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A Christmas Beer Dinner 

I will admit that I am not an expert on beer and food pairings, since I am generally too poor to go to fancy beer dinners where I might learn something. Not to mention that I am just not that picky when I have a good beer AND good food in front of me. If they are good together, that’s just a bonus. But I have found that the more experience I gain, the more care I take in ordering my beer at dinner. Just as a little experiment, I decided to pair some beers with the family Christmas dinner. My brother, Lance, and my wife, Lea were my guinea pigs. I was a bit embarrassed to spend too much time explaining the pairings, since I catch plenty of shit from the family for my beer geek ways. It also didn’t help for getting coherent feedback that there were two rug rats and a baby involved, along with a number of other family members that were drinking wine or Diet Coke and all talking at once. Nevertheless, I persevered and here are the results.

Appetizers – Assorted cheese and crackers and artichoke dip with Allagash Curieux. Curieux is a Belgian-style tripel, aged in oak bourbon barrels, then triple fermented for a clean, dry taste. At 11% ABV it is not unlike a sweet, white wine in terms of body and finish, as well as price (expect to pay nearly $15 for a 750 ml bottle. The yeasty, fruity aroma is not unexpected from an unfiltered, Belgian-style ale, but the strong alcohol suggests macerated tropical fruits or apricot brandy. A white grape sweetness greets the tongue, followed by alcohol warmth and a citrusy, grapefruit bitterness. Gradually the bourbon notes emerge, with hints of cherry and vanilla. “This doesn’t suck,” declared Lance, he being the master of understatement. “Mmmm,” is the only quote I could get from Lea. The dry finish and strong presence of the Curieux stood up well to even the Wisconsin cheddars, although it was a particularly nice complement to the creamy, slightly spicy, red pepper chevre.

Main course – Since I have never cooked a turkey, I went with a brown-sugar glazed, spiral-sliced ham from Kroger for dinner. The 2005 Fuller’s Vintage Ale seemed like a proper pairing, since salty-sweet meats just beg for a true British old ale. I had sampled the 2006 at the Brick Store and thought it was marvelous if a bit “hot.” I found some 2005 bottles at Decatur Wine and Spirits on Scott Boulevard at Church Street and naturally brought a few home. The aging does seem to have mellowed this a bit, and in fact, I found it a bit less interesting than the 2006. The tannic, red-wine flavors were still present, along with a caramel sweetness, but the malts seem less complex. The grassy hop flavor stood up well, giving the beer a nice balance. A classy accompaniment to any special meal.

For dessert, I served two American brown ales that were quite different in character, but both paired nicely with assorted chocolate and peanut butter cookies and a cherry cream pie. Lagunitas’ Lumpy Gravy is the third offering in their Frank Zappa tribute series, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the release of Zappa’s first solo album of the same name. Unlike many Lagunitas concoctions, they used a conservative hand with the hops on this clear, mahogany-colored brown ale. Spices, toasted malts, and a bit of toffee sweetness dominate, with an underlying tangy bitterness. An excellent choice for the holidays and a wonderfully smooth and easy drinking treat.

There is nothing subtle about the He’Brew Jewbelation 11th Anniversary Ale from Shmaltz Brewing Company. Brewed with 11 malts and 11 hops and boasting 11% ABV this is a big beer. Lance found the bold flavors to be a bit too much, but I am drawn to it like the glorious train wreck that it is: Roasted coffee beans, molasses, bitter chocolate, smoked peat, hazelnut, grapefruit, a bit of piney hops, alcohol, the whole nine yards. Rich and full-bodied with a dry, bitter finish, it faced off against the cherry cream pie and kept the sugar at bay long enough to finish that sucker and loosen the belt on my jeans. I am putting away at least one bottle for next Christmas.

Victory Beer Dinner at Spotted Dog

On January 15, the Spotted Dog in Midtown, part of the chain of Derek Lawford pubs, will serve a 5-course dinner prepared by Consulting Chef Shaun Doty of Shaun’s in Inman Park with beer pairings from Victory Brewing Company.  The cost is a mere $35 per person (plus tax and tip). The welcome beer reception begins at 7 p.m. and the dinner begins at 7:30 p.m. For reservations, call 404.347.7337 or email info@dereklawfordpubs.com and mention Spotted Dog Victory Beer Dinner in the subject line.

Victory’s V-Saison, a fine choice for a New Year’s Eve toast, and this week’s Beer Pick, will get you warmed up for Victory’s excellent beers.

 This week’s beer pick: Victory V-Saison

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