This article first appeared in Southern Distinction Magazine.
You are hosting a dinner party or a gathering with light appetizers, and you need a starter beverage to greet your guests and serve as an aperitif. Think Berliner Weisse. This historic German beer style has made a recent comeback via American craft brewers. It is light and tart with nice carbonation. Creature Comforts Brewing Company in Athens, Georgia has a splendid Berliner Weisse called Athena. This style also works well as a palate cleanser between courses or as an accompaniment for fresh fruits and sorbets.
What about heavier appetizers or main holiday courses? There are a plethora of craft beer choices out there. India Pale Ales (IPAs), Brown Ales and Amber Ales are all styles that offer a variety of pleasant, sweet malt flavors backed by a hoppy bitterness to please any set of taste buds. JailHouse Brewing in Hampton, Georgia brews Mugshot IPA with nicely balanced flavors of sweet, toasty malt and spicy, citrusy hop notes. This style pairs well with meats and hearty vegetables and can even be enjoyed with seasonal pies or bread pudding. JailHouse Misdemeanor Ale is a more moderately-hopped amber ale that leans more on earthier, nutty, caramel-like malt flavors for those who may not be a fan of IPAs.
Sweets are usually a big part of holiday gatherings, and there are craft beers that go perfectly with any dessert. Having a creme brulee? Try a roasty, coffee beer like Terrapin’s thick and decadent Wake n Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout. Not into coffee? Monday Night Brewing’s Drafty Kilt, a toffee-like Scottish Ale, also pairs well with rich desserts. A wonderful choice for lighter desserts such as coconut cake and custards, Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan is an elegant, slightly sweet, malty beer made with a touch of toasted pecans. Many breweries also come out with limited release “holiday” beers this time of the year that can make your holiday celebrations special.
The key to pairing food and craft beer is knowing your tastes. You can choose to complement or contrast with pairings. A strong, spicy Belgian Tripel has bold enough flavors to pair with ham, turkey, or roasts while cutting through some of the richness of the meat. If you are a novice at craft beer, that’s okay. The folks at your local package store will be glad to offer advice, or you can do a little research at your local craft beer bar/restaurant. The point is to have fun this holiday season. Be a little adventurous. Enjoy responsibly and remember to always eat well and drink good beer.