It’s that time of year again. The season where pairing powerful beers with butter, spice, and sugar-laden foods occupies your thoughts. Whereas summer is focused on chilling in the backyard and quenching your thirst, the holidays are all about feasts and big drinks to enhance those meals while washing them down.
We’re calling out substantial, flavor-forward beers that pair well with substantial, flavor-forward holiday meals.
To help us in this endeavor, we reached out to serious beer experts and asked them: “What’s the best beer to pair with a big holiday meal?” These are folks who live and breathe beer, write books about brewing, and have been certified to talk about and judge beer on the international stage. Still, their answers vary pretty widely.
Most of these beers will be available in specialty beer shops or online. A few of them might be harder to find (even in their home countries) outside of the brewery that produces them. In those cases, read about what the beer is and what it tastes like and track down an analog from your favorite local craft brewery.
Let’s dive in and pair some beers!
Tynt Meadow — Mark Dredge, award-winning author of the upcoming book Beer and Veg: Combining Great Craft Beer with Vegetarian and Vegan Food
Style: English Strong Ale
Brewery: Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Coalville, UK
I don’t eat meat anymore, so there’ll be no turkey on my table. But that makes no difference as to the beer I open. You see, you can pair turkey with any beer you like and it’ll work because the bird is such a neutral flavor. The reality is that you’re matching your beer to the sides and the gravy.
My go-to choice is Belgian, or Belgian-style: A malty Brune or Dubbel, a rich Tripel (not a lean bitter one), or a Quadrupel. You need booze. You want some malt sweetness for the root veg and gravy, some refreshing bubbles, and a little spiciness to match the food’s herbs and seasoning.
Tynt Meadow is a Dubbel-inspired beer brewed with all English ingredients (including the yeast) at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire. It has a sweet tea and biscuity malt body. There are aniseed and dried fruits. The texture is full enough to handle big food flavors, and the yeast brings some extra fruitiness and a little peppery spice.
Regardless of the centerpiece proteins, this is a great beer for all the veg and sides of a big festive feast.
San Miguel Cerveza Negra — Latiesha Cook, certified Cicerone and president of Beer Kulture
Style: European Dark Lager
Brewery: San Miguel Brewery, Mandaluyong City, Philippines
For a big meal, my immediate favorite beer pairing screams for a dark lager. I’ve always enjoyed San Miguel’s Cerveza Negra because it’s well balanced between its sweet-yet-roasty malt notes.
This brew is rich in flavor but stands up very nicely when paired with a large and hearty meal. It’s such a good beer. Probably one of the best I’ve had in this style.
It pours with a creamy foam-like head and has a beautiful dark brown to ruby color. On the nose, it smells of malt and brown sugar. It reminds me of a bread my grandmother used to make for us called Macheteadas.
The beer has no warming alcohol, which is nice with a hearty meal, and quite expected from a five percent dark lager. You’ll immediately be greeted with roasted malts and molasses on the first sip. Then your tongue gets a follow up of milk chocolate, sugar, and cream.
Saison D’Erpe-Mere — Breandán Kearney, founder & Editor-in-Chief of Belgian Smaak
Brewery: KleinBrouwerij De Glazen Toren, Erpe-Mere, Belgium
The two brewers who produce this beer have colorful backstories. Jef Van Den Steen, now in his seventies, was a rockstar in Belgium with chart hits in various European countries. He went on to become a mathematics teacher, a politician, an author, and then a brewer. His colleague Dirk De Pauw, in his sixties, was a financial director for a group of hospitals.
The glass tower of the brewery’s name comes from the road on which their brewery is housed, Glazentorenweg, named originally for the glass windows of the prostitution houses that were once located at the bottom of the street. The Saison D’Erpe-Mere was launched in November 2004, making the beer 16-years-old this month.
Saison D’Erpe-Mere is as classic a Belgian Saison as you will find outside Saison Dupont. The grist bill of 80 percent pilsner malt and 20 percent wheat malt deliver a biscuity, refreshing grain quality which compliments many types of fish as well as white meats such as chicken and turkey. Magnum bittering hops and Saaz aroma additions give a background spiciness that lifts herbs and spices deployed in many dishes as well as complimenting bitter green vegetables.
It’s extremely dry and effervescent, cleansing your palate with its carbonic bite. The ester characteristics of its yeast give citrus notes which liven up the fruitier aspects of your lemon drizzle sauces, vinegar, and oils.
Drink it as an aperitif before dinner to whet the appetite, pair it with the main meal to compliment the flavors of dinner, or, because you deserve it right now, sip on it as a dessert.
Turmeric Saison — Miguel Rivas, host of the “Every Beer Has a Story. Every Story Has a Beer” storytelling series on IGTV Live
Brewery: Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, Maine
Food and beer, beer and food, personally I don’t think it gets the respect it deserves. Usually, when people think about pairing food, the immediate reaction/suggestion goes to wine. I am a huge advocate of promoting beer with food. After all, wine only uses one ingredient, grapes. Beer, on the other hand, has four main ingredients (water, malt, hops, and yeast) where you can then explore an infinite palette of flavors and colors.
For my food pairing, I chose to merge some Asian influences for the food and Belgian influences for the beer. The dish I like preparing at the moment is an Asian-style rice noodle. I make it in a wok with finely chopped and sliced mushrooms, carrots, peppers, and asparagus all lightly sautéed in a fish broth. I then sprinkle some sesame seeds. Lastly, I mix the rice noodles with a splash of soy sauce.
For the beer, I chose Allagash Turmeric Saison. As per the brewery description, “Turmeric has a long history of culinary use, so we decided to try it in one of our beers. We’re glad we did. The earthy and unique flavor of whole turmeric root, alongside the bit of pepper that we add during brewing, gives a lightly spicy quality to this fruity and aromatic certified organic Saison.” This combination of ingredients in the beer combined with the spicy character of the yeast creates a beautiful combination with the vegetables and the noodles.
Pours a straw yellow/golden color with some slight haze, a foamy white/creamy head with good retention with spotty lacing. The aroma is citrusy, spicy, fruity, and barley with hints of turmeric and pepper. The taste is very consistent with the nose with a refreshing and slightly dry finish. Adding to the complexity, there are spicy flavors and light peppery phenols. It has a light to medium body, medium carbonation, and the mouthfeel is very smooth. It’s well balanced, has a really nice complexity of flavors, and has a very high drinkability.
Overall a spectacular beer. It’s delicate yet complex and very versatile when it comes to pairing it with food. I believe it will go well with a great variety of dishes.
Tears of Saint Laurent — Evan Rail, International Editor at Good Beer Hunting and author of the award-winning essay The Meanings of Craft Beer
Style: Wild Ale
Brewery: Wild Creatures, Mikulov, Czech Republic
I’m always looking for drinks that deeply connect to where they are made rather than products that could come from anywhere. Jitka Ilčíková’s Wild Creatures makes special brews with a pronounced sense of place. Jitka grows the fruit she uses herself and ferments 100 percent spontaneously, using the microorganisms that exist in her family’s vineyard in Mikulov (the legendary wine-producing town in South Moravia).
Tears of Saint Laurent is made with St. Laurent grapes, the most widely planted red variety in the Czech Republic. If you’re just about anywhere in the Czech lands, it tastes like here. For a long time, bottles from Wild Creatures have been very hard to find, despite (or maybe because of) international interest. But thanks to a recently announced expansion — including a new facility with much more room for barrels — it should be easier to get your hands on stuff from Wild Creatures soon. Add that to the list of good things that happened in 2020.
This wine-like grape ale is moderately acidic with complex, fruity notes like those of a great Gamay or Merlot. Lots of plum, blackberry, and black currant flavors upfront followed by an elegant, dry finish. Pairs well with stimulating conversation, shared plates, and close friends.
Westmalle Dubbel — Eoghan Walsh, award-winning beer writer, beer sommelier, and author of Brussels Beer City: Stories from Brussels’ Brewing Past
Brewery: Brouwerij Westmalle, Malle, Belgium
It’s often said that Belgium has all four seasons and a beer for every style of food. And it’s true, leaving me torn between bright, spritzy saisons with a hint of tartness and a complex funkiness, and a strong dark ale full of dark spices, roast, and with a hefty alcoholic kick.
With the nights drawing in and the weather going from bad to worse, my big meal preferences lean towards a roasted chunk of meat and some trimmings. And that means my go-to beer has to come from the dark side of Belgian brewing. But I don’t want to have just one beer with my dinner, I’d like a couple. So, I usually eschew some of the chewier quadrupels and dark strong ales and instead go for something a little more sessionable, a reliable classic: Westmalle Dubbel.
Ruby red and checking in at seven percent ABV (I said it was relatively sessionable; this is Belgium after all), Westmalle Dubbel always reminds me of dates, plums, and sticky toffee pudding but without the cloying sweetness of stronger beers. It has a light mouthfeel and dry finish. It’s balanced and fruity and moreish.
Writer’s Pick: BiFrost — Zach Johnston, Deputy Editor UPROXX Life, podcaster One More Road For The Beer
Style: Winter Warmer
Brewery: Elysian Brewing Company, Seattle, WA
I’m a sucker for beers from Seattle. Part of it is that it’s my home. Another part of it is that Washington State has a seriously awesome roaster of craft beer breweries. One of my favorites is a craft brewery that helped introduce me to craft beer in the late 1990s, Elysian Brewing. One of those beers was their winter ale, BiFrost.
The beer screams out to be paired with a big, wintry meal. It’s rather light/dry in the body while packing a punch taste-wise. It’s also fairly high in the ABV department and usually comes in 22-oz. bottles, making it the perfect beer to pour into small glasses for sharing over a meal.
The malts are present up top with a malty caramel over a tart apple that’s spiced with cinnamon. The taste delivers on those promises and adds in a dose of orange oils with more Christmas spice and a malty body. The hops kick in late and offer a good, bitter/dank counterpoint to the sweet malts. The taste ends slightly dry with another hit of that orange zest citrus brightness.