When it comes to alcohol on Christmas Day most people stick with traditional choices of wine, champagne, spirits or liqueurs.
Beer tends to be ignored, seen as too heavy to go with Christmas lunch or simply not ‘special’ enough for the occasion.
But recently there has been a growing trend of having beer with food- and top restaurants are offering beer lists alongside their wine lists. Beer sommeliers are being trained by The Beer Academy.
Few of us have that sort of knowledge though, so if you’re looking for the right Christmas beer this holiday season where is the place to start?
Brian Francis, secretary of the Campaign for Real Ale’s Cardiff branch says that the first place to start is with your own tastes, and worry about other things later.
“There’s no end of choice in the British brewing industry at the moment,” he says.
“It’s really hard to say which is the ‘best’ because everyone has different tastes, I prefer something quite hoppy but others might want something sweeter and more malty.
“Either way it’s worth bearing in mind that some of the best beers for this time of year aren’t seasonal specials, but just ordinary beers that suit the season.”
Brian notes that traditional dark beers have their place at Christmas, but many people might find them too heavy to touch until the late evening. Brian recommends American IPAs as a possible answer for people who don’t like dark beers.
Plenty of seasonal beers are available in South Wales, with local breweries adding a wide selection.
One of the more traditional beers that will be on offer this year is Santa’s Little Belter from Kite Brewery. At 4.7% it’s reasonably strong ale but it’s not at all heavy. In fact it’s incredibly light and fruity and won’t weigh you down before turkey and stuffing later in the afternoon.
Dorothy Goodbody’s Christmas Cracker Ale from the Wye Valley Brewery is a much darker and heavier option, which, as Brian says, won’t suit everyone but is standard festive fare for many.
Ryan McCormack, head barman and mixologist at Belfast’s Metro Bar, recommends a light beer for Christmas lunch, and has his own suggestions on what suits best.
“I’d go for something like a pilsner. They’re refreshing so they won’t dull your appetite and get in the way of you enjoying your Christmas meal,” he says.
“You can plan your whole meal around the beer, start with something quite acidic and fruity, in the same way people often have cava before food.
“You could also have a pilsner with the main meal and something along the lines of a chocolate stout for dessert. I’d recommend Mollies Chocolate Stout from the Hilden Brewery.”
The choice of an acidic and fruity beer before the main meal is advice shared by Jonny Garrett from CraftBeerChannel, a YouTube channel dedicated to good beer and how to taste it, cook with it and brew it.
“Pilsners can also be a good option before food, because they’re light, refreshing and easy drinking,” he says.
“Another great option would be a flute of Deus Champagne beer.”
Jonny says that nailing the right beer to go with Christmas dinner is not an easy process, but it can be done if you can find something that compliments the food properly.
“It’s tricky because there are lots of flavours to think about but I would advise Saison,” he says.
“It’s perfect because it’s great at cutting through heavier stuff like roasties, brussels sprouts and the like.
“What you’re really aiming for is something with depth of flavour, but not too much body.”
Like Ryan he suggests a darker beer, rich beer to go with dessert, opting for something whiskey based.
“My choice to go with a Christmas pudding would be Mikeller Buffalo Black, or Innis & Gunn,” he says.
This all demonstrates that the growing popularity of beer as an accompaniment to good food is not just a fad- but is based on the fantastic range of beers out there, particularly from microbreweries.
For Jonny, it is no surprise beer is finally challenging wine.
“Beer has more tastes and notes, it’s from more ingredients and it has more variables,” he says.
“It’s also got more techniques involved in the brewing process. It’s always been this way, it’s just that people are finally realising it.”
For Christmas night he recommends Ola Dubh, which Harviestoun Brewery produce in three different varieties. Because it’s aged in single malt whiskey casks it takes on hints of the scotch he says it’s perfect beside the fire:
A follower of this blog on Facebook meanwhile suggests Inishmacsaint Brewery’s offerings, although they’re not available outside of County Fermanagh, so if you’re from Wales you probably won’t have much of a chance of getting your hands on them.
Another beer lover is opting for March of the Penguins from Williams Bros brewery in Alloa.
Whether it’s craft beers, seasonal beers, or more traditional choices to suit the winter beer offers a diverse range to suit a range of preferences.
All this means there’s no better time to get yourself some quality beers and plan your Christmas lunch around them.