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POINT OF BREW ----- Michael J. Lewis

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Advent and the Appropriate Use of Beer.

This is the time of year when I wear my Santa hat. I like doing that.

In a practical way it keeps my ears warm on these chilly mornings, but more importantly I find it makes folk a bit more friendly. People smile at me and some wish me “Good morning” while I’m on my morning stroll. Others express a liking for my hat and a few call out “Merry Christmas.” That’s all fun and I love it. Of course, there are always those few more studious or wise ones who cross the street when they see me coming thinking, I suppose, that I’m and old man one card short of a full deck.

My Santa hat is a sure sign that we are in Advent. This is the four-week period leading up to the great celebration of Christmas and the birth of the Christ child. We are now two Sundays down and two to go. Whether you are a church-going Christian or not you are living through the season of Advent and, unless you adhere to a different religious tradition from Christianity, you almost certainly engage in Advent traditions: you probably have a tree and lights and plan on gifts and feasts. More important I think than the things of Advent is the spirit of Advent all of which revolves around love, joy, peace, and generosity.

Brewers of course are also living through Advent, whether they like it or not. This is brewers’ slowest time of year in terms of beer production because the weather, being cold, dark, wet occasionally and snowy in places, is far short of the time to order a frosty beer. We are just too close to the winter solstice and the year’s shortest day. Few beer drinkers these days realize that a beer’s frostiness can be solved by the simple strategy of heating it up, that is, the traditional practice of mulling beer. It’s a bit of a nuisance and perhaps a bit insanitary and, in the hands of some, maybe a bit dangerous. The easiest way requires a fire to make a hot poker (right there, that’s what I mean about dangerous) that is then plunged into a mug of beer. Alternatively, beer may be heated in a vessel of some sort such as a traditional conical pot that can go directly into the hot coals. Mulling could add not just warmth but some unique new flavors. Determined beer drinkers on these chilly days more likely switch to more alcoholic products with more intense flavors and maybe some sweetness.

This is also the brewers’ slowest time of year because drinkers may turn to other drinks particularly distilled spirits and wines. It’s worth remembering that a “drink is a drink” in alcohol terms only if a drinker uses standard measures and drinks at the same rate.

The fact of the matter is that beer is not really a Christmas sort of drink. Christmas is more of a hot chocolate or egg-nog time of year or, with alcohol Irish coffee or whiskey. And, being a celebratory season of good cheer and gift-giving and singing and rich eating, most might reasonably argue that wines or especially champagne are better suited. 

However, I want to make a plea that beers be given a chance at the table at feast time. We know about wines going with the meal and red wines with that and white wines with this. Hosts at such feasts may spend a good deal of time agonizing over the choice of wines for the meal and may end up paying more than is wise. Wines are a great aid to gustation, no doubt about that, as long as there is also a glass of water available. To my palette most reasonably good red wines taste red-winish and the same with white; the spectrum of flavors is relatively narrow. The chance of a good match between wine and food is therefore limited. Beer, on the other hand, has an extraordinary range of flavor impacts from the lightest most delicate to the blackest and most robust so that a good match can be found among them for the salad, the fish, the meat, the dessert and cheese courses. Let me just say that a stygian stout with that sugar-bomb dessert will amaze you.

I understand why champagne is such a celebratory drink. It looks like a celebration with its bubbles. It’s amazing stuff. Metaphorically it reminds me of a little excited dog jumping with joy just waiting to be petted. Beer, though it has many of the same characteristics, cannot compete with that (except that it does not give one acid stomach). In contrast, red wine on the table at a feast in a glass metaphorically looks to me like a spoiled cat lying there motionless, even scowling, but condescendingly willing to be swirled and sniffed at and aahhhed over. Beer poured properly into a well-shaped clean glass, by contrast, is a charming favorite aunt ready to engage in an amusing conversation and who would not want that at the feast?

So here we are in Advent, a very special time of year leading us on to Christmastide and all the secular and spiritual things that represents. This is the time of year when I wear my Santa hat. I like doing that. 


Michael J Lewis MUG Picmonkey

Michael J. Lewis, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of brewing science at the University of California, Davis, and the academic director and lead instructor of UC Davis Extension’s Professional Brewing Programs. Lewis has been honored with the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ Award of Merit and the Brewers Association’s Recognition Award. He is an elected fellow of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling. He is also a recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award. 

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