From roast beast and stuffing to rum cake and pecan pie, a common thread through much of your typical holiday fare lies in how it gets cooked, and it’s the carmelization of sugars and the browning of all that baked and roasted goodness that makes beer such a perfect seasonal pairing companion. Drilling down to the specifics, the caramel, butterscotch, and roasty notes common in beers brewed with darker roasted malts can really complement everything from those big ticket dinner staples to holiday baking, chocolate, and (if I’m hosting) the endless cheese and charcuterie configurations on offer. For me, bigger, bolder, darker beers are pretty clutch when I’m planning my holiday menu (think dunkels, dubbels and imperial stouts). Saisons are also a mainstay. So here for your menu planning and seasonal drinking consideration are my picks for Scout’s 12 beers of Christmas.
Operis Brett Saison – Four Winds Brewing Company | This beer is epic, and along with a number of other releases from the Zephyrus Series and the Eurus Series, really helped establish Four Winds’ reputation as one of Canada’s top breweries. Aged in Okanagan red wine barrels with Brettanomyces, Operis displays an invitingly mild tartness balanced by some really nice earthy, straw notes from the Brett, and some hints of oak. While the prominence of Brett can make pairing Operis a little challenging with much of your holiday fare, I absolutely love this beer with earthy, strong cheeses – so this would be a perfect choice for cheese and charcuterie plates (a bottle of Operis paired with a substantive block of cave-aged gruyere and Coltrane’s ‘Live at The Village Vanguard’ may be the ultimate desert island pairing for me, and is pretty much my idea of heaven).
Anno 2016 – Dageraad Brewing | One of my favourite local holiday releases, this strong golden ale, brewed with Indian coriander and Keremeos pears, was a real hit with many a guest to casa Mendes last Christmas. A subltle blend of spices and the prominence of tree-ripened pears make Anno 2016 a great companion for rich, creamy cheeses (triple cream brie is fantastic), homemade pear almond tarts or even a plum gallette. Coming in at 8.5% ABV, this is also a great winter warmer, and serving a snifter as your guests first arrive for the holiday feast is a great way to welcome them in from the cold and spread some holiday cheer.
Hermannator Ice Bock – Vancouver Island Brewery | First brewed in 1987 by one of VIB’s first brewmasters, legendary Teutonic ex-pat Hermann Hoerterer, this Eisbock has grown to become a real B.C. holiday staple. With a fantastically warming alcohol strength (9.5% ABV), a creamy, supple mouth feel is complimented by prominent chocolate and caramel notes. Chocolate pecan pie or dark chocolate are effortless companions (a Beta5 ‘Lump of Coal’ or anything from their ‘Christmas In Paris’ collection works well), as are many of the key constituents of your classic holiday meal (roast turkey, stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes). Plus, as an added bonus, Hermannator ages gracefully, so if you can manage to set a few bottles aside, you won’t be disappointed when you dust one off from your cellar in a year or two.
Dark Lager – Steel & Oak Brewing Co. | Steel & Oak can’t do much wrong in my mind, and this Munich Dunkel is a great example of their uncompromising approach to making exceptional, honest expressions of old and new world styles. A winner of multiple gold medals at the BC Beer Awards, S & O’s Dark Lager expresses fantastic chocolate, caramel and toasty, nutty notes from a prominent malt base to make it a perfect companion for a holiday meal. Glazed ham and roast turkey pair really well, as do the caramelized, smoky flavours of balsamic glazed brussel spouts and pan seared kale. Another S & O flagship beer, the Red Pilsner, is one of my absolute favourite local beers, and would be a great pick for anyone wary of the darker offerings and bigger flavours on this list who still wants to enjoy a fantastic beer that pairs really well with a holiday meal.
Rye Stout – Doan’s Craft Brewing Company | The Doan brothers truly embody the adage that you should do a few things in life and do them really, really well. You won’t find a constantly rotating spate of 20 beers on tap at Evan and Mike Doan’s cozy Powell Street tasting room, but what you will find on most days are their solid and delicious Altbier, Kolsh and Rye Stout. I’ve often said that two young fellas as nice and down to earth as Mike and Evan Doan have no business making such consistently incredible beer. Their Rye Stout, which is essential drinking on cold, wet Vancouver nights, is a great example. A gold medal winner at the 2015 BC Beer Awards, it perfectly balances the spicy, roasted character of rye with notes of bittersweet chocolate, earthy coffee and hints of vanilla and toffee. I love this beer with everything from Chinese barbeque and dumplings to tiramisu and salted caramel tarts, and like S & O’s Dark Lager, it will pair effortlessly with roast beast and the smoky flavours of roasted or charred veg. Anything containing chocolate or coffee is also a sure bet.
Thor’s Hammer Barley Wine – Central City Brewers + Distillers | Rich and compelling, and with a warming effect perfect for those cold December nights, Thor’s Hammer has picked up multiple gold medals over the years, and graces the inventory of many a discerning local beer cellar. With prominent notes of caramel, dried fruit, and plum (and an ABV of 11.5% that invites comparisons to digestifs like sherry and tawny port), Thor’s Hammer pairs equally well with engaging conversations by the fire, a slice of dark chocolate torte, or a cheese and charcuterie plate (Roquefort is an absolute must, and mild sopresetta ain’t too shabby either).
Singularity – Driftwood Brewery | Ok, ok, I can already guess what you’re thinking. Driftwood’s legendary, limited-release Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout typically sells out within days of its yearly January or February release, so getting your hands on a bottle this holiday season may prove mighty challenging, to say the least. The thing is, this beer ages exceptionally well, and is probably one of the most well-represented beers in the cellars of local aficionados, so if you happen to have at least one lumbersexual in your life who knows the difference between De Molen and De Garde, you might be able to get your hands on a snifter of Singularity this Christmas. If you do, you’ll encounter an absolutely massive beer with some pretty big flavours of chocolate, dried fruit, coffee, molasses and vanilla, along with a warming boozy intensity, and woody, bourbon notes from all those months in the barrel. Stilton, gorgonzola and camembert are all really complimented by imperial stouts, as are chocolate tortes and tiramisu, so your pre and post meal options are covered. And if your efforts to find a bottle of Singularity end up proving fruitless, Bomber’s Russian Imperial Stout is available at a number of bottle shops around town and is a solid alternative in its own right.
Sovereign Super Saison – Four Winds Brewing | The fact that two different saisons by the same brewery made the list tells you a little something about both the importance of this style in my holiday menu plans and the affinity I have for Brent Mills’ handiwork. While the Brett really shines in Operis, Sovereign Super Saison is far more nuanced, displaying a fantastically subtle fruity tartness, balanced with hints of citrus, elderflower, wheat and black pepper. The dry finish and effervescence really help cut through the richness of a heavy holiday meal (which can be pretty key around my table where I manage to fit a whole, juicy roast duck from Keefer’s Money Foods into my stuffing), and makes this beer a real staple on my holiday dinner table. Driftwood’s Farmhand Saison is another sure bet.
Old Boy Brown Ale – Parallel 49 Brewing | It’s pretty easy to see why brown ales are a classic seasonal pairing staple, recommended by many a cicerone as a no-brainer. With notes of caramel, chocolate and toffee, a lighter body than most of the offerings on this list, and a hint of earthy hop bitterness, brown ales work really well with all those caramelized flavours in your bird, stuffing and gravy. One of P49’s original four core offerings, recently re-introduced after some time out of circulation, Old Boy should be available in the tasting room and in bottle shops around town. Failing that, the Frank’s Brown Ale from Strange Fellows or the Hardy Brown Ale from Moody Ales would also serve you really well.
Wee Heavy – Persephone Brewing Company | If you haven’t already made the trip out to Persephone’s incredible 11 acre farm-to- table and farm-to-barrel operation in Gibsons you really should. A summer afternoon in the shade of their gorgeous red barn tasting room with a house made wood-oven pizza and a pint of their award winning pale ale is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. Persephone’s Wee Heavy, bursting with sweet, malty notes of caramel and toffee, exhibits some nice hints of dried fruit and an earthy, woodiness that make it a perfect companion for many of your pre and post meal options. Pecan pie, sticky toffee pudding and even banoffee pie are really complimented by this Scottish ale, as are funky, rich cheeses (a creamy cambazola would do the trick pretty nicely, thank you very much).
Strange Fellows Brewing – Krampus Belgian Dubbel | What better way to celebrate the warmth of the holiday season than by indulging in a gorgeous Belgian Dubbel named after a child-stealing Christmas daemon? Displaying some lovely, prominent notes of dark cherry, chocolate, dried fruit and toffee, Krampus’ warming boozy finish makes it a solid companion on cold winter nights. Emmental and gruyere complement Krampus pretty nicely, as does homemade gingerbread and Xoxolat’s fantastic ‘Deep Milk Chocolate’. Forget the rosy cheeks and the little round belly of everyone’s favourite jolly old Christmas elf, when it comes to locally crafted trappist-style ales, his devilish sidekick is definately where it’s at.
One Trick Pony – Brassneck Brewery | How does one even begin to talk about a beer so legendary that in the two years since its initial release it was recognized as BC’s best beer and spawned its own hashtag (#ridethepony) thanks to its propensity for inspiring Baudelarean thought journeys so fantastical that they wouldn’t seem out of place emanating from the scratches and pops of your much loved copy of Blonde on Blonde? Well, firstly by saying that this 9% ABV explosion of mango, melon, and pineapple balanced in perfect harmony with a biscuitty malt base and subtle resiny, citrus notes is ridiculously delicious, and is so easy-drinking that it could lead you down the rabbit hole into Visions of Johanna territory before you know it. Or by noting that it pairs exceptionally well with prosciutto and sharp, aged cheddar, so your cheese and charcuterie plates will be in good company this holiday season. And if you don’t happen to have an unopened growler in the fridge, or the beer gods don’t manage to smile on us between now and Christmas with an offering of One Trick Pony, then don’t despair – I’d highly recommend grabbing a few cans of How ‘Bout That?, the recently released 11% Triple IPA collab by Twin Sails and P49 instead. In fact, you should probably just grab a four pack or two of How ’bout That? either way. It’s a fantastic beer, and although a little sweeter than One Trick Pony, would still work well with salted cured hams and strong, aged cheddars.
If your top choice didn’t make the list, share your picks in the comments section below.