A Holiday Beer Pairing Guide – Beer for Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner

Beer fans looking for a perfect beer for Thanksgiving or Christmas need look no further! We spoke with Beer Manager Phil Miley, who maintains the largest draft beer list in Chicago at Howells & Hood, for his expert recommendations on holiday beer pairings. He chose some wonderful craft beers to go with these popular dinner dishes:

Welcome Beer

Beer for Thanksgiving - A Holiday Beer Pairing Guide - deus 3
“The first beer of the day is a very important choice – nothing too heavy that will ruin your palate for the flavors to follow. I’m a huge fan of Brouwerij Bosteels DeuS. I think it’s a little decadent, but depending on how hip your family is or who you are sharing it with, it can work as an excellent alternative to sparkling wine. It also works very well for celebrating a special moment with beer. The DeuS is refreshing as an aperitif because it goes through a special process known as ‘méthode champenoise’ – a third fermentation of the beer in the bottle itself – which is mainly used to produce sparkling wines. At heart it is a Belgian strong ale (similar to Golden Monkey or Duvel) but it is bubbly and has that wonderful sparkling champagne mouthfeel. I’ve brought it to a couple of parties in the past as it is such a cool beer for Thanksgiving and Christmas time and a great one to start the day with.”

Cheese Beer Pairing

cheese and beer pairing
“The DeuS would also work here – a light, sparkling beer often works well, as long as it is not paired with too heavy a cheese. With fresh cheeses like goat cheese, mozzarella, the softer, younger cheeses… any kind of pilsner or hefeweizen, very clean beers that work well, or even a Belgian witbier, which I personally like because of the fruity notes and the characters they lend.

For wash-rind cheeses, or aged stinky cheeses, Belgian saisons or American farmhouse ales pair great here. Anything that has brettanomyces yeast has that kind of sour, funky, barnyard flavor. Saisons have a little more of that but can also offer citrus and peppery notes. Their effervescent nature also help keep the palate fresh. Belgian dark strong ales can work as a complementary flavor too – they offer up dark candy sugars, and dark fruits like figs – they pair very well with stinky cheeses, just like you sometimes see fruit, jams, chutneys and condiments paired with cheese in the same flavor neighborhood.

Aged hard cheeses I love – we have an 8-year-aged cheddar here at Howells, and I recommend the English or American IPAs to give you that dry flavor and mouthfeel. The citrus and the hops help pop through the saltiness and crystalline nature of the harder cheeses.”

Turkey Beer Pairing

Craft Beer for Christmas Dinner - A Holiday Beer Pairing Guide - turkey
“Everything I’ve tried and discovered, and read from other Cicerones, is that roasted poultry pairs very well with Märzen style lagers. I think that tends to come from the time that it spends in barrels, taking on that oak character. Great Divide’s Hoss has that super Märzen malt, with a little bit of tart cherry and dark fruits, and it is also made with rye, so that rye comes through and gives it a little bit of spiciness and a little bit of earthiness. I think that is a great partnership with the crispy, roasted flavor of turkey and my favorite, the dark meat of the bird. But also it works very well with the stuffing and cranberry sauce and all the great Christmas accompaniments.”

Glazed Ham Beer Pairing

Craft Beer for Christmas Dinner - A Holiday Beer Pairing Guide - glazed-ham
“Another traditional Christmas protein, and for this I thought of BraufactuM Brewery in Germany – they make a rauchweizen called Roog, which is their smoked hefeweizen beer. It has all of the same fun characteristics of a classic hefeweizen; that banana, that clove, and that creamy mouthfeel from the wheat and the hefe yeast… and then it is infused with a kind of smoked ham flavor. You also get a citrus note brought out, which always works well with ham, along with the smokiness from the smoked wheat.”

Nut Roast Beer Pairing

Craft Beer for Christmas Dinner - A Holiday Beer Pairing Guide - nut roast
“A nut roast is a popular vegetarian holiday dish, a kind of ‘meatless meat-loaf’ if you will, and with all the nuts and grains that go into that, I was looking at something that has a high malt character to go with that grainy, bread flavor that you get out of the roasted savory ingredients here. So I would suggest Tyranena Brewing’s Rocky’s Revenge from Wisconsin. It is a bourbon barrel-aged American Brown Ale. They take part of their brown ale and age it in bourbon barrels to give a great balance to the bready, nutty loaf with a bit of malty sweet, and a bit of bourbon-barrel heat, and some caramel flavors in there too. There’s also a nice hop-bitterness at the end there that will play along very well.”

Christmas Pudding Beer Pairing

Craft Beer for Christmas Dinner - A Holiday Beer Pairing Guide - christmas pudding
“For English folk such as our very own Mr Jarvis, Christmas pudding plays a large part in the festivities. It is a kind of dense fruit cake, with raisins, sultanas, currants, and citrus zest. For this, I thought about English Barleywine – if you are going to have English dessert, have an English dessert beer along with it. We recently had the 2014 Bourbon County Barleywine from Goose Island, which would go with that very well. The barrel aging of the barley wine adds another level to the malty sweetness; it adds that barrel oak, charcoal, tobacco and vanilla… a lot of heavy flavors to work with the sweetness and give balance to the pudding.”

Alternative Party Beers

“Something else you can do in the winter could be serving warm Lambic like you would an apple cider… steep it in the bottle to bring it up to temperature and serve in mugs… you can do all sorts of fun things. Get creative with beer!”

Want to learn more about beer and food pairings? Come chat with Phil and tuck into some great food and drink at a forthcoming beer dinner at Howells & Hood.


by .