For millennia only people of high status were permitted to consume wine. Even today people still assume that wine is the best drink whilst dining. Or they think that to be sophisticated one must serve wine with food because beer is often considered to be declassé. And yet throughout history millions more people have had beer on the dining table than they have wine. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were partial to ale. There was a reason why William Shakespeare wrote the phrase 'A quart of ale is a dish for a king' (The Winter's Tale, Act IV, Scene III).
Matching beer with food can bestow memorable complex and flavoursome gustatory experiences so for this year's Christmas feast, eschew the wine and instead choose beer. And serve it in appropriate glassware because the shape of the glass can affect the taste and the drinking experience of the beer as well as the aesthetic.
Beer has several properties that make it a perfect libation with food - water, carbon dioxide, hops and, quite often, bitterness (although not all beers are bitter), myriad flavours, diversity in body, texture, mouthfeel - all of which are very useful in cutting, contrasting, or complementing what we eat.
Always start a meal with a bitter aperitif to kickstart the digestive system. I will be drinking an India Pale Ale made with hops that give a burst of juicy citrus - served in a Champagne flute.
These are my suggestions of beer to match with popular Christmas dishes.
Duck: A rich full flavoured meat like duck needs a big beer such as a dubbel. This style is best when it is made by Trappist monks. These beers are big in flavour and body where dried fruit, clove and caramel meets a red wine-like character. Dubbels are also ace with Christmas pudding. Serve the beer in a chalice - it is brewed by men of the cloth and deserves to be treated with reverence! The glass has a wide mouth so complex aromas develop and it encourages people to sip their drink meaning that the beer hits the front of the tongue first where the sweetness of the malt will register.
Salmon: Choose a sour beer such as a lambic or red Flanders ale. Both have invigorating acidity with a tangy sourness that efficiently cuts through the oiliness of the fish without overwhelming its subtle flavours. Glassware: Loire wine glass. This is a tall slim glass with a medium sized bowl and a narrow rim that enhances the freshness of the aromas and balances the fruit and acidity of the flavours in the beer.
Goose: This is a full flavoured darkish meat so a beer that has hefty flavoursome characteristics will be a good match. Porter is a dark style of beer with rich coffee and roasted flavours. It has a refreshing bitterness that cuts through fat. It will also be fantastic with Christmas cake and Stilton cheese. Glassware: Drinking from a chalice always feel like a ritual and Gloriana would doubtless have supped hers from a glass this shape.
Turkey: This is not highly flavoured so the beer choice needs to have a personality without overwhelming the meat. Turkey can also be rather dry in texture so a well-balanced English pale ale with a blend of sweet malted barley and bitterness from hops that contribute a subtle citrus character will add a scrumptious juiciness. Drink the beer from a Tumbler with gently sloping sides and a wide rim. This promotes a sip rather than a glug which means that the sweetness of the malt will immediately register on the tongue.
Pork: Wheat beers were made for pork. Try a German weisse bock (dark wheat beer) where dried fruit, banana, and clove cosy up with caramel. Weizen is the perfect choice of glass - tall and slender glass with a flared mouth. Wheat beer typically has a large pillowy head and the shape of the glass enhances the appearance of the beer.
Nut roast: matches well with brown ale. These beers have a bitter/sweet flavour where fruit, caramel and nuts combine with a roasted character. Perfect for a dish made up of roasted nuts. It will match the mince pies too. Drink it from a snifter. This is arguably the most elegant shape of glass. It is sometimes called a balloon due to its bulbous bowl shape that narrows at the top and sits on a short stemmed foot. Christmas dinner is a ritualistic meal so make it even more special with an appropriate glass. Bottoms up!