There’s no doubt that a fine bottle of wine makes for a great gift, or a thoughtful item to bring to a holiday party or feast, but there’s another fermented beverage that doesn’t get the respect it deserves around the holidays. Beer, both from American craft brewers and classic Old World producers, is made for holiday celebrations, and there’s no better time to introduce those wine-lovers on your list to the exciting world of flavors that beer offers.
Because every year you give your Chardonnay-swigging aunt the perfect oenophile trinkets, and if you’ve exhausted the world’s supply of novel corkscrews or kitschy tea towels, why not surprise aunty with something a little more grain-y? Hearing her protesting cries of, “But I don’t like beer!” turn into, “What did you say this was called again, and where can I get more?” are better than any thank-you note.
There's certainly no shortage of brews with flavors that cross over with wine, and Belgian tripels are an often recommended style to introduce wine-lovers to the world of fermented barley beverages. These estery, blonde brews can range from sweet to dry, with a spicy, fruity yeast character. Try classic Belgian producers such as La Trappe or St. Bernardus, or turn to some of the more baroque American craft examples like the wood-aged Tripel Tonnellerie from The Bruery or the Hibiscus-spiked (and suitably pink-hued) Feminist from Monkish Brewing in Torrance.
The richer, more malty Belgian dubbel is a brown ale that also highlights the spicy and fruity character of the Belgian yeast strains, and a suitable option for palates that enjoy lighter red wines. The version from Brewery Corsendonk is wonderful, as is Abbey Ale from Brewery Ommegang in New York.
Sour beers are another wonderful option for luring wine snobs into the beer fold. The acidity and oaky flavors, derived from time spent in barrels developing that signature sour tang, make these brews very friendly to the wine-drinker’s palate. The classic brown ales from Flanders balance tartness and oak flavors with a malty sweetness for a more approachable sour beer.
Rodenbach and Duchesse De Bourgogne are both traditional examples that are available in attractive 750ml bottles perfect for tying a bow onto. Cascade Brewing in Oregon is one of the most lauded producers of American sour beers, and though bottle prices can creep past $40, their entire line of fruit-infused lambic-style brews is beer-geek approved.
Beer made with wine grapes
There is also an increasing number of wine/beer hybrid beverages being produced by daring breweries. From Smog City Brewing’s series of Grape Ape IPA versions, that each feature a different grape varietal, to Biere de Menage from Figueroa Mountain Brewing, there's a hybrid brew for just about every palate.
The latter example, exclusively available at Whole Foods Markets, is a farmhouse ale brewed with Sauvignon Blanc must from local vineyards, and it’s bright, balanced, and refreshing. Grape Ape is only available at the Torrance taproom, but Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewing makes a similar grape-meets-hops IPA called 61 that shouldn’t take too much hunting to find in bottles.
Smog City also teamed up with The Bruery to create another wine/beer hybrid called Atomic Kangarue. This funky, unique brew starts with a Belgian golden ale, then Semillon and Viognier grapes and several hop varieties are added before it's fermented with two strains of yeast, then it is blended with a sour blonde ale, and finally dry-hopped with Amarillo hops. It’s a whole lot of flavor packed into a single bottle.
Beer is so much more than cans of lager, bitter IPAs, or intimidatingly dark stouts, and whether you’re hoping to open some eyes at the holiday potluck or trying to convert a loved one to the glories of fermented grains, a special bottle selected with thought will show that you care.