Christmas Day Cheers
A day of routine. Familiar family roles played out with panache. Your inner child re-born. Resume your guise as the funny one, the nerdy one, the quiet one, the perfect one.
Amazing how constant things remain. Even long into adulthood. Even after previous roles have long been shed.
And so it is with Christmas Day food and drink. I’m sure I'm not alone with a day that goes something like this. Every. Single. Year.
- Cheese and red wine (or whisky)
From a food point of view, I love it. I could eat it again and again (and, of course, I will…on 25th, 26th, 27th etc. And so will you.)
But the drinks always leave me cold. Nothing really goes. The smokiness of the salmon kills the sparkling wine (if the orange juice hasn’t first). The sage, onion and thyme of the stuffing is the only thing you can taste in the main course. The brandy butter overpowers everything in its path (though it is awesome, so it’s forgiven). And the fatty cheese blunts the red wine and whisky so you end up with an oily alcoholic taste in your mouth - nice.
So this year, I’m turning to beer and I suggest you do too. Far better suited to the range and strength of flavours that you’re going to throw at it. My sister is still hoping for wine, but I plan to change her mind.
Of course, taste is highly subjective, but with that in mind, this is my Christmas day drinks plan:
This is a tough start. Such a strong taste. Fishy, smoky, oily. You need something with a high level of carbonation to lift the flavours off your taste buds as well as something to balance the smoky flavours. My choice is Schneide Weisse (Tap 7), a German wheat beer. It’s unusual for a wheat beer in that it’s a reddish-amber colour with a distinct smoky, caramel aroma which goes perfectly with the salmon. It’s been brewed by the Schneider family since 1872, so they’ve had time to get it right.
If wheat beer isn’t your thing, I’d still encourage you to try the Schneider - it may change your mind. But I’ve also got a back-up. Perhaps not everyone’s go-to beer, my back-up is Boon Geuze. This is a lambic beer from Belgium which has an acidity to it (similar to Champagne) that can cut through the strong flavours of the oily fish. It’s also a beer for non-beer lovers. Serve it in a champagne flute and watch as people sip on it appreciatively without ever quite realising it’s a beer.
The problem with turkey is that, even if cooked well, it’s a dry meat with little flavour - the stuffing makes the dish. So my choice of beer is matched to the stuffing. I’ve gone for two choices again. The first is a 'bière de garde', a French beer which translates as a “beer for keeping” called 3 Monts. It comes in a beautiful champagne bottle and is a golden ale with an earthy, spicy aroma, low bitterness and a subtle caramel finish which works well with the herb stuffing and crispy brown skin of the turkey (I’d recommend spreading a small amount of cream on the turkey to ensure the skin caramelises nicely).
I’m also including an alternative: a Westmalle Dubbel. This is a classic Belgian trappist beer which is dark in colour and strong in alcohol. It is more fruity than the 3 Monts and more obviously focused on the caramel flavours of the turkey skin but it’s such a great beer that I’d use any excuse to crack one open. The monks have been brewing at Abdij Trappisten van Westmalle since 1836, so again, this one has stood the test of time.
At this point, there’s no need to dive towards the port/brandy/whisky. You need a beer that can complement the fruit and the alcohol but also provide refreshment. By this stage, you’re getting full and getting drunk. It’s time to have some fun.
Straffe Hendrik Heritage 2014 is a huge beer. A Belgian quadrupel that’s been aged for a year in oak barrels. It is spicy and bitter with a subtle oaky taste that has fruity flavours to match the dessert. If it reminds you slightly of port, then that is perfect.
Cheese is an easy one. There are so many different cheeses and so many great beers to go with them, that the choices are endless. See our Drunken Cheese evening for a recent, fun night of beer and cheese matching.
The only thing to note. The only thing worth knowing. The one key secret of the universe: avoid wine. Cheese and wine have long been well-marketed bed fellows but ask any sommelier in one of their more candid moments and they’ll tell you - wine doesn’t go with cheese. You need carbonation to lift the fat off the roof of your mouth. Without carbonation, the wine tastes of nothing and the next cheese tastes of the previous cheese.
Instead, choose a beer. Anything you fancy. Pale ale, stout, sour, Belgian, saison. They all work. Some better than others. But what could be more fun than finding out?
My final choice is a Rogue Chocolate Stout. Bitter and sweet, dark as the night with a great chocolate aroma. It goes so well with the coffee and chocolates that I'll need to stay awake by this stage, I’m tempted to open it now. A fun end to a fun meal and not a glass of wine in sight.
I always look forward to Christmas dinner but now I have a plan. It’s not too late for you either. Resist the pull of the past. Resist the routine and walk the path less travelled: serve beer. And see how the dynamic evolves. You no longer need to be the quiet one. You can be the geeky, beer-loving centre of attention you always wanted to be.