Now that November is upon us, it’s high time we start thinking about what delicious libations to bring to bear for all of the forthcoming festivities. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and all the merrymaking in between are full of opportunities for gastronomic indulgences, so you need beers that will hold their own against such hefty fare.
Finding one single beer to pair with everything offered at a typical holiday meal is fairly impossible, as the courses run the gamut of textures, flavors, and intensities. Bearing in mind that achieving perfect harmony across the board will be tough, the best course of action is to have plenty of flexible, food-friendly beers on hand that will pair with lots of different foods. For main courses, I find French biere de garde like Trois Monts Amber, saisons like Boulevard Tank 7, and abbey dubbels like Westmalle Dubbel can really shine. While all substantially different, all three beers (and the styles they represent) have deep and complex flavor profiles to create contrast and harmony with the foods you eat while being acidic and nimble enough not to overwhelm your palate.
When it comes to appetizers, light snacks, and the necessary palate cleansing between courses, I recommend having a lighter option or two on hand. Pilsners like Ayinger Bavarian Pils and hefeweizens like Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweis are crisp, refreshing, and easy to drink. They might just be the thing that keeps you from getting bogged down in the endless stream of heavy, rich holiday foods.
Dessert is the favorite course of many, including yours truly, and offers the perfect opportunity to break out your biggest, richest beers. A great barrel aged beer like Founders Backwoods Bastard or an imperial stout like Epic’s Big Bad Baptist will be perfect with lots of hearty cheeses and chocolate desserts. Dessert is also the time to break out your favorite holiday beer. For a more interesting pairing, try chocolate or cheesecake with a fruited lambic to create lots of points of contrast.
Well there you have it, your primer on holiday beers! Choosing beers, like so much of what we do during the holidays, can seem daunting. Remember to take a deep breath and keep in mind that holidays, food, and beer are all supposed to be fun and joyous opportunities to come together and relish our shared humanity! Plus, if picking out holiday beers feels overwhelming, the friendly beer nerds at Jungle Jim’s are happy to make recommendations. After all, beer is kinda our thing! Cheers!
Thanks to everyone for joining us for our 2017 Fall Smash! We had a great time enjoying some of the best hard ciders, pumpkin beers, and food trucks around. Can't wait to do it again next year. Cheers!
I know we’re not exactly in tourist season, but I recently returned from yet another trip to one of my favorite places on Earth and can’t help but recommend Asheville for your next vacation. And if you’re like me, you love to soak in the local beer culture of anywhere you travel. So feel free to take the pointers I’m about to give you and tuck them away until the next time you’re planning a vacation, be it with family, friends, or that special someone.
An easy six hour drive from Cincinnati, Asheville is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, just an hour or so from Gatlinburg. Asheville has been a tourist destination since the 19th century and today features thousands of miles of trails through the mountains, scenic drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a vibrant downtown with a plethora of shopping and countless high quality restaurants all competing for your money and your hearts. The focus of the food and shopping scene here is local, with endless artisans crafting usual and unusual souvenirs and chefs fully embracing the farm-to-table concept for a personal, high quality experience. The highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell, is a short drive from the city. The Biltmore Estate is located on the city’s southside and is today a major tourist destination, with golfing, restaurants, hotels and tours all on the grounds of America’s largest privately owned home, built in the early 20th century.
But you’re not here for the tourist broad strokes that you can find in any decent travel book, are you? You’re here for the skinny on the beer scene. Thankfully, I’m a seasoned veteran of Asheville and its many beer-tastic destinations? So where to begin in a city that boasts dozens of breweries and recently overtook Portland, OR as “Beer City USA?” Well, no Asheville beer-cation is complete without stopping in local watering hole The Thirsty Monk. This downtown bar is 3 stories: the recently added top floor features cocktails, the street level is dedicated to American craft, and the basement, with its low ceilings, dim lighting and exposed wood beams, serves up Belgian beer in an environment that oozes old world charm. This is where you’ll usually find me, nose deep in numerous glasses of hard to find Belgian and Belgian style beers all impeccably well curated by their knowledgeable bar staff. If you go here every night, you’ll have a new experience each time.
When you’re ready to dive into the local brewery scene, you’ll need to start at Burial, Hi-Wire, and Wicked Weed, all conveniently located in the small downtown area minutes from one another. While there are dozens of breweries in the city, including stalwarts like Highland, Asheville Brewing Co., and Lexington Ave Brewery, these three breweries have really seized their moment in the sun and captured the attention of drinkers across the nation. Find stellar stouts and IPAs at Burial, fruited sours and lagers at Hi-Wire, and a litany of funky, barrel aged sours at Wicked Weed.
For a slightly more in-depth brewery experience, I can’t recommend Sierra Nevada highly enough. Their eastern U.S. brewery is located a short drive south of Asheville in Mills River. I’ve never been more impressed by a brewery, period. The building is sprawling and features a massive full service restaurant that reliably serves up one of the very best meals I have each time I visit Asheville, which is really saying something given the quality of the restaurant selections in town. Plan to spend the evening here, exploring flights of beer, both widely available and unique to the brewery, dining on plates of shareable entrees, sitting on the back porch by a fire pit, and meandering the wooded walking trails behind the brewery. This is truly a destination; everything is lavishly appointed, no detail or expense was spared in creating a truly spectacular experience.
On your way out of town, don’t forget to stop by world renowned bottle shop Bruisin’ Ales, located on Broadway on the northern edge of downtown. While small and boasting nowhere near the breadth of selection here at the Jungle, they have a stellar selection of hard-to-find bottles from near and far. Plus, their beer guys are almost as friendly and willing to make recommendations as we are!
So there you have it, all the info you need to start dipping your toes in the immense waters of the Asheville beer scene. Feel free to explore beyond my humble suggestions and find what’s perfect for you. You really can’t go wrong drinking craft beer in the mountains.
This time of year, everyone seems to be churning out an Oktoberfest beer, often referred to interchangeably as Marzen. The history and evolution of this style of beer is rather winding and confusing, so what follows is the best effort to summarize its origins as concisely as possible.
The first Oktoberfest Festival was held on the wiesn, or fairground, of Munich in 1810. At that time, the best historical data suggests that the festival beer of choice would’ve been Dunkel, the brownish-black roasty lager that originated in Bavaria. The rich, malty amber lager that we associate with festbier didn’t come to be for another 50 years or so. Anton Dreher brewed the first Vienna lager in the 1860s. Vienna lager gave rise to the best known version of festbier that was first brewed as a stronger version of Vienna lager by Joseph Sadelmayr in the 1870s, specifically for the festival. Thus, this richer and lightly spicy cousin of Vienna lager became known by its own style name, Oktoberfest. The truth, as previously stated, is that the beer of choice at the festival has changed repeatedly throughout the decades. Beginning in the 1990s, oktoberfest beers in Munich have trended toward drier, crisper, lighter and easy drinking golden versions that are usually marketed as wiesn, although the style of festbier that remains most popular in the U.S. is the predecessor of wiesn, known commonly as Oktoberfest or Marzen. The term Marzen refers to the month of March, when brewers would traditionally brew beer for the fall festival before lagering it for the summer months so that it would be ready to serve when the festival rolled around.
Oktoberfest marzens today are largely unchanged from their 19th century forebears. Boasting an alcohol range of approximately 5.5%-6.5% abv, expect a medium to full body with a fair amount of residual sugar. Traditionally, the beer would’ve been made using decoction or step mashing, that heats the mash gradually, thereby enhancing the sugars and malt flavors of the finished beer. Owing to its time consuming nature, decoction mashing is rarely done today though its effects are well worth the time and effort. The overall impression of an oktoberfest marzen is a rich and decadent, yet surprisingly easy to drink amber lager with hints of spice. The beer itself is a showcase for the delicious Vienna and Munich malts that comprise the bulk of the grist.
Due to the area’s large German immigrant population, Cincinnati hosts the world’s second largest Oktoberfest celebration every September. We also have no shortage of fantastic oktoberfests to choose from. Look out for Samuel Adams Oktoberfest, Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen, Hi-Wire Zirkusfest, Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen, Weihenstephaner FestBier, and Sierra Nevada/Brauhaus Miltenberger. Prost!