It’s that time of the year again. The days are getting shorter and although it’s not yet snowing, temperatures are dropping. Christmas is coming and with all the bars and restaurants being closed, the in-laws are coming over for dinner. You decide that this is the year you really impress them! A three course dinner with al the bells and whistles you can think of. The menu is well thought out and you practiced and perfected the dishes you are going to serve. Candlesticks, fine china and the real silverware all make an appearance. But what are you going to drink? What are you going to pair your perfectly prepared dinner with? In a restaurant you probably would ask for a wine pairing. Fine dining and wine have been running the show for years, but why?
Why wine? For decades wine has been the go-to pairing with food. Beer is something for Neanderthals and students that want to get drunk. Wine is the way to go if you want to impress at a dinner party. But again, why?
I’m not going to bash wine. I like wine, I drink wine (probably more than I should) and if you are going to serve wine this Christmas I hope that it is a great success. But I love beer, beer is my passion and I am going to try and change your mind.
Making a pairing that works can be tricky, what you are looking for is harmony. Try to find flavours in both the dish and the beer that are similar but not too overpowering. For example with white fish, you want a beer that compliments the subtle flavours of the fish. So anything with too much sweetness or roast-y-ness is out. But a light citrusy white ale might work perfectly! Even better when you serve your fish with a nice and fatty butter sauce. The carbon will cleanse your pallet and help in keeping your dish nice and light.
If you serve something a bit more pungent in flavour than fish, for example a nice piece red meat or maybe something gamey like venison, then you are looking for a beer with a more pungent flavour profile. Some beer styles that might work are a dry stout or a Baltic porter. The flavour given by the roasted malt will enhance the flavour of the sear on a piece of meat. A slight sweetness will give balance to the taste of iron you might find in red meats. And coffee flavour from the roasted malts and game are a great combination.
As for dessert, this is where beer really puts a beating on wine. Because what wine are you going to serve with that triple chocolate lava cake your mother in law likes so much? Sure there are some sweet dessert wines that might work, but from the top of my head I can think of hundreds of beers that work great with chocolate! From imperial stouts to a barrel aged barley wine to a bock or doppelbock.
Aren’t a big fan of chocolate desserts? No problem, the main point is that beer works better with sweet dishes because sweetness is a common flavour in beer. From the fruity sweetness of an NEIPA to the sugary sweetness a classic Belgian Dubbel brings. Harmony with a dessert is a challenge if you are looking for a wine, but with a beer it is a piece of cake (pun intended).
So if you want to break with the status quo and really want to impress this Christmas. Stay away from the age old white and red wines and go out and look for a craft beer to compliment your efforts! I can’t guaranty that your father in law will like you, but I can guaranty that you will surprise him!
Dennis van Veen – International Beersommelier and president of beer affairs with The Beertenders