Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I hope everyone had a great holiday season. I'm sure many of you served craft beer with your Hanukkah or Christmas repast. Many of you still opted for a bottle of wine on the table. If so, I hope it was because it paired better with your meal rather than giving in to the farcical notion that wine adds a touch of class that beer cannot achieve. My table had a bottle of wine as well as a bottle of beer, Delirium Noel actually. Both paired pretty well with the duck and wild rice pilaf I served, but I think that the Belgian yeast funk and candy sugar in the beer worked better with the richness of the duck. But this entry is not to argue the place of beer at the holiday table nor is it a beer versus wine discussion. I'm writing to make the case for toasting the New Year with beer rather than the traditional champagne.

"Sacrilege!", you say? Pshaw! How did champagne earn the honored spot as unofficial "official drink of New Year's"? Heck, it seems to be the go-to beverage for all celebratory toasts…and boat launches as well.  This could be attributed to strong marketing campaigns that associate champagne with luxury and indulgence. Check the red carpet and after parties of all self-serving celebrity awards shows and you'll see it everywhere. Good French champagnes (and only French sparkling wine should be called champagne) can be pretty expensive. Even many of the higher-end California sparkling wines (who erroneously and arrogantly call themselves champagne) can break your weekly budget for adult beverages. 

I try not to give in to marketing when I can. I don't have a Snuggy, nor did I buy my wife a Lexus for Christmas. Yet, I have been known to run out for a Volcano taco at Taco Bell after seeing the commercial. But in this case, I say, "No!" I will not toast this New Years with champagne! Come to think of it, I didn't last year either. I had a couple of bottles of prosecco, which is a dry, Italian sparkling wine. But that's out this year too...well, for me anyway. The Geisha will still have prosecco in her glass. But I will have beer, but what beer? 

I can't see going too far from the bubbly. I have crystal flutes that really only get used once a year and I don't intend to leave them forlorn, so I'll be choosing a beer that does well in a flute. Many of these come to mind and most of them are from Belgium. Almost any beer from Cantillon would fit the bill (if you can find a bottle at this time), but here are some style suggestions:

Oude Gueze: This is already the Senpai's toasting beverage of choice for the New Year and I commend his decision. I may follow suit on that. But unless you like sour beers you may want to pass. If you do like sour beers then you can't do much better. These beers can be very effervescent and supply that advertising-ingrained notion that you need something bubbly with which to toast. Cantillon, Drei Fonteinen and Boon are excellent and Oud Beersel isn't bad, but if you can find LambickX it's worth getting for the occasion. 

Kriek and Framboise: Both are sour fruit beers that can be pretty bubbly depending on the brewery. Some breweries make this a little flat to my taste and that leaves the fruit flavors a bit cloying. But if you get a really good one the pinkish tone of the beer can look quite lovely in a champagne flute and, at the risk of sounding sexist, grab the attention of the ladies. At the very least, it becomes a conversation piece and who knows, you might help convert some people to Belgian beer. Again, Cantillon, Drei Fonteinen and Boon lead the pack in this category. 

Biere de Champagne: Essentially this is beer brewed with champagne yeast, making it pretty dry and bubbly. This style is starting to find some popularity and it wouldn't be a bad thing to use for your ball-dropping toast. Again, this is a style that takes some getting used to as it delivers a different mouthfeel than almost every other style. Keep an open mind about it and you will find that you may love this beer. Honestly, Malheur is the only example of this style I've tried, but I truly enjoyed it. It even looks like a bottle of champagne.

Belgian Pale Ale: Strong or of "regular" strength, these are not as bubbly, but strike a brilliant golden hue in the glass. They technically should not be drank from a flute, but they can be. Some of the best beers in the world fall into this style including Unibroue's La Fin Du Mond, Victory's Golden Monkey, Orval and Duvel.

Pilsner: Yeah, I said it and I'll get some crap from the Duck for this, but these do look nice sparkling in the glass. I'm not talking the American adjunct pilsners, hell no! I'm talking about the well-crafted pilsners that have flavor. My Antonia from Dogfish Head comes immediately to mind here, but Victory's Prima Pils is another deserving beer, as is Rogue's Morimoto Imperial Pilsner. Czech pilsners are also some of the best beers in the world...Urquell is still the classic, but Zatec is my favorite. 

Koslch: Okay, if you REALLY, REALLY want something that looks like champagne in the glass then kolsch is perhaps as close as you'll get. It's very pale and has a nice carbonation to it. It's traditional glass, the stange, is about as slender as a flute and it acts about the same way when poured as does champagne. This will keep people from pestering you as to what you're drinking. As far as I'm concerned, Reissdorf is the only way to go in this style and is pretty easy to find in the good beer stores. 

Of course there are styles that you want to avoid pouring into a flute, like stouts, barleywines and German wheat beers. The latter will cost you a good half an hour to get enough beer (versus foam) into the glass to make it worth your while. The other two are just too viscous to drink from such a slender vessel. But if you don't feel constrained to use a flute, have at it! I comes down to one simple rule with all situations: if you like it, drink it!

I managed to find a bottle of LambickX, so my mind has been made up.
Have a fun, adventurous and safe New Year's celebration!

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