Holiday Pairing Suggestions

Greetings friends, and a happy start to your holidays!

This is one of my favorite holidays of the year, taking time out of our increasingly chaotic lives to celebrate with friends, family, good food, and great beer.

This holiday season also makes for a wonderful opportunity to introduce beer to your dinner table. Perhaps you are already doing this, and by now you’ve already found the perfect pairings for your traditional family recipes, you’ve mastered the beer brine, and maybe you’re even cooking with beer. If so, good for you! Send us your recipes; we’d love to try them.

Right now I’m talking those of you who might be pairing beer with your feast for the very first time, maybe starting a new tradition and introducing your family to all of beers wonderful complexity, and just how well it pairs with the mother of all meals.

Here are a couple key things to remember when sharing beer with your loved ones this holiday season.

First of all, ease into it. It’s true, that barrel-aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale or that Saison that’s been tucked away and resting on Brett for a few years may just be the perfect pairing for a certain side dish. However, if your sole purpose is to introduce a new flavor experience to your family, and show them just how food-friendly beer can be, then you must keep in mind that their palates might not be as advanced as yours. By introducing them to an aggressively hopped beer, or a sour beer right out of the gate, you may not be giving them the best first impression.

A couple things you can do. First, create a beer tasting station. Take a few moments and put some thought into your list of beers for the day. You may wish to start out with some lighter beers (pilsners, wits, saisons). These beers pair great with your first courses (cheeses, pickled plates, and appetizers).

Then bring out your larger format bottles for dinner (22oz, 750ml, growlers) and place them in ice buckets or even a decorated ice bin if you have one. These formats seem to be a bit more celebratory and will be inviting to your guests.

While choosing the right glass for your beer is important, for larger feasts I tend to let this rule slide… there is already a room full of plates, punch bowls, and food out there. Try not to over-complicate it by adding 4 different styles of glassware.

If you don’t have specific beer glasses, don’t fret! Use a nice red wine glass. Not only does the beer taste great in them (wide open mouth) but it’s less intimidating for the “non-beer drinkers” in your family, and might encourage them to sample and think about beer in a new light.

Another thing you can do is set up a flight for your family.

Most of you have beer festival glasses you’ve accumulated over the years, otherwise seek out a restaurant supply or party store for these. Set up 3 tasting glasses (roughly 4oz), and add them to each place setting. This will allow your guests to try a few different beers with their meal, and find their own favorite pairing. They won’t always be homeruns, but if you follow the basic rules of pairing, there should be plenty eye opening moments.

Here are a few beer styles that I’d like to propose for this years feast:

Amber / Red: Fulton Libertine, Northbound’s Wild Rice Amber, Alaskan Amber

Bière de Garde: Summit Brewing Co.’s Unchained #14 Bière De Garde, Two Brothers Domaine DuPage, otherwise traditional French styles Jenlain or Castelain.

Brown Ales: Mankato Brewery’s Leaf Raker, Sierra Nevada Tumbler, Brooklyn Brown

Belgian Strong Pale Ale: August Schell’s 2013 Snowstorm, Olvalde Auroch’s Horn

Saisons/Tripel: St. Feuillien Saison, Saison du Pont, Chimay White, Triple Karmeliet

Pumpkin Ale: Indeed’s Sweet Yamma Jamma, Lakefront’s Imperial Pumpkin Lager

Barleywine/Quad: Lift Bridge Commander, Goose Island BCBS Barleywine, Ommegang Three Philosophers, St. Bernardus 12, and La Trappe Quad.

One beer that I am really incredibly excited about pairing with this year, which is hard to lump into any one of these categories, is the newly imported “Seef Bier”. This unique ale has one of the most interesting yeast strains that I have ever tasted. Fruity, earthy, and spicy, perhaps a touch of brettanomyces, and I can’t wait to pair with it this year.

You’ve got lots of cooking and prep work to do, so I will briefly cover the basic rules of pairing, but if you want more detailed info, I encourage you to check out Randy Mosher’s book “Tasting Beer” or Garrett Oliver’s “The Brewmasters Table”.

The first method is comparing like-flavors that complement one another, finding those common flavors in both the beer and the food that just seem to meld into one another. For example, a pumpkin or harvest ale such as Indeed’s “Sweet Yamma Jamma” paired with pumpkin pie, or a Belgian-style Dubbel from Boom Island or Harriet to compliment those raisin or fig dishes. If you can’t tell whether you taste the beer or the food, then you know you have done your job well.

Another method is finding beers that cut and contrast with the flavors in your dish, bringing a nice balance to one another. Sweet, or fatty-rich foods paired with hoppy, bitter beers can play well with each other.

One staple in my household is mashed potatoes with an India Pale Ale. The citrus adds a really nice flavor, and the bitterness cuts right through the richness of the butter, and you’re left with creamy, hoppy, citrusy, wonderful mashed potatoes. Also, a sweet, malt-forward beer paired with any spicy dishes you may be making; perhaps you’re serving up spicy pork tamales or a Spanish style rice dish with peppers? Rather than accentuating that heat, counter it with some nice toasted caramel malts from a brown ale, such as Mankato Brewery’s “Leaf Raker”, or Summit’s new Unchained “Bière de Garde”, both excellent additions.

The trick here is to not overpower each other, share the intensity, and find that right balance.

For sake of this feast, let’s focus on pairing beers with similar flavors that will compliment your meal. While I absolutely love the magic that happens when you pair something bitter with something sweet and it just works…those require a little more effort and I think you’ll have a much better success rate with your family if we opt to go with beers that have commonalities with the food.

With any pairing, whether it be contrasting or complementing flavors, there are two things we must do.

First, we need to consider both the food ingredients, as well as the preparation of the dish. If our dish is roasted or grilled, we’re going to have some nice caramelization taking place, and perhaps we should think about a beer using a lot of toasted and roasted malts, like an American Brown Ale or an American Amber.

However, these can be delicate beers and often overpowered by the ingredients (spices, sauces, glazes, etc…). A plain hamburger is going to call for a different beer than one using a nice stinky blue cheese with jalapenos.

In the case of our turkey, which doesn’t have a lot of flavor by itself, we’re going to need to rely on our spices for pairing, so think about what type of turkey you will make and pair accordingly. (i.e. – cajun rub, beer brine, traditional – sage, rosemary, thyme)

Side note – I am traveling this year so I won’t be cooking the bird, but I am begging somebody to please brine their turkey using Indeed Brewing Co.’s newly released “Sagecoach” (Belgian Strong Ale) and report back.

Lastly, be sure to match strength with strength. Lower alcohol beers with delicate dishes, for example. Alcohol can either add to the meal, or can be very distracting and ruin a pairing. Most of this is common sense, but does require some practice, and a little trial and error.

Here are two recipes for this year’s feast, which may break tradition, but also may very well become new standards at your table.

Cranberry Wit Sauce:


1 Tangerine
1 Orange (Navel)
2 Cups – your favorite Witbier (I used Ommegang Witte)
½ Cup Belgian Rock Candy Sugar (Light)
1 TSP Coriander (whole coriander, and crush with bottom of pan or muddler)
½ Cup Honey
1 Pinch of salt
12 ounces of Cranberries, fresh (1 bag)

Zest both the orange and tangerine, and set zest aside for later. Giving a good squeeze, add the sliced citrus (careful of tangerine seeds), the Wit, the Belgian Rock Candy, the crushed coriander, and a pinch of salt to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Roughly 4-5 mins. Remove the fruit and now add your honey, your cranberries, and the zest. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer until all cranberries have popped and the sauce has thickened. 20-30 mins. Serve immediately, or chill until ready to be served.

CranberryCranberry Wit Sauce

Imperial Pumpkin Pie:

Inspired from Paxton’s recipe, I decided to deviate a little and add the Indian spice “Garam Masala” to add an additional spice character, and it compliments it beautifully.

(Filling ingredients)

1 TSP Garam Masala (ground)
1 TSP Cinnamon (ground)
1 TSP Ginger (ground)
½ TSP Nutmeg (freshly ground)
¼ TSP Clove (ground)
½ TSP Kosher Salt
1 TBSP Cornstarch
½ Cup Brown Sugar
¼ Cup Sugar
3 Large Eggs
6 oz Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin, Southern Tier Pumpking)
½ Cup Sour Cream
2 Cups Pumpkin Puree

In a large bowl, measure out the dry ingredients (nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, garam masala, clove, salt, cornstarch, brown sugar, and white sugar) Use a whisk to blend together well, then add in the cracked eggs. Beat until frothy and all ingredients are mixed well.

Once complete, add in your pumpkin puree, sour cream and Imperial Pumpkin beer of your choice, and then blend ingredients until smooth.

Pour the filling into your piecrust and place in preheated 325° F oven for an hour. Allow pie to cool for 2 hours to properly set.


It’s no secret that lot of my inspiration for cooking with beer (including these recipes) comes from my good friend, Sean Paxton aka “The Homebrew Chef”. If you are not already familiar, I encourage you to check him out ( He is bringing similar worlds together; chefs, foodies, and restaurateurs influencing homebrewers, pro-brewers, and the craft beer community, and vice versa.


We’re all speaking the same language, that of flavor. We’re like-minded; we share similar philosophies in wanting to know where our food/beer comes from, we vote with our hearts and our dollars, and I think that’s pretty special.

I love where I live. The culinary and craft beer scene is alive and well in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, and that alone is reason for me to give thanks.
Cheers to your health, and happy holidays!