Christmas may be only one day, but they don’t call it the holiday “season” for nothing; it’s a time of year when entertaining stretches into several weeks of merriment and runs the gamut from having neighbours over for impromptu drinks to hosting a sit-down dinner for a dozen relatives.
When the guests are varied and the entertaining transitions from casual to formal, it helps to have a range of beers to suit all kinds of palates and all kinds of occasions.
Lagers and pale ales are good, approachable styles to have in enough quantity for a crowd, and there are many local craft options that will appeal to beer geeks and macro drinkers alike. My latest go-to lager is Apex Predator Pilsner from Edson. Pilsners are more bitter than standard golden lagers, but they still have balance when they’re done well. Apex Predator has mildly spicy hops, soft bready malt and a slightly sweet finish. For pale ales, the trend lately has been toward hoppier, American-influenced offerings, but Multiverse Pale Ale from Zero Issue Brewing in Calgary is a more balanced affair – biscuit malt and hops that are citrusy and fruity, almost like marmalade, rather than assertively bitter.
Choosing between beer and wine never has to be an either/or proposition; while wine is the overwhelmingly traditional choice for accompanying Christmas dinner, that doesn’t mean beer can’t have a place at the table. Belgian style strong golden ales are my choice for pairing with turkey. My favourite (and it’s a recommendation I make every year) is Avec les Bons Voeux from Belgium’s Brasserie Dupont, which is effervescent and dry with bright orange and lemon traits. Like wine, you can opt for something sweeter if you prefer: La Fin du Monde from Unibroue in Quebec is bursting with peach and apricot, but finishes with honey sweetness. Another Belgian, La Chouffe blonde, sits somewhere in the middle of the other two.
Winter is a good time for darker beers and, if you’re worried about eating or drinking too much over the holidays, remember they’re not necessarily heavier or higher in alcohol because they’re dark. In fact, Abbey Lane from Ribstone Creek is an English mild ale that clocks in at just 3.6 per cent alcohol, yet packs all kinds of flavour: Toffee, nuts and semi-sweet chocolate. Coalbanks Porter from Coulee Brewing is a more conventional 5.3 per cent, but the flavour stays on the mild side with dark chocolate that’s leavened by some sweetened coffee notes. Both beers are nice sippers by the fire on their own, or would pair nicely with a decadent chocolate dessert.
Lastly, even though I’m a diehard craft beer fan, I firmly believe the first rule of being a good host is giving guests what they want. So if Uncle Buck likes his Old Style Pilsner and won’t drink anything else, make sure there’s some Vitamin P in the fridge for the guy. It’s Christmas, after all.