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Beer Pairing for Family Holiday Dinners

Updated on September 8, 2012
Beer in a wineglass illustrates that just like wines, different beers go with different foods.
Beer in a wineglass illustrates that just like wines, different beers go with different foods. | Source

Beer Can be Paired with Foods Just Like Wines

There's no hard and fast rule that says family holiday dinners have to be accompanied by wine as the beverage of choice.

While traditionally most of us would assume that wine is the alcohol typically served at dinner parties or meal get togethers, beer is proving its weight in foam as an equal alternative.

Something to note is that many health experts claim that drinking beer is better for you than drinking wine as beer has some properties in it that wines do not.

While some may disagree on that subject and health preferences aside, there's no denying that beer can be as varied as wine. Especially with the astounding number of local breweries in any given town or city, the sky's the limit when it comes to different types of beer in both flavor and even alcohol content.

As with wine, different flavors or even the heaviness of a certain kind of beer have a lot to do with what you would serve it with. It's important to determine what foods go best with what beer so that the food is enhanced, not overpowered by the brew.

Once you know a little bit about the different types of beer there are and what they go best with, you can truly complement any dish you serve.

Another good selling point for beer over wine is that beer is always cheaper to serve than fine wines.

As in all situations involving serving alcohol, be sure to enjoy the libation but don't overindulge and don't over-serve your guests. Their lives and others' depend on moderation and knowing when to say when.

What's On The Menu?

Keep this rule in mind when it comes to beer and pairings: Heavy food, heavy beer. Light food, light beer. It all has to do with the taste and the cleansing of the palate.

Some ideas for great beer pairings with traditional holiday fare:

Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings

  • Pale ales or pilsners go great with most all appetizers, soups or salads
  • Amber ales or lagers go great with roasted turkey
  • For smoked poultry, switch to a hoppier brown ale, a porter or even a Scotch ale
  • With dessert, try a spiced ale, a winter ale or even a chocolate stout

Christmas glazed ham with yams and scalloped potatoes

  • White or spicy beers go well with fresh cheese platters or the pale ales or pilsners go with most other appetizers
  • Serve brown ales or more fruity beers for the dinner portion of the meal to complement the salty sweetness of the ham
  • Stouts and porters with nutty or chocolate flavors are great for pairing with dessert choices

Prime rib or steaks with salad and mashed potatoes with gravy

  • Veggie trays or fruit plates will go fabulously with light beers, pale ales, fruity beers and pilsners
  • For the main dish, try brown ales or porters
  • With an ice cream dessert, try a fruity beer or a sweet stout

Poached salmon fillets with rice pillaf

  • With a creamed soup, try a pilsner and with a fruit salad, try a fruity or a wheat beer
  • Wheat beers also go very well with almost any kind of fish but IPA, ESB and pale ales are also very popular with fish
  • For that chocolate cream pie, serve an oatmeal stout or a raspberry stout to accompany it

Nontraditional meal pairings

  • For a pizza or pasta dinners, serve amber ales or ESB's
  • Try a Japanese lager for a sushi or Asian dinner
  • Cajun or spicy Mexican dishes go well with Mexican lagers, Pilsners or Bocks
  • If you're firing up the BBQ, try amber ales, Bock or Rauchbier brews

Just like fine wines, beers come in all kinds of different varieties to satisfy every taste.
Just like fine wines, beers come in all kinds of different varieties to satisfy every taste. | Source

What Beers Go with What Food

The best way to determine what beers go best with what foods is to start trying different beers with your meals. Once you develop a taste for different kinds of beers and sample them with different kinds of foods, you develop a knack for selecting the "right" beer which simply stated is just the one that tastes best to you.

Just as with wine, it takes a bit of time getting used to different textures and flavors of beer but each type of beer has its own unique weight and flavor. But even that said, the taste and texture will vary dramatically from brewery to brewery; you just have to sample some to get a feel for which you prefer.

This author recently tried something that sounded totally off the wall. It was a peaches and cream ale that came out of a local Bend, Oregon brewery. It was a hot evening and I was sharing a salad and some bread with my family at a local restaurant.

At first I frowned at the tap beer called Peaches and Cream but decided to give it a try. It was so light and refreshing I think I just found a new warm day beer. It definitely pays to try new things once in a while. Especially with the overabundance of great breweries located in Central Oregon, this author is fortunate to be able to try many.

Remember that just like with wine these days--there are no set-in-stone rules about what you can pair something with. If it pleases you, it tastes good and it enhances the food you're eating, it's the right beer for the dish.


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