Baking with Craft Beer: Holiday Pies

By Bri Dotson

As beer geeks, one of our favorite seasons to muse about pairings is the holidays. This time of year is chock-full of deliciously rich meals—a veritable smorgasbord we use as an excuse to drink our favorite craft beers with reckless abandon while gorging ourselves on comfort foods.

The best of these, of course, is that slice of pie with a dollop of whipped cream waiting for us at the end of the meal. This post is about something beyond just pairing our coveted nectar with a scrumptious slice of holiday pie. What if you could drink your beer and eat it for dessert, too?

Bringing your favorite craft beers into the kitchen promises to make your pies the talk of the holiday table. Here we’ll look at four standard pies that can be taken to the next level by incorporating craft beer in the pie filling and garnish.

Apple Pie: Sour Beer or Saison

Apple pie filling is one of my favorite winter flavor combinations. It represents a near-perfect balance of tart, sweet and warming spices. When choosing a beer for the filling, I like to go with the “compliment” strategy—choosing something with a similar flavor profile to create balance.

Bright, slightly sweet sour beers are a clear winner here, and Russian River Brewing Co’s Temptation is a great choice. The flavors are reminiscent of tart apple and citrus, something that just screams apple pie. The deep oak notes in Temptation, a sour blonde ale aged in Chardonnay barrels, will elevate the flavor of the pie filling, leaving you reaching for a second slice.

For a slightly funky take on apple pie, try a saison or farmhouse ale. Some of these beers have bright citrusy notes with hints of fresh farm cheese flavor. If you’ve ever tasted apple pie with cheddar cheese, you know this is a novel and delicious flavor combination. Try Upright Brewing’s Four in the filling—its slightly citrusy tartness, along with a grassy and earthy funkiness will really add complexity to your apple pie.

Apple Pie Filling

I usually pre-cook the apples on the stovetop or in the oven to release and evaporate some of the water—so you don’t end up with a soggy pie! Try adding a 1⁄2 cup of beer along with sugar, spices and thickener to the apples for one 8-inch pie. You might have to pre-cook a bit longer than usual to get the right texture, but taste as you go and stop the process when needed.

Garnish

If you add a top crust on your apple pie, brush it with the beer and sprinkle with sugar before baking.

Other Craft Beers to Try with Apple Pie


Pecan Pie: Wood-Aged Beer

Pecan Pie

In my opinion, pecan pie just screams out for bourbon and rich, robust and earthy malt flavors.This kind of pie is truly a gift to those with a sweet tooth, and a wood-aged beer—especially of the bourbon persuasion—really gives it some extra oomph. My first choice when making this pie is Port Brewing Company’s Older Viscosity. This beer in no way skimps on the bourbon flavor or the deep and earthy malt backbone.

Pecan Pie Filling

The consistency of the custard filling in this pie is perfect for the addition of beer. Check out my recipe for Pecan Tart with Port Brewing’s Older Viscosity for step-by-step directions.

Garnish

Add some beer or a reduction of the beer to the whipped cream you use to garnish the pie! Or make a caramel sauce, here’s my recipe for Auld Acquaintance Caramel Sauce made with Pike Brewing’s Auld Acquaintance Hoppy Holiday Ale.

Other Beers to Try with Pecan Pie


Pumpkin Pie: Pumpkin Ale or Spice Beer

What’s a more obvious choice to compliment pumpkin pie than a sweet and spicy pumpkin ale? I love Elysian Brewing Company’s Night Owl for its balance of sweet, biscuity malt flavors, starchy squash notes and warming pumpkin pie spice.

Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Pumking is packed with sticky toffee and caramel notes that will really add an extra dimension to your pumpkin pie.

To take the custard a different direction, use Left Hand Brewing Company’s Good JuJu Ginger in the filling. The caramel notes in the malt flavor are nicely balanced by hot and spicy ginger, which would go nicely with the flavors in pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Pie Filling

I would suggest making a reduction of the beer to add to the filling. Reducing to half, or as much as a quarter, will give you enough beer flavor without adding too much extra liquid. Remember not to reduce over high heat, and watch out for boil-overs if you’re not using flat beer.

Garnish

Beer-infused whipped cream would be a great garnish for this pie as well.

Other Beers to Try with Pumpkin Pie


Sweet Potato Pie: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Beer or Winter Warmer/American Strong Ale

Bourbon often goes hand-in-hand with sweet potato pie at this baker’s holiday table, so the obvious choice to elevate your pie to beer-licious status is your favorite bourbon barrel-aged beer. Fremont Brewing Company’s Dark Star Imperial Oatmeal Stout is a great choice if you can get it. Smooth, earthy malt flavors and sweet, woody bourbon notes from this beer are really a sweet potato pie’s best friend.

If you’re feeling like something completely different, try Allagash’s Curieux. The slightly tart and caramel notes in this bourbon barrel-aged tripel would taste excellent with the earthy tubers and a shot of molasses in a pie.

For those less bourbon-inclined, any of the He’Brew Jewbelation series would add a roasty (almost smoky) malt character, port/sherry notes and warming winter spice flavors.

Sweet Potato Pie Filling

Sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie are essentially the same thing: a custard pie filling made from a puree of the star ingredient. I suggest a light hand with the molasses called for in some recipes if you’re including your favorite craft beer in the filling. Molasses is deliciously deep, smoky and sweet, but it can really overpower the nuanced flavor profile of a good ale. Here’s my recipe for Sweet Potato Pie Filling with Full Sail Top Sail.

Garnish

Candied pecans are a great garnish for sweet potato pie. Heat a few tablespoons of beer with some maple syrup or brown sugar until bubbling, toss with toasted pecans, add salt to taste and spread on oiled parchment to cool.

Other Beers to Try with Sweet Potato Pie

Now, go forth, and infuse your holiday pies with your favorite beers! Remember, craft beer is not just for breakfast anymore—it’s for dessert, too!


Lucky Bucket Brewing CompanyBri, author of Beer for Dessert has a B.S. in Geography and Meteorology from Arizona State University and an M.S. in Atmospheric Science from the University of Washington. She left the world of science research and academia to obtain her most relevant educational degree: an A.A.S. in Specialty Desserts and Breads from Seattle Culinary Academy. Currently, she work at a bakery in Seattle called T.M. Dessert Works.