By Garrett Oliver
I always knew that my family was a little different, but it wasn’t until my mid-teens that I realized exactly how weird we were. An African-American family living in the suburban greenery of Hollis, Queens, at the outskirts of New York City, we thought little of the fact that my father’s big hobby was hunting game birds. With dogs, no less. Often on horseback. Around the holidays, my Aunt Emma made wonderful chopped liver, and in the springtime, our table was often festooned with matzoh bread. It never occurred to us that these last two items were Jewish food traditions that rarely made forays into our community, and to this day, none of us are sure how they got there.
In a way, I think that this sort of culinary experience is at the heart of being an American, and as I travel the world, it’s one of the things that makes me proud of this country. As I prepare for Hanukkah celebrations with friends, I’m glad to say that beer is very much at the heart of the holiday meals. Some of my friends keep kosher, and many do not, but thankfully most beers are considered “kosher by default” in most parts of the world. Jewish dietary laws, kashrut, is interpreted by local councils of rabbis. In the United States, Canada and Israel, some people only eat foods that are specifically certified as kosher by rabbis, especially around Passover. At my brewery, we actually have some of our beers certified kosher for Passover, and a rabbi comes and blesses the beer!
Unless your own diet is very strict, there are very few beers that would ever cross your table that are off-limits, so you can tuck right into your holiday beer pairings. It’s nice to start off the meal with light, spritzy saisons, the farmhouse ales of Belgium. They’re dry and lively, and often show appetizing peppery and lemony aromatics. Re-fermentation in the bottle gives them a Champagne-like carbonation and texture, which is one reason why we often drink them out of Champagne flutes. Full-flavored beers can work wonders with the classics on the table, especially beef brisket and latkes. Both of these dishes are fatty, a little salty, and typified by caramelized flavors (no wonder we love them!), and beers with caramel and roasted flavors work well here. British and American brown ales are a good place to start, bringing light chocolate, caramel and coffee flavors that harmonize with everything, even sautéed Brussels sprouts. If you want something more complex, go for dark Trappist and abbey ales, where the dark color and caramel flavors come from highly caramelized sugars rather than grains. This translates into dried fruit and raisin-like flavors, along with rum-like flavors that remind me of Cracker Jacks or the burnt surface of a crème brulee.
When it’s time for dessert, beer really does outshine all other beverages. My favorite dessert beer style is imperial stout, a strong dark beer originally made for Catherine the Great. Brewed with large amounts of malts that have been roasted as dark as espresso coffee beans, imperial stouts taste like dark chocolate, coffee and dark fruit, making them a perfect foil for a range of desserts. With chocolate desserts, they play harmony, rowing in with similar flavors. With pastries such as rugelach, the coffee-like character is perfect, and the beer has just enough sweetness to match without becoming cloying. And these beers are a wonder with ice cream too — many people enjoy making ice cream floats with imperial stouts. Just make sure to have a soft-drink version ready for the kids!
The great thing about serving and bringing beer to the holiday table is that it’s fun. Everyone’s had one at some point or another, and though wine is great and has a wide range of flavor, it rarely surprises people. Beer, however, can be very surprising, because it can tastes like almost anything, from lemons and bananas to chocolate and coffee. Some friends and family might even leave your holiday table having discovered something brand new to like, and wouldn’t that be cool? This time of year I can’t help wishing that my Aunt Emma was still here; I’ll bet that Belgian abbey ales would have been great with her chopped liver, but I never learned how to make it. So among the other things you do this Hanukkah, teach the kids how to make your latkes! Though I’ll bet they’re not quite as good as mine.
Garrett Oliver, editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer, is the Brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food. He has won many awards for his beers, is a frequent judge for international beer competitions, and has made numerous radio and television appearances as a spokesperson for craft brewing.
The Oxford Companion to Beer is the first major reference work to investigate the history and vast scope of beer, featuring more than 1,100 A-Z entries written by 166 of the world’s most prominent beer experts. It is first place winner of the 2012 Gourmand Award for Best in the World in the Beer category, winner of the 2011 André Simon Book Award in the Drinks Category, and shortlisted in Food and Travel for Book of the Year in the Drinks Category. View previous Oxford Companion to Beer blog posts and videos.
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Image credit: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout via Brooklyn Brewery.
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Rice is not the first thing that comes to mind when you are drinking a nice, cold beer. And if you’re a beer connoisseur, even less so. For many years, it has been considered to be an affront to the institution of craft beer making to use rice. However, some beer makers are toying with the use of rice in beer again as homage to the practices that occurred before the Prohibition. This counterculture attitude reflects how beer brewers are looking to the past to evolve current drinkers’ palates. The following excerpt from the The Oxford Companion to Beer goes into detail on exactly how rice is used. Enjoy! — Nathalie
Anheuser-Busch is the largest single buyer of rice in the United States. Budweiser beer is brewed with rice making up a large portion of the grist.
It is commonly held, at least among craft brewers, that the use of rice in beer is to be abhorred. To quote Maureen Ogle, from an article in the LA Times, “Rice is considered by many brewers to be what the nasty, industrialized brewers use to water down their beer” and “craft brewers treat rice almost as if it were rat poison.” The article goes on to state that rice lowers the body, flavor and color of beers made with elevated rice adjunct levels, which seems rather to reinforce the notion.
In fact, German brewers arrived in America to find that it was difficult to make good beer using the high-protein, six-row barleys available in the United States at the time. Looking for ways to dilute the malt, they began to use rice and corn. The end result bears little resemblance to good German or Czech lagers but their customers enjoyed this form of beer and millions of people still do. Although rice may once have been a cheap alternative to barley malt, it no longer is. Sharply rising prices have resulted in much higher material costs for brewers employing rice in their mashes.
Interestingly, despite the assertions by many American craft brewers and beer enthusiasts that rice is anathema, some craft brewers are experimenting with production of “pre-Prohibition” lagers that mimic the beers made in the United States in the late 1800s. These are relatively highly hopped but are very light bodied, the result of the use of up to 20% rice in the mash. Other craft brewers are experimenting with the use of specialized rice types that actually add interesting flavors to the beers.
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By Max Sinsheimer
The Oxford Companion to Beer in hand, I took off for three days at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver last week. This beer-lovers Mecca boasts the largest collection of American beer ever served, its popularity growing with each passing year. In 1982, the festival’s first year, there were 800 attendees in a 5,000 square foot festival hall. This year
OUP’s Online Marketing Manager Stephanie Porter reflects on the beers to accompany her Thanksgiving meal.
Thanksgiving is all about tradition, and if you are like my family, your dinner will probably be served with wine. But having recently spent some time with The Oxford Companion to Beer and its Editor-in-Chief Garrett Oliver, I am thinking about adding a little twist to the end of the meal.
“Dessert, often thought of as the province of sweet wine, is actually usually better with beer. The maxim in wine—that the wine must be at least as sweet as the dessert—does not hold force with beer. In fact, it is the relief of sweetness from the palate that is the key to success. After a few forkfuls, the palate is overwhelmed by the sugar in most desserts. That is one reason why coffee often seems so pleasant with dessert; it is not nearly as sweet as the dessert.”
So after the turkey has been carved, eaten, and relocated to the fridge for tomorrow’s sandwiches, I will be breaking out a few choice beers to serve alongside my cousin’s famous French silk pie. Here are a few easy suggestions for incorporating a delicious brew into your Thanksgiving dinner. According to The New Republic reviewer Alexander Nazaryan, it might be almost as American as apple pie.
Pour a coffee flavored stout with your pecan pie:
Not to suggest that you have to forgo the coffee altogether, but my mouth starts to water just thinking about this pairing.
“Bigger beers with some caramel or roasted character tend to do best. With a chocolate tart, for example, we can pair a coffeeish, chocolaty imperial stout. In this pairing, we have both contrast and harmony—the
roasted malts match the chocolate, whereas the beer cleanses the palate of sweetness; the dessert can come back tasting fresh.”
I would aim for something with rich flavor, but that isn’t too heavy. I might go for two of my all-time favorite beers, Full Sail Session Black or Köstritzer Schwarzbier. But any of the beers listed in this link—Great Brewer’s Beers with a coffee flare—(or in your grocer’s isle) could have a similarly great effect.
Swap a Pumpkin Ale for your Pumpkin Pie:
As full as I am after a big meal, it just wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving without a little something sweet to finish it all off. And since pumpkin ale is an American original, it seems even more fitting.
“As a general rule, pumpkin ale has an orange to amber color, a biscuit-like malt aroma, and a warming pumpkin aroma. Modern pumpkin ales are almost always made with “pumpkin pie spices,” which usually include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and sometimes vanilla and ginger. The finish tends to be dry because of many fermentable sugars derived from the pumpkin.”
Pumpkin ale has seems like it has secured its place in bars and bottles across the country, so you should have no trouble picking up this new classic. I love the light flavor of Brooklyn’ Brewery’s Post Road Pumpkin Ale, but as this would be in lieu of pumpkin pie, I might go for something with even more pie-like goodness like Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale. Check out Draft Magazine’s Pumpkin picks, too.
Pour a rich barrel-aged beer over vanilla ice cream:
This pairing is all about pleasant contrast. Concurrent with the flavor of the wood itself may be the flavor of whatever beverage the barrel h