With the time nigh for holiday feasts and beers to go with them, we look for ideas for beers to pair, or just to enjoy on a cold winter. So let's dive into some suggestions.
I got an chance to swap emails with Anthony Norkus, brand manager for local distributor Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. Disclosure: Glunz PR pitched the idea to me, and sent along some of the Christmas beers I've been discussing (until my cold made it hard to taste things this weekend). The occasion was the release of their Holiday Catalog, a guide for retailers with a curated selection of seasonal beers: local crafts, imports, big bottles for sharing, and, of course, gift boxes. Sorry, no prices, these only have bar codes for stores to scan when ordering.
In the meantime, Norkus answered some of my questions:
Q: What do you look for in holiday beers?
Personally, a rich darker beer with some spice but a good balance with the malt character of the beer.
Q: I automatically assume “holiday” means Christmas, but are customers looking for beer matches for Hanukkah as well, or other types of celebrations?
Absolutely we actually have a Hanukkah beer from Shmaltz Brewing Co. We also were carrying some beers from Israel that were Kosher and consumers would ask specifically for anything Kosher. Then there is New Year’s Eve. We carry a beer from Unibroue called La Resolution specifically geared toward that holiday. We have also seen consumers looking for champagne like beers such as Lindemans Cuvée René or Framboise to mix with Champagne.
Q: In Chicago especially, we equate holidays with heavy imperial stouts. But that seems like too much for anything but dessert, or for sitting and sipping. What about during meals?
Well that generally depends on the cuisine, but I am a firm believer that if you bring a Belgian Dubbel and Triple to a party, these beers are so versatile that you should have all your bases covered.
Q: Can you “surprise me” with an unusual food and beer pairing?
I don’t know if it is a surprise but I’ll be serving ham for Christmas dinner, and a great traditional German Hefeweizen is the perfect match for salty pork.
Q: For people coming to visit for just a few hours before driving home, or for party guests, what are lighter beer suggestions. Preferably local, of course.
Q: For New Year’s Eve, what do you recommend that comes in a caged, corked bottle to pop like champagne at midnight?
Hanssens Gueuze, Kreik or Oudbeit, Saison d’Erpe Mere, and the beers that I mentioned previously. If you want to go more wine like Uncle John’s Melded, Baldwin or Russet. These last 3 are ciders but more wine like than your usual cider.
Q: Despite our love/hate relationship with pumpkin pie or spiced beer, spiced beers have been a holiday tradition. Will customers still look for a pumpkin on the label in December, or are there some spiced alternatives?
I'm thinking of Anchor Our Special as the standard, but the Goose Island Christmas is back this year, and are there others of note. Pumpkins are pretty much dead by December 1st. I see consumers definable reaching for the Christmas spiced beers such as Anchor’s Special Ale—this year's is the best they have put out in a long time, local favs Begyle Christmas or Baderbräu Christmas Bliss—brand new this year and fast becoming one of our company's favorites. I also see strength in the imports such as Delirium Noël and St. Bernardus Christmas Ale.