Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!

Beer at dinner is an ancient tradition.

Beer at dinner is an ancient tradition.

I grew up in the South, which means I did not grow up around good beer. My beer experience didn’t extend much beyond the cheapest six pack until I moved to California. It was here that I finally tasted hops and malts, and my beer world changed forever.

My family still lives in Alabama, and I go visit every year for the holidays. And while much of Alabama and the rest of the South is finally catching up with the craft beer movement (exploding might be a better word), my family does not really drink beer. So I’m the one that shows up at the holiday dinner with a sampler of beer and a side of IPA mashed potatoes.

To help ease my vague feelings of being the scruffy, beer-drinking bohemian cousin, I’ve been trying to find new ways to elevate beer’s status. Based on experiences and my recent research of how our first impressions are formed, I’ve come up with a few ways to help bring beer off the post-dinner couch and into the dining room.

Size Matters

Most people are used to seeing beer in small bottles, while wine and liquor are served in larger bottles. With this in mind, choose beers that are packaged in 22 oz. bottles for stationing on the dinner table or bar area. The larger size not only implies a sense of high-quality, it also encourages tasting and sharing.

Aim for Strong Taste

Glasses are great, but a wine glass will do.

Glasses are great, but a wine glass will do.

Choose beers with very strong flavors—particularly if your family or friends favor wine. While some guides for novice beer drinkers encourage a slow start with a mild flavor, holiday beers need to stand up to wines and rich foods. Offer a variety of styles: a citrusy IPA, a malty amber, a smoky porter (try Talon Double Smoked Porter), a Belgian Quad and a heavy Barleywine. I would also add a lambic or saison—Mendo’s new Anniversary Saison is a good choice—for the white wine drinkers and to show off beer’s versatility.

Use the Good Glasses

While there is an ideal glass for most styles of beer, few people have enough on hand to supply a crowd. But in this case, the perfect glass is not a necessity. A wine glass will do just fine—most people have them, they already look a bit fancy, and they present the beer well. Brandy snifters are great, too, and whiskey tumblers will do in a pinch. Stay far away from plastic cups or anything reminiscent of college drinking days.

Beer and Food PairingsKnow How to Pair

While you don’t have to lead a food and beer pairing class at your next gathering, it is helpful to know which beers go well with the different dishes. Do a little research beforehand, and you’ll be ready to offer a suggestion or encourage a curious family member. Everyone’s familiar with wine and food pairings, so realizing that beer also adds nuances to foods will help them see beer in a new light.

(This chart from the Brewers Association is a great resource for all things food and beer.)

What’s Your Family Pouring?

I’m always curious what other family gatherings are like. What does your family drink at holiday fests? How’s your beer culture? Commiserate with us in the comments below!

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