Hops for the Holidays Part Deux: Christmas

by Jeff Harding
Antoinette Bruno and Will Blunt
December 2011

With the holiday season upon us, the beverage of choice often tends to be champagne. But there’s another bubbly that’s increasingly popular and equally intriguing as a pairing option. Craft and seasonal beers make a surprisingly popular alternative to wine or champagne, and the craft beer-loving public is becoming more savvy and discerning. We’ve put together a Christmas dinner menu and consulted our favorite sommeliers and cicerones for beer pairing suggestions. Perhaps these out-of-the-box combinations will inspire you to pour a little more beer for your customers this holiday season.

There are some great holidays brews being made, and we’re in love with a few we tried on our last trip to Portland, Oregon. Cascade Brewing makes a bright wheat-bear, Holiday Gose, redolent of cranberry, hibiscus and orange peel. Lompoc Brewing has ten, yes ten, holidays beers this season, including Cherry Christmas Sour Blend, aged in whiskey barrels and fermented with sour cherries. And Upright Brewing won’t be outdone with their regular seasonal output, including De la Six which is aged in Old Tom Gin barrels, and spiced with citrus and tea. A holiday or seasonal beer would be pair wonderully with the entire meal but we’ve paired the recipes in this feature with some traditional beers to show that a well-made beer is great any time of year.

Salsify Bisque with Foie Gras and Oyster Mushrooms

Salsify Bisque with Foie Gras and Oyster Mushrooms by Chef Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro at the Four Seasons Hotel - Houston, TX

A lush and velvety Salsify Bisque with Foie Gras and Oyster Mushrooms from Chef Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston, Texas can help keep the winter chill away. (A stay at the Houston Four Seasons does the same, but for now let’s concentrate on soup.) Beer Sommelier Jon Langley at DBGB in New York City recommends Schneider Weisse, a German wheat beer, as a delicious compliment. Its rich chocolate and banana accents bring out the Madeira in the soup and the light sweetness of the beer accents the foie gras. Sommelier Paul Einbund of Frances in San Francisco suggests a richer style beer as an alternative, like the dark spiced flavors of his favorite porter, Pripps Carnegie from Sweden.

Mushroom Terrine with Pickled Sweet Onions and Winter Squash

Mushroom Terrine with Pickled Sweet Onions and Winter Squash by Chef Nicole Pederson of C-House at Affinia Chicago - Chicago, IL

Chef Nicole Pederson of C-House at Affinia Chicago makes a stunning Mushroom Terrine with Pickled Sweet Onions and Winter Squash, which 2010 StarChefs.com Rising Star Beer Sommelier Greg Engert of Birch & Barley in Washington, D.C. pairs with Allagash Black. This Belgian strong dark ale balances malty sweetness and pitch-perfect earth tones. These deeper qualities marry elegantly with the variety of mushrooms in Pederson’s terrine, and the peppery dryness in the finish holds up to, and even highlights, its salty, tangy cheeses.

Also in Chicago, Chef Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat serves a savory Pumpkin Brandade, a perfect combination of seasonal produce and old-world comfort food. Another mash-up of old and new world is Langley’s beer choice: Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes, "La Douze." This lightly sweet and sour Swiss version of an American pale ale is brewed with fleur de sel, and makes a magical pairing with the brandade: salt is balanced with salt, and the sweet elements of the beer highlight the pumpkin fruit while the slight acidity keeps the tongue refreshed.

Speaking of Old World, Chef Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cooking School in County Cork, Ireland makes a Michaelmas Goose with Traditional Potato and Apple Stuffing that would light up any Christmas table. Engert lets the goose shine in his pairing of Rare Vos, a Belgian pale ale made by Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY. A biscuity malt profile highlights the creamy stuffing, while the brew's spicy aromatics add new layers of flavors to the dish. Returning the favor, the apple and lemon balm of the goose and stuffing bring out hints of citrus and herbal hop freshness in this amber ale.

Pecan Wood-grilled Quail, Jalapeno-Sausage Dressing, and Green Tomato-Golden Raisin Chutney

Pecan Wood-grilled Quail, Jalapeño-Sausage Dressing, and Green Tomato-Golden Raisin Chutney by Chef Randy Evans of Haven - Houston, TX

If there’s no room for goose at the table, try the Pecan Wood-grilled Quail, Jalapeño-Sausage Dressing, and Green Tomato-Golden Raisin Chutney by 2011 StarChefs.com Houston Rising Star Chef Randy Evans of Haven, in Houston, Texas. For this alterna-bird, Engert recommends Liefmans Goudenband, a complex and mature Belgian strong brown with nuanced funk aromas to match the game quality in the quail. A fruity, sweet acidity accentuates the green tomato and the cool bubbles temper the heat and spice of the dish.

If there’s any pumpkin left by Christmas, we recommend a Layered Pumpkin Cheesecake by Pastry Chef Bettina Clair of Blue Hill Tavern in Baltimore. Pumpkin beers are not uncommon and seem a no-brainer, but Langley goes a little further in his pairing with Westmalle Tripel, a Trappist beer from Belgium. Tripels generally have a bit of residual sugar in them, and are full of fruity esters and spicy phenolics which emphasize all the fruit and spice of the pumpkin. And the brew’s velvety texture is a perfect finish to the cheesecake, and your holiday meal.