As Jane Austen never wrote but should have done ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a devotee of malt and hops would prefer a selection box of beer for Christmas above any other gift.’ Jane Austen knew how to brew ale – as most women of her class in that era did.
If Santa is reading, I have been really good this year and spent much time in the pub supporting the brewing industry. My wish-list in that selection box includes beers for matching with each dish in Christmas dinner, barrel aged ales, and high ABV sippers all special enough to drink in the season of feasting. These are the beers that will light up my Christmas tree this year.
Christmas Dinner Beers
Sourness stimulates the appetite and starts the digestive system. A sour beer served in a flute as an aperitif will do the trick. My choice is Volta by North Brewing Company (4.1 ABV). It is a tart and zingy blood orange and rhubarb kettle soured ale with a bracing acidity that hits the salivary glands and wakes up the senses. This would also be a superb palate cleanser between courses – like a beery sorbet.
Smoked salmon. I am partial to a smoked beer. In Germany that style is known as rauchbier (in German the word for smoke is rauch). They are brewed using barley that has been malted through the smoke of beechwood. Smoked beers are rather niche at present but they deserve more appreciation not least because they are versatile with a range of foods both savoury and sweet. One of my favourites is Smog Rocket by Beavertown (5,4% ABV). This is a porter with fulsome dark fruit, chocolate, umami flavour and an astringent finish. The drying character cuts through the salmon’s oily texture and the smokiness of the beer complements the cured nature of the fish.
Goose. A dark meat with intense flavour does not need the beer equivalent of a shrinking violet. I recommend A over T by Hogs Back Brewery (9% ABV). This hefty barley wine with full on malt and dried fruit flavours has won multiple awards including Supreme Champion Winter Ale from Campaign for Real Ale. It will also add a juicy note to vegetarian Nut Roast.
Mince pies and Stilton cheese. Dark stouts are scrumptious with fruity desserts and the funky saltiness of Stilton. Jambo by Wild Beer Company (8.5%) is an Imperial stout brewed with cocoa nibs and raspberries. Chocolate and fruit and so smooth it’s like swallowing velvet.
This has been a stellar year for barrel aged beers. My top choice is Sheltered Spirit by Siren Craft Brew (14% ABV). Imperial porter aged in Bourbon barrels with tamarind. Flavour, flavour and more flavour of toffee, chocolate, vanilla, dark fruit and marmalade. Smooth and full bodied and winter warming. It’s mandatory to sip this by an open fire.
– Jane Peyton
Jane Peyton is a beer sommelier, writer, founder of the School of Booze and is currently Imbibe magazine’s Drinks Educator of the Year.