For a long time, beer has played second fiddle to wine when it comes to food. We love a beer at parties and in the pub, but when it comes to dinner we’re slow to bring it to the table.
In many ways, however, beer is the perfect match for food because it is so varied and comes in such a vast array of styles, strengths and flavours. Long gone are the days of drinking the same old pints of boring lager – now there are beers to suit every taste and occasion, from light raspberry wheat beers to honey lagers, chocolate and coffee ales and even seaweed stouts.
Christmas is a great opportunity to have a bit of fun sampling the latest and greatest on the craft beer market. And with so many new independent breweries opening up around the country, it’s also a great way to buy Irish. The first thing to do if you’re thinking of serving beer on the day is to invest in some decent glasses. There’s no need to have big, ugly pint glasses on your table – pick up some stemmed or tulip glasses, or thin half-pint ones. These will hold the beer’s head better and look more festive.
Secondly, I’d recommend stocking up on a few tasty reliables to have in the fridge or to offer before serving up the big meal.
Kinsale Pale Ale
has a deliciously hoppy aroma without being overly bitter or high in alcohol – it also comes in cans, which is the latest trend in craft brewing.
is another of my favourites and is a great easy-drinking session IPA.
Eight Degrees' Barefoot Bohemian is a light and refreshing Pilsner lager and will also work well with salmon or will bring out the zingy freshness in a melon or salad starter. Serve in Champagne flutes to add a little celebratory feel.
Stout is a classic pairing with seafood so if you’re serving smoked salmon as starter I would recommend
Dungarvan’s Black Rock Irish Stout
. This has lovely smoky and toasty undertones and will chime very well with salmon and brown bread. If you think a stout might be a little on the rich side as a first beer, remember you can serve in small glasses and share a few bottles around.
For the main course you want a beer with good balance: a depth of flavour to hold its own against all the food's richness while not being overpowering. Red Tripel, a Belgian-style ale made by the Mescan Brewery in Westport, has a lovely, dark fruity warmth and a smooth finish. It will work perfectly with Christmas dinner, cutting through salty ham and gravy, drawing out all those clove and cranberry flavours. But take note, at 8 per cent, it should be drunk more like a wine.
Kinnegar's new Crossroads American-style IPA will also work well as a hoppy and refreshing accompaniment to Christmas dinner with its cleansing bitterness, soft carbonation and toasty malt character.
And finally, for a really delicious way to end the day, pick up a bottle of
, an American-style barley wine from the Porterhouse. This has a lovely rich, port-like warmth and will draw out all those currant and brandy flavours in the plum pudding. For a real treat, serve it in a brandy snifter, sit sit yourself down by the fire with some Christmas cake, and sip away.