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Meat-free Christmas delights


I’m already planning ahead to Christmas Day, the best drinking day of the year. It’s the day when there are no rules and no worries about opening a beer with breakfast and drinking through until bedtime. I save special bottles for it, I buy in old favourites, I fill the fridge with fresh cans, and I know what beers I’m having with all the food I’m going to be eating. There’s just one thing that’ll be a little different for me this year: for the first time in my life, I won’t be eating turkey.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a preachy eat-more-plants article, instead it’s cheering on the best beers with the Christmas foods, just minus the meat. A lot of us beer lovers eat veggie and vegan diets now, whether all the time or occasionally, yet the beer industry is overly-reliant on meat when talking about beer and food together, so if you’re looking for veggie festive feasting and want to drink great beer with it (or if you think you might fancy some meat-free days in December) then I’ve got some food and beer suggestions, plus a couple of recipes which include beer in them.

We’ll start with Christmas Dinner and my go-to beer is always a strong dark Belgian beer, like a Brune or a Quadrupel. It really doesn’t matter what your centrepiece is as what we’re really matching the beer to is the gravy and the veggie sides (the real stars of Christmas dinner). You need weight, sweetness and alcohol in the beer, plus some carbonation to give it a lift, while the fruity and aniseedy character from Belgian yeast is evocative of festive flavours. 

Back to breakfast, where my food choice will be based on the beer I want to drink (that’s how we all choose our breakfasts, right?). This year it’ll be a hazy tropical juice-like DIPA and I’ll have it with the mince pie-inspired crumpets on the next page. I’ll snack on beer sausage rolls through the day (see that recipe, too), sipping on some favourite lagers and IPAs. I’ll pick something a little wilder and tart – a great Saison or Gueuze – before lunch as a little palate livener. 

I’ve learnt to skip having a beer with Christmas pudding because by then I’m about to burst and almost no beer actually tastes good with hot Christmas pud. When the cheeses come out in the evening I’ll open a West Coast Double IPA, which is great with mature cheddar and blue cheese, and with mince pies I’ll be having Belgian Tripel or (and) Hazy DIPAs. 

On Boxing Day, there’ll be curry. With a Thai-style coconut curry I’m opening a hazy IPA, while with a tomato-based Indian curry I’ll be having a crisp Pilsner or an English Pale Ale. With a leftovers sandwich I’m drinking Mild or Porter, or if I’m having a grilled cheese sandwich (a megamix of all the cheeses in the fridge, obviously) then I want a West Coast IPA. If there’s bubble and squeak then a Belgian Blonde is ideal. With the selection box of chocolates or a yule log, I’m on the Imperial Stout, and there’ll be a trifle as well, though I’ve never quite found the perfect beer to go with that… 

My 36-year Christmas turkey-eating streak might be coming to an end but my annual tradition of eating and drinking way too much, and loving every delicious bit of it, will carry on very happily.

Mince pie beer crumpets with spiced beer butter

For the crumpets

100ml milk (dairy or vegan – I use almond milk)

1 tbsp soft brown sugar or maple syrup

1 tsp instant dried yeast

200g strong white flour (or just plain flour if that’s what you have)

330ml bottle dark Belgian ale

1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon (optional)

1 teaspoon each of: vanilla extract, salt, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, ground cinnamon 

1/2 teaspoon each of: allspice, ground ginger and nutmeg

Zest of 1/2 orange plus 3 tbsp fresh orange juice 

100g dried fruit (I just use raisins)

Butter or neutral oil for cooking

For the butter

100g butter at room temperature (I use Vegan Block)

50g icing sugar

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2-3 tablespoons dark Belgian ale

I use a strong dark Belgian ale in these but any sweeter dark beer or even a fruit beer is fine. Crumpet or egg rings make these easier to make and you’ll get the proper crumpet texture, but you can cook them like American-style pancakes. The recipe makes 6-8 and takes just over an hour but most of that is resting time (or as I call it ‘drinking time’).

For the butter: Beat the butter with a wooden spoon until creamy and smooth. Add the sugars and stir to fully combine. Then stir in the rest of the ingredients. This can now be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days.

For the crumpets: Open the beer and pour out 120ml into a glass. This is for the cook. Merry Christmas! 

Gently heat the milk in a pan until warm but not hot. Stir in the sugar/maple syrup and yeast and leave for 5 minutes. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, 160ml of beer, the brandy/bourbon, and the milk-yeast mix and whisk to combine into a thick batter. Cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for 30-45 minutes.

When the batter is ready, whisk the rest of the ingredients into it and cover and set aside for another 10 minutes. When you return it should have lots of bubbles. 

Place a large frying pan over a low heat and add some butter or neutral oil. Grease the inside of the crumpet rings, if using. Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of batter into each ring and cook for about 10 minutes (make sure it doesn’t burn). You’ll see the characteristic crumpet holes appearing and when it looks almost cooked through flip them over and cook for another minute or two. Eat immediately with a generous spread of our spiced butter or allow to cool and reheat whenever you want them. 

Christmas veggie beer sausage rolls

1 white onion, finely diced

2 tbsp olive oil or butter, to cook

3 cloves of garlic, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

1 parsnip, finely diced

2 tbsp tomato puree

500g mushrooms, finely diced

2 tbsp each of: brown miso paste (or sub soy sauce) and tomato ketchup

1 tbsp each of: Marmite, (vegan) Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and soft brown sugar

220g dried red lentils

120g cooked chestnuts, finely diced 

100ml boiling water or vegetable stock

330ml bottle Belgian Dubbel or Quadrupel, or a sweeter Porter

60g breadcrumbs or porridge oats

Zest of 1/2 orange or lemon

Optional: 100g parmesan (or 2 tbsp nutritional yeast)

Optional: Other herbs or spices like chilli flakes or dried thyme

Salt and pepper, to taste

One pack ready-made puff pastry 

Glaze: 1 tbsp each of: beer, olive oil and Dijon mustard

This is probably the meatiest meat-free thing you’ll have ever eaten. Choose a beer without hop bitterness, like a strong dark Belgian ale or a Porter. Chop everything up as small as your patience and knifemanship allows (aim for 5mm cubes). This will make 10-12 large sausage rolls and takes about two hours. You could also make this into one large veggie Wellington.

In a large saucepan with a lid, soften the onion in oil for a few minutes. Add the garlic, carrot, parsnip and tomato puree and cook for 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms. Put the lid on the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Add the miso, ketchup, Marmite, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and sugar, and stir together, then add the chestnuts and lentils, stirring to combine everything. 

Next add the water/stock followed by the beer (reserve the remaining beer for a glaze, see below). Bring to a gentle simmer then lower the heat and cook with the lid on for 30-40 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove the lid of the pan and continue cooking until it reduces into a thick filling that’s as dry as possible. Add the remaining ingredients then have a taste and adjust the seasoning. Allow to cool for at least two hours or cover and put in the fridge overnight (just remove it an hour before cooking).

To cook: Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C. Roll out puff pastry and cut in half lengthways. Place half the filling down the middle of each piece of pastry then tightly roll it into a long sausage. Stir together the glaze ingredients and brush over the top, then slice into smaller sausage rolls. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until deep golden brown.

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