Christmas is close and the treats are a plenty, some traditional favourites, some new experiences and perhaps even the dreaded fruitcake will make an appearance. Amongst all of the delicacies there are also some very tasty seasonal craft beers being released and you’ll want to pay attention to this advice on how to get the most cheer out of your feast. A good food and craft beer pairing can enhance and tantalize the tongue, while a mishap can steal away all the sensory fun. There are so many winter beers out there every year and this guide is full of suggestions to bring you more cheer with your beer!
First Pairing – Can Craft Beer Make Even Fruitcake Taste Good?
I was a little skeptical of this one a first since I have always found fruitcake to be just the worst, however I have learned that some of the home made style fruitcakes are not too shabby and totally blow away any sort of store bought version you may encounter. For this pairing I found a local bakery that makes a Canadian ‘prairie style’ fruitcake that is loaded with sweet candied fruits, nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins. The question is, can you pair with beer and can it get better?
– On its own the fruitcake is actually quite decent however when I paired with a Dopplebock style beer from Winnipeg, Manitoba it truly got better! This style of beer is generally a very malty sweet lagered beer that features fruity tasting notes and a general booziness which makes it a great candidate to complement fruitcake. This is because these cakes are often soaked in booze to preserve and add richness as the cake “ripens”, so pairing with a malty sweet boozy beer is a great way to get their faster without the wait. The fruit in the cake got richer and more prominent while interestingly enough the beer got less sweet and malts erupted in to a whole new level of toffee and nuttiness. This was actually really good! Alternates styles to try would be an Eisbock which is the highest on the malty sweet scale of beers, a Munich Dunkel or even a strong Scottish Ale. If presented with a fruitcake over the holidays, find a strong alcohol by volume, super malty sweet beer to go with it and you may just be able to get it down with a smile on your face!
Second Pairing – Wake Up With the Taste of Maple on Your Plate and in Your Glass
If you’ve never tried making beer pancakes than quite frankly you are missing out. To make them simply follow any recipe like normal and simply substitute the milk with an equal volume of beer and viola you have beer pancakes packed with beer flavour and a lighter fluffy texture when compared to the regular ones. You can make them with any beer, however to get a true Canadian pancake experience I suggest making them with a Maple Porter like I did below and of course with maple bacon on side. Don’t stop there though, be sure to save some beer for the meal and enjoy them together in a perfect winter warmer pairing.
– First I must say, the pancakes made with this British Columbian Maple Porter were absolutely fantastic , hands down the best beer pancake I have ever made in my life. It added such a beautiful maple and nutty overlay to every single bite that I don’t know if I can ever go back to a normal pancake after this. This particular beer has some nice chocolate, molasses and maple flavours that are all balanced together nicely in the glass. When you pair it with the maple syrup drizzled amd beer
infused pancakes, these suckers practically explode with maple flavour and highlight fruity notes I never noticed in maple syrup before. The beer itself showcased more of the molasses flavours and when paired with the bacon, the flavours intensified from the bacon salt and the bacon simply got meatier. Alternate styles to try would be Chocolate Stouts, Dunkelweizens or any Nut Brown Ale both inside the pancakes and paired with the meal to keep it interesting.
Third Pairing – Complement your Dinner Tourtière with Winter Ales to Share
This particular dish is a Christmas tradition in Quebec often part of their réveillon – translated to long dinner – typically featuring finely ground pork, cinnamon and cloves all stuffed into a traditional pie crust that is cooked and served with syrup or preserves. Tourtière, if made right, is nothing short of heavenly so when you are looking to pair this with a craft beer, you’ll want to look for something that will complement the flavours without overpowering them. For that reason, I went with a fairly basic Winter Ale from Alberta.
– I was happy to find a bakery who could do this pie right, as I wanted something as traditional as possible for this pairing. The tourtière featured pork laced with sweet maple and clove flavours that could be eaten entirely on its own to complete satisfaction which is a good sign. However, when I started pairing it with this beer the cloves, sweetness and biscuit crust were on overload and I was left with a basically mouthful of awesomeness. For the beer, the toffee malts and the wintery spices became more prominent making the beer significantly better than it was on its own. Both the beer and the pie helped each other out quite nicely which is exactly what you are looking for when pairing beer and food. Alternate styles to try with a meaty dish like this would be a Traditional Ale or perhaps a cellared Bière de Garde if you are feeling more adventurous.
Fourth Pairing – How Do You Pair Beer with a Dessert That Has Everything?
No Canadian Christmas is complete without adding in a west coast treat that has it all, the infamous Nanaimo Bar! The combination of sweet chocolate and savory custard with a decadent cocoa and coconut crust makes for a pretty amazing combination of flavours here already so any beer pairing needs to be a delicate work of art. For this beer I went with an Imperial Chocolate Stout from British Columbia relying on my previous experiences in pairing chocolate beers with sweet chocolaty foods in hopes that this would work .
– Surprisingly, the savoury custard in the middle of the Nanaimo Bar got a real boost from strong chocolate beer, intensifying the custard flavour which was really nice. As I expected, the sweet treat cut into the sweetness of the beer allowing the cocoa nibs to shine while turning this close to 9% alcohol by volume beer into a cool sensual sipping chocolate. It was nice having these two desserts together. If you are looking for alternate styles too pair with this dessert, you’ll have to tread very carefully and try for something with a lot of chocolate or chocolate malt like a Chocolate Stout, or you may be able to get away with a Coconut Porter as well.
Fifth Pairing – Mince and Match with Fruity Sweet Barleywines
Mince pies are traditionally stuffed with British Mincemeat and are a traditional treat that was carried over into Canada years ago when many people from the UK immigrated here. These small tart sized pies can be found everywhere around Christmas time often at Christmas markets and bakeries, or can be easily made at home if you have the time. Similar to a butter tart, these pies are stuffed with succulent fruit and topped with some pastry crust making for a wintery spiced delight. I thought I would be a little adventurous by pairing this dessert with a Barleywine from Quebec to see how these two interacted.
– This particular Barleywine from Quebec is a fairly boozy, with lots earthy dark fruit notes and it packs a double digit alcohol punch, so it needs something equally intense in flavour to stand up to it which is why mince tarts work so well. As these were paired, the fruit sweetness and star anise in the beer was exaggerated while the richness of the mincemeat fruit and the dark fruits managed to flourish on my palate. The Barleywine was significantly improved by the mince pie, adding complexity to its flavour profile and richening the fruit notes in the beer. These two complemented each other way better than I expected! Alternates include spiced Winter Ales or even a Winter Fruit Beer like a Cranberry Éphémère just be sure to look for something fairly intense on spices and fruit to complement these treats.
In closing, there is a plethora of treats and craft beers out there every Christmas season and it can be a little tricky find one’s that will go together nicely. Look for similar flavours and have some fun with it to make the Holiday’s more ‘beerful and cheerful’ at the same time!