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Why beer can be perfect with your Christmas dinner

THERE’S one episode of the TV comedy series Red Dwarf that I especially enjoy, and one scene in particular captures the essence of a beery problem.

A couple having duck for their Christmas meal with a wheat beer and a fruit beer

THERE’S one episode of the TV comedy series Red Dwarf that I especially enjoy, and one scene in particular captures the essence of a beery problem.

Lister, played by Craig Charles, believes the woman he loves is now with someone else; a man he sums up in the most unflattering terms – as a wine drinker: “Why do women always leave me? Why do they dump me for men who wear turtleneck sweaters and smoke a pipe? He spends half his life in antique fairs looking for bargains and drinking wine. It’s never beer is it? It’s always wine!”

Exactly. Why IS it always wine?

It hits the nail on the head – or ‘taps the cask’ of the problem, to put it in beer terms. Wine is seen as posh, and it is usually the drink of choice with food.

But the multi-course nature of Christmas dinner gives the perfect opportunity to test-drive beer and food matching. With the rise of sophisticated craft ale, you’ll be the cutting edge of cool rather than uncouth.

The Journal has recruited Mark Dredge, British Guild of Beer Writers beer and food writer of the year 2011, to persuade you to consider the alternative to wine on Sunday and have a bit of fun with our national drink.

“It’s seen as a snobby thing,” says Mark. “If I open a good bottle of wine it’s £10. If I’m opening a £10 bottle of beer, people ask what’s wrong with you.

“You can have sour, bitter, sweet; full-bodied, thin-bodied. There’s so much going on, and there are more flavours that carry over to food.”

Mark outlines some principles: a light fruity beer is like a fruity white wine. A heavy red can be replaced with something strong and dark. And flavours can complement, or contrast, such as a bitter beer to cut through a rich or fatty food.

The guests have arrived, oblivious to the mayhem in the pre-dinner kitchen. Plates of nibbles are doing the rounds but what do you pour them?

“Wine makes you want to eat because it’s got that acidity,” says Mark. “A fruity lager or Belgian sour beer will get the tastebuds going.”

Try Cantillon Gueuze, or the more locally sourced, Allendale Brewery Adder Lager.

Next: the starter. Probably something light, a salad or soup. Mark recommends a wheat beer or pale ale for balance as they aren’t too bitter. With fruit, Tyne Bank’s Southern Star would go well, while Durham’s Magus is low ABV but full-flavoured. Wylam produce Bohemia Pilsener and Locomotion No 1.

Everyone gasps as the huge turkey is wheeled out, accompanied by endless side dishes and rich gravy. But what are those bottles being opened on the side table?

“For that, you want something special; it’s my favourite meal of the year,” says Mark. “Last year I had Chimay Blue (a full-bodied Trappist beer). It’s got spiciness and it’s herbal, but with a raisiny depth to round the flavour.”

Although the meat is white, a roast has many other strong flavours. He also suggests a Saison, a flavoursome spicy farmhouse ale. Locally, Jarrow’s Rivet Catcher is similarly flavourful but light, while Durham Brewery‘s ruby Evensong will carry plenty of body to balance the roast.

The lights go down and the pudding, blue flames dancing round it, is brought to the table.

Now is not the time to experiment with contrasts. Big heavy flavours are needed to square up to the rich, boozy pud. Hardknott’s Vitesse Noir, from Cumbria, will do it at 11%; Tyne Bank’s Cherry Stout or Durham’s Temptation will also work.

The cheeseboard. Anyone left standing firstly deserves a medal, before you pour them a glass of something sweet – to match the saltiness – and bitter, to cut through the fat. Yorkshire’s Summer Wine Brewery Teleporter 10 malt porter fits the bill.

For those imagining big, uncouth pint glasses on the table, never fear; simple red wine glasses are better. If you want to go the whole hog, Mark suggests a Champagne flute with the lighter beers, red wine glasses with the bigger ones, and brandy glasses for those heavy-duty brews.

Try something different – and make it a happy New Beer.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer