Simple Holiday Beer and Food Pairings
Forget wine. Beer pairings are where it’s at for holiday feasts. When done correctly, beer pairs more favorably with food and can enhance the entire meal in ways wine cannot.
How can you pair wisely during the holidays? Let’s start with some general guidelines.
General Guidelines for Beer Pairings
- Consider the elements of the dish and the elements of the beer.
- Match intensities (in other words, fight flavor with flavor).
- Find ways to match similar flavors and profiles (roasted with roasty).
- Find ways to balance out elements (sour with sweet).
- Remember the importance of carbonation. It does a nice job of cleaning the fat from your tongue and keeping your palate ready for the next taste.
Beer Pairing: Meat
- Elements: spicy heat, sweet pepper flavors, nutty and smoky caramelization, salt and fat (if you’re doing it right)
- Beer Pairing: American Brown Ale, like Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale
The hops will stand strong with the spices and emphasize those flavors. The caramel maltiness balances the heat while matching the sweet pepper flavors. The carbonation and hops both fight through the fat on your tongue.
- Elements: bright herbs, earthy herbs, sweet and smoky caramelization, salt and fat
- Beer Style: Belgian-Style Pale Ale, like Alesmith Lil’ Devil, or a Saison, like Blackberry Farm Saison or Funkwerks Saison
Hops, yeast and fruitiness play well with and cut through the bright and earthy herbs. The esters will intertwine with the herbs as well. Something with a good malt profile will sing well with the caramelization. The carbonation will take care of the fat so you can keep tasting everything.
- Elements: Sweet glaze, sweet and smoky caramelization, meaty umami richness, salt and fat
- Beer Style: Belgian-Style Dubbel, like New Belgium Abbey or Ommegang Abbey Ale
The caramel and toasty malt flavors match well with a brown sugar glaze and the umami richness. The moderate bitterness helps keep that sweetness of the ham in check. The dryness, higher alcohol content and medium/high carbonation help keep your mouth ready for more.
- Elements: roasty charred flavors, umami richness, earthiness and pepper, salt and fat
- Beer Style: Robust Porter, like Deschutes Black Butte Porter
Bitter malts play well with the roasty charred flavors of the meat while the caramel sweetness comes in just in time to save the day. Hop bitterness helps curb the richness and fat, as does the carbonation. Tones of chocolate make things really interesting and play with the earthiness of the meat.
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Beer Pairing: Sides
- Elements: herbs, savory, bready sweetness, earthy flavors, pepper, salt and fat
- Beer Style: American Amber Ale, like Bell’s Amber Ale or Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale
Biscuit flavors go well with the bready sweet and savory elements. The malt and hops balance each other in the beer and let the stuffing’s herbs do their thing.
Sweet potato casserole
- Elements: Earthy sweetness, sugary sweetness, roasted caramel, butter and fat
- Beer: Vienna-Style Lager, like Great Lakes Elliot Ness or August Schell Schell’s FireBrick
A little sweetness from the lager goes well with the big sweetness of the potatoes and marshmallows. The hops make their presence known just enough to keep the sweetness and richness in check without taking away from the gluttony that is sweet potato casserole.
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Beer Pairing: Dessert
- Elements: sticky sweetness, roasted caramel, toasted nuts, salt and fat
- Beer: Coffee Stout, like Sante Fe Java Stout
You want something that’s not inherently sweet to keep your body happy, but you still want that sweetness. The bitterness of the malts and hops push against the sweetness of the pie — in a good way. The roasted malts pair with the roasted, toasted nuts. You want that higher carbonation to cut through the fat. What is better than pie and coffee?
Rich chocolate cake
- Elements: chocolate, cocoa, roasty flavors, malt, sweet and fat
- Beer: Imperial Stout, like Great Divide Chocolate Yeti, or Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero (the Ancho chiles make an awesome contrast to any rich chocolate cake)
Richness meets richness on just about every level here. The cake’s sweet chocolate and cocoa notes are tamed by the imperial stout’s bitter chocolate and cocoa notes. The fruity esters bring out the fruitiness of the chocolates. The high alcohol does a good job of balancing the sweet and fats, but is really just a great way to end the evening.
Lemon or lime bars and other citrus desserts
- Elements: Intense citrus, fruity, tangy, sour, sugar and fat
- Beer: Double/Imperial IPA, like 3 Floyds Dreadnaught or Odell Myrcenary
Big and in-your-face desserts need a big and in-your-face beer to keep up. The overly sweet dessert is tamed by the hop bomb, which is not harsh but rather refreshing, zesty and interesting. The fruity esters and malty sweetness help keep the party going. The alcohol cuts the sweet and fat on your tongue and also helps you end the night nicely. You won’t really want to taste anything after all of these flavors.
Updated Dec. 1, 2020.