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The holidays are upon us and that means multi-course, epic meals and countless opportunities to flex your beer and food pairing muscles. Ten years ago, hardly anyone was talking about how well the wide array of beers now available compliment different foods but the craft brewing renaissance has changed all of that. Foodies now know that craft beer has all of the distinction, diversity and food compatibility of wine and it has finally made it as an adult this holiday season. Light lager is refreshing and ubiquitous but rarely a great partner for flavor-forward foods. Craft beers have a lot more flavor and diversity. Yup, they will usually have a little higher calorie count then their light lager cousins but holidays are the time to relax and reward yourself. Suck it up and go for a jog or bike ride the next day but life's too short to resist treating yourself when so many great beer options are now available coast to coast.
First off, everyone's palate is different, that's why there are so many different kinds of beers and these suggestions should be taken as just that: suggestions, not mandates. The most sweeping wine analogy I can offer when considering beers to pair with food is this: ales tend to be more fruity and robust, like red wines, so they generally pair with foods in a similar way (e.g., steak, spaghetti & meatballs); lagers are similar to white wines, refined and mellow, so they pair better with more delicate foods (e.g., grilled fish, sushi).
So here are some suggestions for pairing beers with some common holiday food groups that your are bound to run into or are planning to cook up for guests yourself this season.
Cheeses This is the de facto way into many a holiday meal and, while wines may go pretty well with some cheeses, the carbonation and diversity in beer make it a better partner. The bubbles in beer exfoliate the tongue of the fatty weight of the cheese to prepare you for the next bite. Some great combinations:
Fresh mozzarella and a nice bready, spicy white beer like Avery White Rascal or Allagash White.
Sharp aged cheddar with a hoppy beer like Russian River's Pliney the Elder or Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.
Roquefort or a big stinky bleu with a beer with some serious body and darker roasty grains, like Thomas Hardy's Ale or Deschutes Abyss.
Sirloin steak is usually paired with dry, tannic red wines; however, this classic dish is a great partner for spicy beers like Saison du Pont or Chimay Red.
A pork chop's lighter meat has more subtle flavors so you don't want to overpower it with too big of a bee so opt for a German bock, like Schneider Aventinus or an Amber Ale like New Belgium Fat Tire.
Glazed ham is both sweet and salty, so it needs an earthy and fruity beer as a partner, like Theakston Old Peculiar Ale or Brooklyn Brown Ale.
New England clam chowder is a thick, rich soup that has a lot of tongue-coating cream and a salty flavor, but it can be overwhelmed by too strong a beer. Opt for a stout, like Murphy's or Guinness.
Lobster is a dish that goes really well with traditional lager, like Heineken or Yuengling Lager.
Grilled tuna (assuming it is lightly seasoned and unadorned with a heavy cream sauce) goes well with a mid-body lager, like Troeg's Troegenator or Sam Adams' Double Bock.
Fried fish and chips needs a beer that is dry and bubbly enough to cut through the palate-coating batter. I recommend Bink Blonde Hoppy Golden Ale or Birra del Borgo ReAle.
Whether it is pure chocolate bars and candy or rich chocolate cakes, I think the ultimate beer and food pairing is any type of chocolate and dark roasty imperial stout. Try Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues or Chicory Stout from Dogfish Head.
Now eat up, drink up, have fun and cheat on your go-to beer...and don't forget to go for that run tomorrow morning.