A Beer Lover’s Christmas

I’ll make a disclaimer right off:  If you don’t do the whole Christmas thing (either the secular or spiritual versions), this is a highly adaptable plan.  This could be just a heck of a nice day, rather than denoting a love for presents or the birth of your saviour.  Okay?

So, I don’t know if any of you remember seeing “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, but it was a perennial viewing in my house as a kid.  I actually don’t remember much about it, other than him talking about marzipan.  But I think of this post being like that.  Whatever that was.  I’m sure it was a tutorial on Welsh Christmas (I assume it involved singing, rugby, mining for coal and marzipan).

Okay, here’s the skinny on the big day (whatever that day may be). <— Worst intro ever……

Christmas Eve

National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

If you’re the spiritual type, this will probably involve a stop at Church.  Maybe at midnight?  Either way, at some point (ideally when the kids are in bed) it’s time to watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and drink some beer.  On the one hand, you could go cousin Eddie, and drain a ring-6 of something like Coors Light. I would suggest, though — as the movie is set in Chicago — finding yourself some Goose Island, maybe their IPA?  Because I don’t have access to any Goose Island, this year I will be watching with a Growler of Bellwoods (a Monogamy if I play my cards right). They are having one of their pop-up retail days, this Saturday, the 22nd.  I’m not sure of the time, but the last one ran from 12-5pm (nope, it ran 2-5Pm, just like this one).  Check out www.BellwoodsBrewery.com for the full details.

Christmas Morning

Okay, there’s stockings and presents to open, and you need something to tide you over while breakfast bakes (more on that in a minute).  Champagne and OJ is the classic, and indeed, is what I’ll be having.  Okay, I’m using a sparkling Kiwi white, but whatever.  But if you want to keep things beery, grab yourself a bottle or two of Bosteels DeuS, and get in there.  One recommendation, bordering on requirement: you’re going to need to get yourself some orange or grapefruit bitters. 2-3 dashes of these per glass, and your world will change, trust me.  Bitters are to cocktails what salt is to cooking, or vanilla is to baking.  BYOB (http://www.blogto.com/design/byob-toronto) sells like a jillion types of bitters, and will show you how to sample them, and get you sorted out with the right one.  And no, that bottle of Agnostura Bitters you’ve had for the past 18 years won’t cut it.  Use that in other cocktails, but not this one.

So breakfast. I used to dig on just getting a tube of Pillsbury Grands and baking those, but since Erika went gluten-free, we’ve changed the strategy somewhat.  Now I do a variation on baked french toast.  The original way I saw this recipe, was that you took your stale bread, broke it up into pieces, layered them in a baking dish, and then covered them in an egg/milk mixture.  Let that soak in for a few hours (or overnight) and then bake for about 45-60 minutes at 375F.  It sounds pretty good.  Cut it into squares, and serve covered in maple syrup.  We all win right?  Right, but I’m a bit of a decadent cook, so I thought, “hey, instead of using stale bread, what if I used stuff like muffins, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, croissants, soft cookies, etc?”  See where I’m going?  That way we can split the pan with gluten and gluten-free stuff (Erika’s not Celiac, so a bit of cross contamination doesn’t matter. If it does, separate pans is easy too).  So here’s what you need:

  • Enough baked goods to cover a 9×13″ baking pan.  This year we’ve got a dozen muffins and a loaf of GF Banana Bread. Be creative and self-indulgent.
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups whole milk (or something creamier. I’m not endorsing using 35% whipping cream.  I’m also not telling you not to)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract (please, do yourself a favour and buy the real deal, not the artificial stuff)

Tear/cut up all the baking, and lay (mixed) across the pan.  Mix the eggs/milk/vanilla well, and pour over the baking.  If there isn’t enough to cover it, either press down the baking somewhat, or mix more liquid (at about 1 cup of milk per 3 eggs).  Let soak.  I do this overnight, so all I have to do is throw it in the oven Christmas morning.  When you go to bake it, if the tops are looking a little dry, just flip the top pieces over; the liquid will seep down as it bakes.  Chuck it in a 375F oven, and bake like a cake; you want a skewer or knife inserted to come out clean (not including melted chocolate, as I assume you put stuff with chocolate chips in it).  Bake for about 45-60 minutes.  Cut into squares and serve with maple syrup.

Because you’re already drinking (you are, right?), pair this with a bottle of Tempest Imperial Stout from Amsterdam, or Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.  You won’t be sorry.

Through the Day

Okay.  If you’re doing what I’m doing, you’ve either had the smoker going all night with the bird in it, or you’re firing it up first thing in the morning.  I like bourbon with my BBQ, but really, there are limits to drinking in one day.  And I always say that stouts and porters are great BBQ beers.  Maybe try having some lovely Lava Smoked Imperial Stout, from Ölvisholt Brugghús.  Good with the meal, or while you’re making it.

But maybe you want something different.  Are you aghast at me not having mentioned Eggnog?  I know, you can spike it, even with a nice spiced ale, which could be nice.  But I didn’t mention it, because I’ve got a better suggestion, especially if you’re a Harry Potter fan.  Butter Beer.  Really.  Okay, I know, the books are a bit vague about exactly what Butter Beer is.  And some hard right Evangelicals use it as part of their hatred for Harry Potter (among, you know, all the witchcraft and such).  But I dig the idea.  Now, if you’ve done the Harry Potter deal at Universal, the Butter Beer they serve is nothing like this.  But that’s okay, because this recipe is from a Tudor-vintage cookbook, called The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin.  For real.  I learned about this at http://drgateau.com/?p=1419.  There’s some interesting commentary there, but I’ll just give you this 500 year old recipe for Buttered Beer (or just Butter Beer, if you prefer).

1 Imperial pint (568ml) of beer — see note
2 egg yolks
40g sugar
1/4 tsp ground mace (or nutmeg)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground ginger
25g unsalted butter, diced

Note : Use a light-flavoured ale for this if possible.  Keep in mind that in Tudor times, ales didn’t contain hops, so if you can find a beer that is light on hops that would probably be ideal. [ed. note, This should read “”…that in England during the Tudor times…” as hops are known to have been used in beer since the 8th century AD in other parts of Europe]

[I’ve now been asked a few times about what kind of beer to use, and through a conversation with Jeff Hall, here’s where I’m at: Scotch Ale.  The easiest to find for most folks will be Innis & Gunn.  A doppelbock could also work well, though it’s not British, but who cares, it will be a flavour party!  Cameron’s might still have some Deviator at the brewery, and it could be magical. Barring that, a traditional British-style golden or brown ale is the ticket.]

In a bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar together until pale.

Put the beer in a saucepan and whisk in the spices. Place over low heat and when slightly warm, add the egg and sugar mixture, whisking as you go. Keep whisking as the temperature increases, but do not let the mixture boil or even get close to boiling. It should be steaming but not bubbling because if it gets too hot, the eggs will cook and the mixture will look curdled. (If you have a kitchen thermometer, try to keep the temperature around 65-70°C, 149-158°F.) Keep stirring while the mixture thickens slightly, which only takes a few minutes.

When it has thickened a little, take it off the heat. Add the butter and stir it until it melts into the beer mixture completely. Pour into the appropriate vessels and serve!

Butter Beer

500 year old butter beer. No, wait, new butter beer from a 500 year old recipe……

See? Way better than Eggnog, but similar.  Shave a little nutmeg on top, and you’re laughing.  And getting fatter.  But that’s what Christmas is about (somewhat).

I should mention, if you’ve already got the nog in the fridge, go ahead and mix it up.  I’ve been hearing good things about the Bog Nog, Beau’s Bog Water Gruit mixed with your eggnog.  Word on the street is that you ought to be mixing at a ratio of 3:1 bog to nog.  Thanks to Chris Grimley and Rob Morra for the tip!


I like doing Dinner at midday, or a little after, like 2pm.  We started this tradition when my step-Father’s health was declining, and he would crash before usual dinner time.  I think we’re doing it later this year, but if you have your massive meal at midday, then have a light dinner of leftovers (turkey sandwiches anybody?) you aren’t going to bed on a huge meal of fat.  See?  I’m smoking a pair of turkeys for the family this year, and I think you should too.  But if you’re roasting them cool.  If you prefer a joint like ham or lamb, or a beef roast, go for that (whatever, try to get something with the bone-in; it makes a big difference).  Do your veg however you like: spuds, peas/carrots, etc.  But if you’re making a meal with lots of meat and gravy, make Yorkshire puddings.  Just do it.  If you’re roasting, you can make them when you pull the meat out to rest (should be at least 30 minutes).  Here’s what you’ll do:

Yorkshire Puddings1

  • High smoke-point oil (grapeseed oil, lard, etc)
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 scant cup all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs

Pre-heat your oven to 450-75F.  Turn on your exhaust fan (or open a window and be ready to override your smoke detector). Whisk all ingredients together until light and frothy.  Pre-heat a muffin pan (the heavier the better, mine is cast iron and weighs about 7LBS; serious) with about 1/2″ of fat in each part.  After about 10 minutes, divide your batter in the pan.  It’s going to pop and hiss and smoke, so be careful.  Also, consider putting it on the upper rack, with a cookie sheet on the lower rack to catch any fat that splatters.  Gently slide the pan into the oven, and close the door.  Don’t open it or dance near the stove (I know, sorry) for around 30 minutes, or the Yorkies might fall.  Serve with your meat, covered in gravy.  Like I said, a smokey porter or stout would go great here, don’t shy away.  Mind you, there are a heap of good wines, and variety is the spice of life.


Hey, remember when I told you how to make Christmas Pudding (down near the bottom)?  Did you?  If so, now’s the time.  As you lay dinner out, put it in a steamer and let it heat back up for an hour or so.  Make the hard sauce as somebody else is clearing the table, and pour yourself a nice big brandy.  Unless you want to stay beery (I don’t blame you).  In which case, crack open a Great Lakes Winter Ale.  Nice and spicy, and it will go great with the pudding. You can get it at the brewery or the LCBO (#90845).

Winter Ale - Great Lakes Brewery

Winter Ale – Great Lakes Brewery

After That

Well, it’s time to bust out a big bottle and share.  If you scored some Westvleteren 12, now is the time.  If not, whatever you have in stock is good.  If you’re planning on hitting the Bellwoods pop-up on Saturday, you can get some lovely stuff while you’re there.  If you’re feeling kind of beer-ed out, whisky is like beer, but distilled and without hops.  There’s a great value right now at the LCBO, namely, Penderyn 41 Madeira Finish Welsh Whisky.  It’s on clearance if it’s available at a store near you, for $54.95 ($10.00 off).  Check availability here. And like that we’re back to Wales, and the circle is complete.

So, how do your plans differ?  Any traditions or recipes you think we ought to know about?

Whatever it is you do, I hope you spend time with loved ones, and play it safe.  A big day like this is not one for driving, cutting down trees, or calling ex-lovers.

All the best this holiday season!

1. Oliver, J. T. MBE (2002). Happy Days With The Naked Chef. New York, NY: Hyperion Books.

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