The holiday season is upon us, and inevitably that means it's time to either attend or host a litany of holiday parties. Parties that, for years, have featured the same turkey roll-ups and re-gifted bottles of "two buck Chuck." This year why not do something a little different? Have you ever considered beer? Yes, I said it: the beautiful malt beverage that is beer.
The new level of craft beer brewing around the world is revolutionizing the way we view and drink beer. These artisanal ales are starting to show up on beer lists of some of the most prestigious and cutting edge restaurants in the world. These restaurants are focusing on food and beer pairings the same way that a sommelier would pair wine with food.
Holiday beers have become the rage over that last couple of years and microbrews and imported specialty beers are becoming more readily available to the public. "Beer Dinners" are popping up around the United States the same way that wine-tasting parties did five years ago. People are educating themselves on how beer pairs with food and how to celebrate with what are truly some of the greatest beers in the world.
As the holidays approach, why not have a truly unique experience with a beverage that can enhance food in a way that wine simply can't? Beer is a beverage that allows for more casual and easy going fun and experimentation without the stilted snobbery that, unfortunately, sometimes comes along with wine.
How To Throw a Beer Dinner:
Do Your Research:
Nowadays, the best place to find artisanal and craft beers are at high-end specialty wine shops. Give your local wine shop a call and check it out. See what's available and build your holiday food menu around the beer. Find out where you can buy craft and artisanal beers in your area. For example, one of my favorite brewers is Craftsman Brewing Company out of Pasadena, CA. They only distribute to bars that are local to the Los Angeles area, but you can buy a keg from them directly. Another one of my favorite breweries is called Three Floyds Brewing out of Munster, Indiana. They have a very limited distribution area as well, and I can't get the beer in California. Your local wine shop will be able to point you in the right direction and give you alternatives for beers that you might not be able to get.
Think Of Pairings:
Once you've picked out the beers that you like, study them. What kind of style of beer are they and what kinds of foods pair well with them? Go to the Brewers Association online (www.beertown.com) and get recommendations for pairings. For instance, the BA says that: "a floral blonde ale is great with seared Ahi tuna. Hoppy (bitter) American pale ale can balance the richness of appetizers such as cheese tartlets. For lighter items such as grilled fish, a Pilsner is great. For roasted chicken, a malty lager or a pale ale can be delightful. Chocolate loves a dark beer. Super-sweet items such as cheesecake, creme brulee or carrot cake can create a memorable experience with highly hopped beers such as double IPAs. Beer's bright carbonation, especially medium-intensity beers suit many cheeses. Fruit beers are excellent with soft-ripened cheese such as Brie."
Set the Stage:
According to the Brewers Association, beer tastes best at a certain temperature, and it's probably warmer than you think. Serving a beer too cold inhibits flavor receptors and thus masks the true nuance of many styles of beer. Serve the beer too warm and beer, especially holiday ales which are generally sweeter, can be perceived as too syrupy. As a rule, take the beer out of the fridge about 5 minutes before you want to serve it. It will warm up to the correct temperature as you drink it.
Glassware is also very important. Not only does the proper glassware show off the beautiful color and frothy head of the beer; like the difference in a pinot noir glass vs. a cabernet sauvignon glass, each glass shape helps pinpoint where on the tongue the drinker will taste the beer and helps focus the aroma. The shape of glassware also regulates at what rate that particular beer will de-gas. Carbonation helps balance a beer so the rate at which it is released is a very important flavor factor. Most European beer styles have their own traditional glassware shape. They can range from tulip shaped, a handled stein, a flute, a chalice, a pint glass and many more. If you have questions about what glassware works with what beer style, go to http://beeradvocate.com/beer/101/glassware.php.