Chances are most people have already engaged in an evening or two of holiday drinking, but trying to plan beers to go with a Christmas dinner is an entirely different situation. Not only do you have to keep in mind the preferences of your guests and the food being served, but also the fact that you’re sitting down for a nice meal and don’t just want to put any old six-pack on the table. The options in Ontario are limited, but here are some beers that will match the occasion.
Christmas Dinner: Wine was the staple of Christmas dinner for years with my family, but that tradition has slowly been tossed aside (last year, if I recall correctly, there was beer, wine and some whiskey in front of me as I sat down for dinner). Orval is the best choice for the traditional holiday turkey. The complex yeast flavours of the beer will enhance the seasonings in the meal and you don’t have to worry about the beer being overpowering. The bottle also looks quite unique and will draw attention to this strange beer you’re drinking.
Dessert is a tougher call as it depends on what you’re serving. The tradition in my family is English pudding with custard. We also flambé the pudding with rum, adding brown sugar and caramelized fruit notes at the same time. An intense beer is needed when you’re dealing with such strong flavours, so the Great Lakes Winter Ale would be my recommendation. The heavy spices and sweet malts in the beer with interact nicely with similar desserts. If you’re serving choco-holics, try the Muskoka Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout. This is a smooth, creamy beer perfect for dessert with an intense cocoa beginning that finishes with a tart cranberry. Serve fairly small glasses because the beer is so rich and your guests will probably be half-asleep already. For those who usually finish a meal with a spirit, have them try the Mill Street Barley Wine. The flavours are comparable to some whiskeys, plus the ceramic bottle will look great on the table.
Brunch: A really big brunch is a necessity for the holidays. Croissants, bacon, smoked salmon, waffles – bring it all on. The occasional mimosa appeared during our brunches, because it is okay to drink before 11am when you add orange juice to said drink. Beer lovers can easily make their own version of the mimosa, but using a Belgian wheat beer instead of champagne. The Mill Street Belgian Wit and Unibroue Blanche de Chambly are widely available throughout the province and will provide a nice start to your morning.
New Year’s Eve: This is a tough call as my preferred beer style for New Year’s Eve, the champagne-like gueuze, is not available from the LCBO. But if your objective for NYE is to splurge on a rare beer then buy a bottle of the Harviestoun Ola Dubh 40. The Ola Dubh line is aged in Scotch casks and the 40 is the priciest of the lot ($18.95 for a 330mL bottle). Savour this unique beer as you get ready for lots of great drinking in 2011.
And Now For Something Festive: The Black Oak Nutcracker Porter isn’t widely available, but is one of my favourite Ontario beers and has a holiday appropriate name. The Nutcracker is a smooth porter with a lot of roasted flavours, plus some cinnamon for depth. The only problem is that it is only available from the Black Oak brewery in Etobicoke. Their retail hours are usually 10am-4pm, but call and double-check before heading over.