We’re just days away from what is universally regarded as the biggest Champagne-drinking holiday of the year, and while I do enjoy a nice glass of bubbly in the form of an expressive grower-Champagne or my go-to pét-nat, I’ve rounded up a few beer alternatives for those who’d rather ditch the sparkling wine for the sake of their wallets (or hangovers).
My first go-to in the quest to replace sparkling wine would be to reach for a great Brett Beer. Wild ales are already very similar to Champagne in terms of dedication to process, heritage, and nuance, but the yeast strain Brettanomyces in particular has those funky and dry as a bone characteristics that I enjoy in a dry Champagne. Orval is a classic option that is widely available or perhaps taking a risk and shooting for Stone Brewing’s (finally-appropriate-to-open) 12.26.15; a Brett IPA in a larger format bottle sure to intrigue your guests. Luckily for most beer lovers in this country, there is no shortage of craft breweries producing some unique and funky beers — from Jester King to Wicked Weed; Holy Mountain to Monkish, good ole’ Allagash and beyond.
Continuing on the wild yeast train, there are also a couple of other styles that I’d recommend for you enjoy as your New Year’s toast. If dry Brett beers are a stretch, a nice gueuze or lambic may be more your speed for this occasion. These Belgian styles have a few very distinct characteristics that I envision being a pleasant reprieve from sparkling grocery store swill. For example, Cantillon’s Classic Gueuze offers a touch of refreshing salinity to balance its funk while something like Drie Fonteinen’s Homage loaded with raspberries and cherries offers beautiful tartness and residual sweetness. Similar sour ale styles I dig domestically? Russian River Brewing’s Temptation and The Bruery’s Oude Tart with Cherries come to mind.
But what about those who don’t like sours or weird beers with crazy yeast strains? On the lighter side, I love a great Pilsner and there really isn’t any shame in ringing in the New Year with a flute filled with crisp and refreshing Firestone Walker Pivo Pils or even throwing back a can of Pizza Port’s Pick Six. Not hoppy enough? Throw the freshest IPA you can get into the mix! The key to this would be going really, really local. Nothing says “un-special” more than aged beer. An aged IPA for the holidays? Well that’s social suicide. Look to those like El Segundo Brewing and Eagle Rock Brewery (their seasonal All Your Oats will stun) for example and if a reliable bottle shop isn’t close to you – go straight to the source and grab bottles, cans, or growler fills at your local breweries. Many of them have extended hours to help you stock up for NYE.
“Wait! My cousin’s boyfriend’s sister’s mom’s best friend doesn’t like beer and is gluten-free!” What do you do? Well, if you don’t plan on stocking a few of these gluten-free beers for them, your best bet would be to head the cider route. I’m a big fan of cider. However, after one of my favorite cider producers was unfortunately bought out by Big Beer this past year, I’ve had a few hits and misses in my quest to find my new go-to’s. For easy-to-find ciders in a pinch, Julian Cider and Sonoma Cider can get the job done. But if you can snag a bottle of Heritage 1900 Cuvee Tradidion Cider from Frederick Goussin (I’ve seen this in Whole Foods recently in addition to my local wine shops), that would be my top pick at the moment.
And lastly, because a piece of this nature wouldn’t be complete without mentioning it, you can also reach for the new “champagne of beers.” The Biere de Champagne or Biere-Brut style is a tiny category that was born back in 1997. Introduced into the market by Brouwerij Malheur (formerly De Landtsheer), Malheur Bière Brut is put through the same methods of fermentation and dégorgement as Champagne. Light, airy, and effervescent. Another Champagne-derivative option would be the more popular DeuS from Brouwerij Bosteels, whose packaging is reminiscent of Dom Perignon and seems to have a wider U.S. distribution. Its competitive advantage above the former? While the beer is brewed in Belgium, it actually finishes its process in Champagne (the region) where it is dosed, packaged, and bottle conditioned.
What are you drinking this New Year’s Eve? What do you sub for sparkling wine in a special occasion? Be it a hoppy west coast IPA or just your favorite local lager, The Full Pint team wishes you the happiest new year!