop, San Francisco

Turkey and the Trimmings:
Ommegang "Scythe and Sickle" Harvest Ale
The rich malt character is balanced beautifully by the spicy and earthy yeast character making it a perfect accompaniment to traditional Thanksgiving fare.
Pumpkin Pie:
Midnight Sun "TREAT" Chocolate Pumpkin Imperial Porter
Dominated by a huge pumpkin nose that is contrasted by roasty malt, a touch of chocolate and a bit of clove and cinnamon. Makes pumpkin pie taste more pumpkiny.

Ballast Point "Indra Kunindra" Indian Export Stout
Imperial stout brewed with Kafir lime, curry, coconut and cumin. The spices make this beer incredibly complex and it has me thinking about the holiday season and the exotic aromas of the east.

New Years:
Dungeness Crab:
Super-clean and dry saison from Denmark. Perfect to cut the richness of Dungeness crab.

Christian Albertson, Monks Kettle, San Francisco
“My all-around pick for the holiday season is Avec Les Bons Voeux from Brasserie Dupont.  My wife's family is very large and we all get together and bring different dishes, so I bring items with me that pair well with a variety of foods:
Thanksgiving: I'm bringing The Bruery's Autumn Maple (it's excellent aged 2 years).
Christmas: This will be after the release of FiftyFifty's Eclipse series this year, so I'll bring one of those: not sure which barrel-aged version I'm bringing, but again it's probably going to be vintage. This is the after dinner drink. For during dinner (ham), I'll probably bring a biere de garde like La Bavaisienne or Gavroche.
New Year's: DeuS

Fraggle, Co-Owner, Beer Revolution, Oakland

Deschutes the Abyss
As a main dish: “portebello mushrooms with grilled grazed veggies. Roasted brussel sprouts, that sort of thing.”
With dessert: “Something heavy. A big chocolate cheesecake or tiramisu.”
Het anker Gouden Carolus Noel/Xmas
“Going out on a limb here, but I really think it would go well with braised/roasted leeks. I'm crazy. It’s OK. I know. Also with truffles, a fruit bowl with dark grapes, figs, dates, sliced plums.”
Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux
Banana bread, pumpkin pie.
d'Achouffe N'Ice Chouffe
“I'd go with a rich vegetable stew, with heavy savory spices. Lotsa potatoes and hearty mushrooms. Mushrooms never let you down.”
Sierra Nevada Celebration
“Mixing it up a bit here. Squash ravioli with fennel, with lots of Italian spices—something with a little zing to complement the hops.”
Mahrs Xmas Bock
“I think I’m the only one at Beer Rev to adore this beer. Pair with apple sausage from Field Roast or chocolate torte.”

Jen Muehlbauer, Beer Revolution Server and Beer Blogger
“Keep your holiday spice beers that taste like cinnamon, mistletoe and reindeer butt! I'll just take something dark and strong.
“I look forward to Drake's Jolly Rodger every winter. It changes style every year, and this year I'm extra excited because it's an American barley wine. I said ‘American’ and ‘Drake's,’ so prepare for a full-on hop assault along with the dark, sweet malt. If there were hop-haters coming to dinner, I'd substitute an English-style barley wine like Pretty Things' delicious Our Finest Regards.
“It's not a holiday seasonal (yet?), but I'm in love with Ale Industries' new Dueling Pipers, a cranked-up version of their brown rye ale Rye'd Piper. At more than 12% ABV, this would normally be too boozy for me, but the Heaven Hill rye whisky barrels it aged in did some freaky voodoo on it. My husband's exact words upon tasting it were, "Buy every bottle you can find."
Finally, this may lose me cred in beer geek circles, but I buy the hell out of Trader Joe's Vintage Ale every single year. This off-label Unibroue is a tradition from back when $5 was a lot of money for me to be spending on a fancy beer bottle. It's not the most complex Belgian dark strong ale out there, but it's a good solid value and it reminds me of times gone by, which makes any beer taste better.
Food pairings? Eat first, then have any of these for dessert. Problem solved. Happy holidays!”

Bryan Brick, K and L Wine Merchants, Redwood City

West County Cider "Redfield" Cider, Massachusetts 750ml ($15.99)
“I'm really looking forward to drinking this on Thanksgiving day. After a two-year absence in the market due to a tragic accident at the facility, this cider is back and as good as ever. From an heirloom apple variety called Redfield, this cider is rose in color due to the fact that the flesh of the apple is pink in color. Aromas of fresh yeast, pomegranate and clover lead to a dry, tannic body with snappy acidity and surprising flesh. This is a perfect foil for a brined and smoked Turkey stuffed with duck sausage and portobello mushroom stuffing.”

Brasserie Dupont "Avec les Bons Voeux" Saison, Belgium 750ml ($10.99)
“This is probably my all-time favorite ‘holiday’ beer. Let me explain: Generally holiday beers are dark, dense and made with of spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc. This is anything but heavy and spicy. A stronger and fuller saison from arguably the king of saisons, this is a perfect beer in my opinion. From its heady, solid pour to the estery, bready nose to the grassy and vibrant flavors of stone fruit and lemon zest, this is a beer that I could drink year-round without issue. I love this with a simple dish of Pernod steamed mussels or some fresh crab. Traditionally, since 1970, the brewery gives this bottle as New Years gifts to their best clients. I've done the same, with wonderful results.”

2012 Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale, California ($1.89 12oz bottle or $15.99 in a 1.5L Magnum)
“When I do want the spice-driven holiday beer, this is where I head. A rotational recipe depending on the year, this year's beer has certainly been hopped up a bit and has a lovely piney bitterness to go with layered flavors of grated nutmeg and gingerbread. Magnums of this make great gifts and are wonderful party favors. I love passing a magnum of this around a holiday party while hors d'oeuvres are served.”

Ken Weaver, Beer Writer
“For the Thanksgiving table, we'll typically serve New Glarus Raspberry Tart, a saison from Brasserie Dupont (Avril, Saison Dupont, Avec les Bons Voeux), and something sour and effervescent as an aperitif (Russian River, 3 Fonteinen). Winter seasonals I always look forward to: Sierra Nevada Celebration, Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, Moonlight Toast, FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse and Bell's Expedition Stout, for sure. Most of those are more of a nightcap.

David L. Hauslein, Healthy Spirits, San Francisco
As holiday beers go, I'm partial to the De Dolle Stille Nacht. With its five-hour boil time and copious amounts of pale malt, it has as much in common with an English barley wine as it does with a Belgian strong ale. Rich and lush, with flavors of brown sugar, figs and cognac. There's a significant hoppy backbone running through to keep it from ever approaching cloying sweetness. If you have the patience to age a bottle for five years or so, it is well worth the investment.
“Like an English barley wine, the sticky caramel sweetness of Stille Nacht is an excellent foil for a sharp, salty piece of Stilton. I recommend anything from Colston Bassett.
If you want something lighter that will pair with a wide range of sweet and savory holiday foods, I'd try a saison or biere de garde. Biere de gardes are slightly darker than saisons, with a soft, nutty sweetness. They are usually moderately hopped, which makes them great with anything spicy or fatty. Saisons are spritzier, with more of the flavor profile dominated by the fruit esters imparted by the yeast. Both are versatile, and refreshing enough that you could drink them throughout the day. For a biere de garde I would try Lost Abbey's Gift of the Magi. This 10% abv is higher in alcohol than the regular version (Lost Abbey's Avant Garde) but benefits from a striking burst of earthy, sour funk on the back end. For a saison, I would always recommend Saison Du Pont's holiday release Avec Les Bons Voeux for starters. It's a classic. Or you could try Jolly Pumpkin.”

Jade and Roberto, Co-Owners, Hoptech Homebrew in Dublin and Avid Home Brewers

“Wow, lots of questions. Not so good at pairing. Love Anchor Christmas Beer, St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. Ninkasi Sleigher is a fav. Holiday beers have a little something extra in them that makes the difference‑-or is it just because we can only get them at holidays?”

Brian Yaeger, Beer Writer, Portland
“Some favorites include Anchor OSA of course! The Bruery's Autumn Maple is a Thanksgiving classic, as is a small Portland brewery called Coalition that does a maple porter (both a co-owner and the syrup they use are from Vermont). My favorite Portland beer festival is the Holiday Ale Fest (Nov. 28-Dec. 2 this year), which features around 50 distinct beers (all debuting at the fest). It takes place right in Pioneer Square and it's one of the few beer festivals where it's hard to find a bad beer in the bunch. As for pairing, I'm sort of a classicist. My table isn't complete without Anchor OSA with turkey and all the trimmings. Of course, it's my mom's (and now my wife's) chocolate chip pumpkin bread that steels the show. And Midnight Sun's TREAT is the obvious and perfect compliment to it.

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