Archive for December 2013

Beers for the Holidays

December 10, 2013

There’s no getting around the fact that this time of year brings many visitors, and visitors drink beer. Oh sure, you can try to escape by fleeing to the Caribbean, but your friends will just wait till you get back. You might as well man up and stock the beer fridge now.

So, what beers should you have on hand? I like to break them down into various categories:

  1. Social beers: for friendly gatherings not associated with a meal
  2. Aperitif beer: the beer you have before the Christmas dinner begins
  3. Turkey beer: the beer you have with the main course
  4. Dessert beer: the beer that goes with plum pudding and pumpkin pie
  5. After-dinner beer: what you sip as you relax after the meal

1. Social beers

These are beers to have on hand for when friends drop by for the afternoon — good enough that you’re not ashamed to serve them, but not so unusual that all the conversation centres around the beer:

  • Beau’s Lug-Tread Lagered Ale (4 x 600 mL bottles, $15.85, LCBO 169334) A “gateway” beer that is smooth enough for non-beer-geeks but with enough aroma and body for the beer geek.
  • Cameron’s Auburn Ale (6-pack, $12.50, LCBO 286583) A rich and tasty beer with more than a touch of caramel
  • Stonehammer Pilsner (6-pack, $12.95, LCBO 689752) A bit less intense than some other “Czech-style” pilsners, Stonehammer has a pleasant grassy nose and a nice snappy finish.
  • Wellington Arkell Best Bitter (473 mL “tallboy” can, $2.60, LCBO 257345) A light-tasting British ale with an earthy nose, a rich flavour, and the added bonus that it is only 4% abv.

2. Aperitif beers

The guests for the Christmas feast have gathered. Instead of a glass of wine before dinner, try giving them a wineglass of one of these to amuse the palate without filling the tummy:

  • Mort Subite Kriek Lambic (pronounced “creek lahm-BEEK”. Do NOT say “LAM-bic”, at least not within my hearing.) [375 mL corked bottle, $3.50, LCBO 69591] This is a tart sour cherry ale that is made by simply leaving the unfermented wort in open tuns in the brewery attic so wild yeast can fall into it and spontaneously ferment. The result is an intensely sour beer (think of sucking on lemons) that is moderated by the addition of cherry syrup. The result is fruity without sweetness — an excellent aperitif that is also quite visually striking.
  • Unibroue La Fin du Monde ( 4 x 341 mL, $9.75, LCBO 366492) A nose of coriander and light honey and a light spicy taste belie the 9% abv.

3. Main course beers

The turkey or ham has been carved, the gravy is poured, it’s time to dig in. Any one of these will stand up to the rich food without overwhelming it:

  • Samuel Smith Winter Welcome (550 mL, $3.95, LCBO 408005) This is my favourite Christmas beer — the quintessential British pale ale, with warm caramel and bready notes and a dry finish.No surprise that this English beer pairs so well with an English Christmas feast
  • Black Oak Nut Brown Ale (6-pack, $12.95, The Beer Store) Or instead of pale and British, you can go dark and British. This brown ale has a full-bodied nutty chocolate flavour that again will pair well with your traditional feast.
  • Niagara Oast House Saison (750 mL corked bottle, $11.20, LCBO 359877) A Belgian farmhouse ale with a spicy taste and light and effervescent body that will pair well with any hearty food.

4. Dessert beers

  • For pumpkin pie, gingerbread or plum pudding: Great Lakes Winter Ale (750 mL, $6.95, LCBO 90845) A strong “wassail” ale spiced with orange peel, ginger, and nutmeg, this rich dark ale is the perfect match for spice-based desserts.
  • For chocolate or cream-based desserts: Flying Monkeys Chocolate Manifesto (750 mL, $11.95, LCBO 368589) This beer, made with cocoa and cocoa nibs as well as dark malts, will out-chocolate the chocolate.

5. After-dinner beers

  • There really is only one choice,  but if you don’t already have it, you ain’t getting it, since the LCBO is SOLD OUT: Samuel Adams Utopias (710 mL, $114.95, VINTAGES 104711) A rich, smooth, heavy feel, the boozy nose redolent of raisins, brown sugar, old leather and dark stone fruit, with an intense flavour of port, brandy, demarara sugar, plums, and much much more that only hints at its 27.3% abv. To be sipped from a brandy snifter by the ounce. Don’t expect to finish the bottle — save the rest for the next special gathering.
  • Okay, so you didn’t have $115 to spend on Utopias. The much more reasonable Les Trois Mousquetaires Grande Cuvée Porter Baltique (750 mL corked bottle, $9.10, LCBO 244376) will serve as a very adequate replacement, with rich notes of roasty coffee and chocolate, and a hint of vanilla and bourbon. Again, an ounce or so in a brandy snifter will be perfect. After your guests leave, you can finish the bottle yourself.

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