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Beer and Christmas: seasonal beer and festive cheer

The advent of Christmas sees a seasonal change in the varieties of beer on offer, with some festive brews making a well-timed appearance

A highlight of Christmas for the discerning beer connoisseur is the range of bespoke seasonal beers on offer.

In the northern hemisphere, these can range from richly-flavoured winter warmers that fill you with a glowing satisfaction, to spicy brews packing a palate-tickling selection of tastes only seen at this time of year.

The tradition for a deep midwinter ale goes back thousands of years, with the Vikings being some of the first to celebrate with a good brew around 530AD during the reign of Beowulf. And in Norway during the 13th century, each peasant household was required to brew a festive ale and hold a party. Those who didn’t were fined, and occasionally lost property in the process.

While there is no set style, Christmas beers often feature a warming spice to add an extra note, including nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and ginger. Spice combinations and mixing spices with fruit extracts such as cherry or orange are also popular. Try Jacobite Ale, a spiced beer brewed by Traquair House Brewery in Scotland to celebrate the anniversary of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion.

Christmas food can pair very well with the beers of the season. Traditional starter dishes, such as smoked salmon, preferably with a dash of cracked black pepper and a smidgen of lemon juice, or prawn cocktail lend themselves to a Belgian witbier or framboise. Try Boon Framboise, a lambic beer brewed by Brouwerij Boon in Belgium. While the traditional turkey or meat course is best paired with a more bitter beer to offset the richness of both the gravy and the meat, not to mention the sweetness of an apricot and walnut stuffing.

For two unusual beer infused Christmas recipes, check out our infographic below.

Recipes contributed by Masterchef finalist, Alex Rushmer, chef-patron at the award-winning The Hole in the Wall restaurant in Cambridge, UK.
Download the recipe for lager braised game here.
Download the recipe for deep-fried Christmas pudding bites here.

As for the indulgent Christmas pudding with its super-sweet brandy butter, some people prefer a light and refreshing beer to alleviate the rich flavours, while others prefer a dark winter warmer. Try Adnam’s Broadside, a dark beer brewed by Adnams in England to commemorate the Battle of Sole Bay fought against the Dutch Republic in 1672. Or if you prefer a porter, try Meantime Chocolate Porter brewed by Meantime Brewing Company in England. For those with a cheeseboard, a fruit beer such as a Kriek is a nice accompaniment (try Liefmans Brewery’s Liefmans Kriek-Brut), as is a suitably aged dark mild or oud bruin (try Rodenbach’s range). But different cheeses pair best with different beers, so we recommend lots of experimentation!

And what do we recommend for those in southern hemisphere countries who associate Christmas with rather warmer temperatures?

In Australia, where the Christmas feast is likely to be centred around the barbeque, lighter brews will be more suitable. A perfect match would be Matilda Bay’s Beez Neez, which is a refreshing amber wheat beer with a subtle flavouring of honey. Originally brewed as a surprise for staff from their bosses at honey firm Capilano in 1996, it’s been a firm yuletide favourite ever since.

South America, with its heavily meat-influenced cuisine, also demands beers suitable for the occasion. In Colombia, the Club Colombia portfolio of beers – Negra (dark), Roja (red) and Dorada (gold) – offers variety to go with any festive cuisine.

And if you’re inspired to try crafting your own beer, wherever in the world you are, plenty of seasonal home brew kits are available to get you started. Christmas flavour offerings include orange, cinnamon and ginger, so why not brew it yourself?

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