There’s an elf on the shelf, er, the tap at Charlotte’s Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, just in time for the holidays.
Wicked Elf Ale, a strong Belgian tripel, is one of two seasonal offerings at Rock Bottom Charlotte, according to brewmaster Robb MacLeod. The other is Big Daddy Christmas, a strong, dark lager with cinnamon, clove and orange peel to spice it up.
“Seasonals only come around once a year at most, so it’s kind of like meeting up with an old friend,” MacLeod said of the process of brewing the specialty offerings.
As for what beer to pair with your holiday meal, MacLeod offers up some simple advice: “Drink the beer that pleases you most.”
“No particular style is more ‘holiday’ than another,” he said. “If pairing is your thing, you have to base your choices upon what’s being served on the plate.”
Classic vs. trendy
At Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston, seasonal offerings include Snow Flurry, a juniper rye IPA, and Silent Night, an imperial stout brewed with coffee from Durham’s Counter Culture Coffee, then aged for four to five months in bourbon barrels.
“It’s fun for us to be able to try new styles, to brew things that pair well with the weather outside, and to see how excited loyal fans get when their favorite beer returns to store shelves each season,” said Travis Quinn, director of sales at Mother Earth Brewing.
Stephen Hill and Trent Mooring founded Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston in 2008, in part to help boost the revitalization of downtown Kinston, according to Amy Gannett, the brewery's marketing director.
“Our mission has always been to produce high-quality, true-to-style examples of classic beers, and to do that with an emphasis on sustainability and environmental friendliness,” Quinn said. “Classic styles are classic for a reason, and beers like Endless River Kolsch, Weeping Willow Wit and Park Day Pilsner will always be in style, and always be waiting for beer drinkers when they become weary of quadruple-hopped IPAs or ghost-pepper saisons.”
If you’re up for a holiday beer pairing this season, Quinn offers some classic pairing suggestions, adding that pairings don’t necessarily call for a holiday seasonal brew.
“Classic meals call for classic beers,” he said. “With turkey, I’d go with Dark Cloud Dunkel. It’s a great food beer that pairs well with any kind of smoked meat. With my seafood, I always reach for an Endless River Kolsch. The light, crisp body and mild green apple flavor go well with shrimp and other flaky fish.”
For roasted veggies, for example, an IPA might the best choice. The Sisters of the Moon IPA has “a little more body and balanced layers of bitterness and grapefruit that cut through the earthiness of the veggies," Quinn said.
When it’s time for dessert, maybe it is best to go for the seasonal brew, particularly if it’s Silent Night, which Quinn described as big, rich and decadent. “It’s a perfect pairing with grandma’s chocolate cake.”
Brian Mandeville, head brewer at Fullsteam Brewing in Durham, said the brewery’s most notable holiday release is Farm’s Edge: First Frost, a winter ale brewed with foraged persimmons and North Carolina’s only Good Foods Award winner.
The best part about holiday offerings, “is that the brewer himself or herself gets to decide what kind of beer they want to drink, because they’re the ones brewing it,” Mandeville said.
“In today’s competitive market, quality beer is no longer a differentiator, but a necessity,” he continued. “In order to stay relevant, brewers have to continue to innovate and push the limits – all while still staying true to the ethos of their brewery and their brand.”
Pairing and sharing
At Wilmington Brewing Co., a vanilla coffee porter is on tap this holiday season.
“Getting to share your beer with those around you is really the best part of brewing,” said Michelle Savard, who founded Wilmington Brewing with her husband, John. “The sense of community shared over a pint of great beer definitely brings out the holiday spirit in all craft beer lovers.
In fact, when it comes to embracing craft breweries across the Tar Heel State, Savard has a bit of holiday cheer to spread.
“The more the merrier with craft beer,” she said. “We are really enjoying the comradery with our fellow breweries, old and new, here in Wilmington and across the state.”