Four Drinking Beers
On the forth day of Blog Christmas, I will bring to you, Beer pairing options to drink (plus a warm-up beer)! It’s Monday and December is kicking into high gear, this little menu is sure to come in handy. I’m so excited to have the amazing Sean Lewis here on the blog. Sean and I go way back — we’ve known each other since junior high (shout out to his twin brother, Steven, too). Today, Sean is a teacher and a writer who will have his own book coming out soon! Thanks, Sean for adding a little holiday fun to the blog.
There is no middle ground on the holidays: you either love them or hate them. Count me amongst the former. I love the weather, the food, the crazy drivers, the family gatherings, the shopping and the beer – especially the beer. I can’t help it, I’m a bona fide beer geek and my obsession gets stronger with every sip, so I guess it’s a good thing that I get to feed that obsession with my work as I write a monthly column for BeerAdvocate Magazine and am writing my first book, tentatively titled Malt, Hops and Heart, for St. Martin’s Press.
So, I’m excited to share my freaky focus on beer with you today. With that in mind, I have a few tips for incorporating beer into your holiday celebrations with a beer dinner.
I’m certainly not an expert on cooking, so I’m going to defer to fellow BeerAdvocate columnist Sean Paxton, aka The Homebrewed Chef. Paxton’s website lists dozens of incredible recipes (trust me – incredible) and suggests beers to pair them with. Allow me to pull from his far vaster knowledge and suggest a four-course meal that you can make at home, as well as a few beers to go along with it.
When your family is in town, it’s important to get the drinks flowing early. Otherwise, well, you have to deal with your family sober. All kidding aside, keep your guests comfortable while they wait with a local beer. I will leave the first choice up to you, just shoot for something local and not overwhelming in flavor; something that will allow you to say “Oh you like that? I got it just down the road at (your local brewery).” Of course, to find the perfect warm-up beer you’ve got to sample what your local brewer has to offer: do yourself a favor and start that now.
First Course – Cheese and Homemade Crackers and Belgian Tripel
Paxton’s recipe for homemade crackers will have your guests constantly saying, “I didn’t know crackers could taste so good.” Trust me, it’s going to get annoying. Just as important though will be what you put on the crackers. Have a nice herb goat cheeses and some smoked salmon on hand to complete the appetizer – or yeah, you can get a little carried away and go with Paxton’s Tripel Cured Salmon Caviar if you’re into being awesome.
Pairing a beer with this appetizer can be somewhat tricky, as a nice hoppy IPA is my favorite thing to pair with cheese and fish. However, hoppy beers can fatigue the palate and you don’t want to do that prematurely. Instead, go with something with a strong ester profile that gives a ton of flavor without killing your taste buds. My choice for the evening is Curieux – brewed by Allagash and available year round. The tart notes of the beer will complement the cheese, while the high carbonation helps lift the food off the tongue and cleanse the palate.
Second Course – Spinach Pomegranate Salad with IPA
Sean Paxton didn’t have a recipe for salad on his website, which is fine by me because I’m not particularly picky when it comes to the green stuff, but a good salad can really set the table nicely for the main course. I found this recipe for a spinach pomegranate salad online, and it looks similar to a recipe my Aunt uses except with pomegranates instead of cranberries (I’ve already said too much – don’t tell her I’m giving away family secrets).
This time, don’t worry about wearing down the palate. After a warm-up beer and a strong Belgian ale, this second course will need a strong flavored beer to stand up next to the rich flavors of feta cheese and fruit in the salad. My personal holiday favorite is Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale – which many people confuse for a spicy winter beer simply because it looks like one. It is, in fact, one of the finest India Pale Ales available during this time of year – and since it’s not a year-round release you know it’s going to be fresh (freshness is crucial with this style of beer).
Main Course – Lamb Shepherd’s Pie with Ale
I love a ham as much as the next man, but it isn’t necessary to eat it EVERY Christmas. This year, turn to your roots. For me, that means the Anglo-Irish classic shepherd’s pie and Paxton has yet another dynamite recipe. He also uses Goat Gouda in the mashed potato topping to take the flavors and texture to a higher plane.
Whether you use somebody else’s recipe or a family stand-by, the important thing about the main course is that the food shines as the star. That means, as much as I hate to say it, beer should play a quiet role for the main course. Paxton recommends pairing the shepherd’s pie with Firestone Walker’s Double Barrel Ale, and I have to agree – but I also feel this is a great opportunity to bust out another growler from your local brewery. Drink something good, but grandma is going to be pretty upset if the Double IPA you decided to pair with her classic duck recipe drowns out the subtle flavors of the poultry.
Dessert – Apple Pie with Oatmeal Stout
Ok – enough of the fancy recipes. It’s the holidays and tradition is important. Make an apple pie (it’s the American thing to do). Serve it with ice cream – vanilla. Simple.
But don’t you dare dream about skimping on the beer here. My favorite beer to pair with pie and ice cream is Southern Tier’s Creme Brulee Imperial Milk Stout. Although, if you don’t live on the East Coast it might be tough to get a bottle of this polarizing beer (it is sweet enough to be a desert in itself). If that is the case, I suggest an oatmeal stout. Three of my favorites come from Anderson Valley, Telegraph and Firestone Walker. All three are available on the west coast, and each provides a creamy and roasty complement to go along with the sweet pie and ice cream.
If this sounds like your idea of a perfect meal, then you sound like my type of perfect dinner host. If that’s true, feel free to invite me to your Christmas dinner. Hit me up on twitter @Sean_M_Lewis – and I’ll bring the beer.