Better Beers for the Party SeasonDecember 12, 2008
“Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas tree…” or perhaps, “Santa Baby, slip a sable under the tree.
..” or hopefully not, “Grandma got run over by a reindeer…”
These are some of the lyrics that will invade our subconscious in the coming days as we navigate holiday parties. We’ll all try to drink, eat and be merry as we rub elbows with friends we’ve may have seen earlier in the day shopping at the supermarket, or that acquaintance, who turns out to be your best friend’s brand new flame, that you’ve not seen since last year’s party, or just a chance to get together with your aunts, uncles, siblings, and parents with the buffer of friends and without the formal requirements of carving a roasted beast.
Whatever the invite list, odds are you are going to be there a while. Someone is going to have the radio or the cable music channel set to “sounds of the season,” while you try to maneuver a drink, a fork, a napkin, and full plate with two hands and try to keep your Christmas sweater from needing a trip to the dry cleaner’s before Tuesday’s office Christmas party.
Now I could make a suggestion about delicious hors d’oeuvres. We have plenty in our recipe index, but I’m actually going to speak to the bigger foul — the beer. Oh, I know some of you people don’t drink or think you don’t like beer. Heck, I didn’t like beer until a couple years ago, and the still wife looks at me funny sometimes. But, people, we can do better than Bud, Bud Light, et al.
One of the best things I learned about beer is that it is more like food then you might think. It’s got its seasons. In the spring, you drink the rich bochs developed by monks as “liquid bread” to sustain them through the fasting of lent. In the summer, you drink pilsners and lagers with their light crisp styles. In the fall, you drink harvest beers and sometimes delicious pumpkin ales. At this time of year, you drink Christmas beers. Now, some of them are bad, and tragically so. Yet there are a few really great ones, brewed with things like dried cherries, honey, cinnamon, thyme, and orange peel. The results are some delicious beers that stand up to cheese plates, fatty finger foods, and even some delicious sweets.
So these are my recommendations to replace your big case of Rolling Rock. The one warning is that all of these are rather ‘high test.’ They have more in common with drinking a glass of white wine than your normal beers. So, warn folks who enjoy their beer, or you might find people frisky in the coat closet.
Troeg’s Mad Elf (11% AbV)— This Pennsylvania brewer combines cherries and local honey to create this slightly sweet and medium-bodied beer. It’s got nice carbonation that keeps it light enough to pair well with a lot of foods. But, in general, it’s a joy to drink.
St. Bernadus’ Christmas Ale (11% AbV) & N’ice Chouffe (10% AbV) — Both are classic Belgium Christmas beers. Brewed with orange peel, they are dark brown, spicy and medium bodied. Lots of good dried fruit flavor in both beers.
Brooklyn Brewery’s Dark Chocolate Stout (10% AbV) — This is on my short list of all-time favorite beers. This beer tastes so rich and full of chocolate, it’s amazing to realize this flavor is created only by the blend of roasted malts. It’s creamy and has good carbonation. This can be served across a chocolate dessert instead of coffee, or surprisingly, against a pungent cheese. I’m a huge fan and it is one of the few beers I’ve ever bought a case of.