Depending on your family, when Christmastime rolls around and you’re all gathered around the table, you may be kicking back with drinks for celebration (or medication). Either way, those drinks should be good ones. Some people choose wine, others opt for whiskey, but we also know a lot of you are partial to beer. So we went to a certified cicerone (essentially, a sommelier for beer) to get some pointers on how to find the right one to drink depending on what’s being served at your holiday feast.
Julian Kurland is the beer director at the L.A. outpost of The Cannibal Beer and Butcher. There he’s curated a list of more than 450 brews from around the world to accompany the restaurant’s meat-centric menu. So from turkey to prime rib, here are the beers Kurland suggests to pair with your Christmas dinner.
TURKEY+AMERICAN BROWN ALE
Avery Brewing Ellie’s Brown Ale
Not content to have a big turkey dinner once a year, a lot of people just run the Thanksgiving playbook back on Christmas. Break out the big bird, stuffing, taters, gravy and Kurland says, an American brown ale, specifically one that’s a little lighter on the alcohol content. “Ellie’s Brown Ale is perfect, because there’s a good amount of roastiness that complements the cooking and browning that happens from the Maillard reactions in the skin. Plus, the bitterness from the darker malts, as well as the light hopping, cuts through some of the natural fat that goes into the gravy.”
Firestone Walker Pivo Pils
Ham, especially one glazed with maple or honey, is boldly flavored, showcasing salty, sweet and fatty characteristics. It’s hard for a beer to compete with all of that, but the right one can be a great palate cleanser. “The clean malt flavors of the lager, with its slightly spicy and floral bitterness, helps wipe fat off the tongue,” Kurland says. “If you want to have a little more bitterness to cut through the fat, then look to an American lager with German heritage, like Firestone Walker Pivo Pils.”
DUCK+AGED SOUR ALE
Bockor Cuvée des Jacobins
“Such a fatty bird requires a drink with a high amount of acid to cut through it,” Kurland says. “During the holidays, duck is often served with a berry or cherry-based sauce, so my go-to is an aged sour ale like Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge.” This bright and acidic beer is brewed in Belgium and spends at least 18 months aging in oak barrels. “It’s oaky and fruity, with notes of cherry and cranberry. There isn’t a lot of carbonation, allowing the acid to be the star of the show here. This contrasts the juiciness and richness of the rendered skin and meat.”
PORK LOIN+DOUBLE IPA
Barley Forge Future Tripping
Unlike with ham, where Kurland picks a clean beer to counterbalance the meat’s assertive flavors, he wants to try to match the intensity of an herb-crusted pork loin. So he drinks the super hoppy double IPA from Barley Forge Brewing in Costa Mesa. “The citrus notes from the use of Amarillo hops complement a roasted pork loin perfectly, Kurland says. “And the sweetness that comes from the alcohol and the extensive bitterring helps cut the richness.”
LINGUINE WITH CLAMS+GERMAN HEFEWEIZEN
Our Italian friends will celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, and many will eat a pasta course like Linguine with Clams. Yet, Kurland doesn’t want an Italian beer with this dish, and instead looks to Northern Europe for the perfect pairing, selecting a German hef. “The spicy clove notes work perfectly with the brine of the clam. The butter will also mix well, as a hefeweizen is a more delicate beer and will not overpower the other ingredients.”
PRIME RIB+SCOTCH ALE
Belhaven Scottish Ale
“I want my prime rib to have a super crispy crust, with tons of pepper, and the inside to be a perfect pink,” Kurland says. “I look to a Scotch Ale for a beer that has notes of strong caramelization, but isn’t too heavy on the palate.” For those who want a really robust version, Kurland suggests Old Chub from Oskar Blues, but if you want something a little lighter, lean toward the Belhaven. “The sweet and toasty notes make it a perfect companion to prime rib.”
Listen, some of us actually like fruitcake, okay. When made correctly, it’s not just some heavy, booze-soaked loaf that’s brought to dinner as a joke and then used as a doorstop. Kurland wants a beer that can highlight the nuts, raisins and candied fruit. “I look to a Belgian Dubbel like Allagash’s.” A Dubbel is a rich, malty and sweet beer originally made by Trappist monks. Kurland likes Allagash for this dessert because the “Slight raisin and toffee notes work well with the spicing of the cake, and the nuttiness of the cake plays well with the sweet malts in the beer.”
Jeremy Repanich is a Contributing Editor at Playboy. Follow him on Twitter @racefortheprize.