Holiday meal planning often requires thinking about what dishes will compliment each other. Will that Jell-O salad really go well with mom’s roast? Just how much butter will make those mashed potatoes really sing?
It’s true with what fills your glass, as well. The right beer pairing can amplify flavors and bring out hidden characteristics in everything from appetizers to dessert.
Jason Pratt, Molson Coors’ director of beverage innovations for North America and a Master Cicerone, is here to share his tips on how to build the perfect beer pairings for your holiday dinners.
Watch the video or scroll down for a more in-depth look at beer pairings
“A lot of people get this impression that wine is the only thing that you can pair with food over the holidays,” Pratt says. “In my only slightly biased opinion, (beer) is actually the better beverage for that.
“We have this idea in beer and food pairing is that comes down to beer math. One plus one equals three,” Pratt says. “Beer is great by itself. The food is great by itself. When you put the two together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And that's really what we're trying to do with these beer and food pairings. It's changing people's experience and making sure that we're delivering an experience that's different than they ever have had before.”
Pratt says the key to creating a perfect beer pairing is the three Cs: complement, contrast and cut.
“Complementary flavors are really flavors that are the same in beer and food,” he says. Chocolate, for instance, is a flavor that can show up in beer and in food, and when paired together brings out the best in both.
Contrast, he says, is when “two opposite flavors come together and create the fireworks of a pairing.”
And cut? “What beer can do is actually help to cleanse your palate in between bites. So it lifts fats and oils off your tongue and creates an experience where the second bite of food is as great as the first,” Pratt says.
With that crash course in beer education, let’s get into what Molson Coors beers available in the U.S. to pair with foods common at holiday get-togethers.
One of the highlights of holiday gatherings is the pre-dinner appetizer hour. These light bites require an equally light beer or hard seltzer, Pratt says. Beers like Miller Lite, Coors Light and Peroni are more complex than many imagine, and are perfect for the occasion. The same goes for hard seltzers and the variety of flavors offered by Vizzy Hard Seltzer and Topo Chico Hard Seltzer.
“Miller Lite and Coors Light have a touch of fruitiness, a really light profile, but they're perfect before a meal because they bring brisk carbonation to the table and help awaken your palate for the meal that's to come,” Pratt says.
Peroni, meanwhile, is a bit more robust with a more pronounced bitter notes, making it “perfect to pair alongside cheeses or a charcuterie board.”
Hard seltzers, Pratt says, are another fun option.
“They bring a different element to the table,” he says. With lively carbonation and a variety of fruit flavors, hard seltzers help ”awaken the palate and cleanse fats and oils off your tongue.”
Many families will serve a poultry dish, like chicken, duck or turkey, for a holiday meal. These dishes are the sweet spot for the Blue Moon family. Both Blue Moon Belgian White and Blue Moon LightSky boast citrus flavors that help liven up and complement the flavor profile of roasted bird.
“These beers have a touch of sweetness that's really going to play off of the spices, and Blue Moon Belgian White actually has a touch of coriander, as well, which complements the spices commonly used in those dishes,” Pratt says. “They're really nice, bright beers for this season or for this occasion.”
Heavier entrees like beef or roast require a more robust option from the beer fridge, Pratt says.
“One of big things that we always talk about is making sure you're matching flavor intensity. So you want a beer that's a slight step up from some of the lighter flavored beers,” he says.
Pratt’s picks: Leinenkugel’s Toasted Bock, Terrapin’s Hopsecutioner IPA or Hop Valley Brewing’s Bubble Stash IPA.
“With darker beers like Toasted Bock, you've got the nice roasted character that you're getting from the malt. Darker malts are going to have the same flavor characteristics that you're going to get when you cook the outside of that roast. So you're building some flavor intensity and some complementary flavors.”
IPAs like Hopsecutioner or Bubble Stash, meanwhile, bring intensity in a different way: more aggressive flavors imparted by liberal hopping, which bring citrus and pine notes, as well as a distinct bitterness. "That bitterness is going to really help to cut through the fattiness and the richness of some of these roasts,” he says. “And then you get that citrus character, that piney character — that adds a nice element to brighten up those dishes and adds a way to play off of the spice that you put on the dish,” he says.
Another traditional holiday dish that's common as a holiday centerpiece is ham. Sweet or salty, the perfect beer to pair with ham is the classic Czech lager, Pilsner Urquell, which Molson Coors sells and markets in the U.S., Pratt says.
“Pilsner Urquell has a slight caramel nuttiness that actually is the perfect pairing alongside ham. You think about the saltiness that ham brings to the table. The sweetness in this beer is really the perfect contrast to that and helps bring it into balance," Pratt says.
“There’s also a touch of herbal spice that's coming from Saaz hops that really can play off flavors that people traditionally add to ham over the holiday season, like clove.”
To cap off the meal, Pratt says dessert options pair well with beers that offer a complex array of flavors already. Thinking of complementary and contrasting flavors, Pratt points to Leinenkugel’s Chocolate Dunkel and Blue Moon Mango Wheat as after-dinner winners.
“Chocolate Dunkel has a lot of complementary flavors with chocolate ice cream or cake, obviously. But if you have something that’s a little bit more berry forward, Chocolate Dunkel can work there, as well. It provides a distinct contrast with the berry,” he says.
“Now, if you're going with the fruitier side of dessert, Mango Wheat can actually be a really interesting choice. When you think about pies like cherry pie or something in that berry space — even apple pie — (Mango Wheat) adds a bright citrus and tropical element that can be really interesting,” he says.
No matter the occasion, from the winter holidays to summer grilling, pairing beer with food offers a a fun and versatile way to upgrade your meal. Got a favorite? Let us know. Tag us on social media @molsoncoors.