DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Ask an Expert > Beverage pairings for holiday meals

Exploring local beer and regional wine this holiday season

Beverage experts with DePaul’s School of Hospitality Leadership recommend Chicago brews and wines from Michigan and Illinois

​​​​Five people toast with sparkling wine.

This​ holiday season may look a bit like seasons past with more of us gathering with loved ones to eat, drink and celebrate together. DePaul beverage experts suggest picking up some regional favorites to complement holiday meals.

“This may be our first holiday gathering since 2019, giving us an opportunity to refresh holiday gatherings in a new way,” says Lisa Young, an associate professor and the director of undergraduate programs for the School of Hospitality Leadership. “Why not try some regional wines from Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin to support local farmers?”

Young teaches International Wine Management and Education and has more than two decades of experience in the hospitality industry. She says wine industry professionals believe the world-class wines emerging from Michigan will gain that region the notoriety Willamette, Oregon, has received over the past two decades.

For those who prefer a celebratory beer, Joseph LeRoy says Chicago’s craft breweries offer an abundance of options. He teaches the Business of Craft Beer in the School of Hospitality Leadership.

“Chicago has always had a thriving tavern culture, so it’s no surprise craft beer has found a natural home here,” says LeRoy, who is a Cicerone Certified Beer Server and has a certificate in brewing technology from the World Brewing Academy. “From traditional lagers to big bold IPAs to the next experimental craze, you can find something exciting produced right here in Chicago.”

Whether enjoying a Christmas ham, snacks at a holiday party or takeout from a favorite Chinese place, Young and LeRoy agree a local beer or wine will pair well. A great pairing can make the meal better by highlighting the ingredients and enhancing the flavors.

Appetizers and salads

For appetizers or cream sauce entrees, Young encourages trying a sparkling wine from nearby wineries including Illinois Sparkling Co. in Itasca, Mawby Vineyards in Suttons Bay, Michigan, and Mari Vineyards in Traverse City, Michigan.

“Sharing theses unique wines with family and friends can spark new conversations about our up-and-coming wine region during the holiday season,” Young says.

LeRoy says a crisp Pilsner for beer drinkers will complement a first course. But for something more exciting, he suggests trying Off-Color Brewing’s Apex Predator Farmhouse Ale.

“By removing the temperature control during the fermentation process, Hermosa-based Off Color Brewing has designed this beer to let the yeast take the driver’s seat, producing a hazy, golden beer with fruity aromas and a dry finish,” LeRoy says.

Main courses and desserts

If a Christmas ham or barbeque beef are on the menu, LeRoy suggests Avondale’s Metropolitan Brewing’s Generator Doppelbock, a malty lager he calls “approachable yet deep.”

“These wholesome and complex flavors need an equally decadent beer,” LeRoy says. “Be aware, like the roast ham, this beer is no light-weight, coming in at 8% alcohol by volume.”

Young recommends sweet or fruitiness to complement smoky ham and meats, such as Illinois Cellars’ Norton or ISC’s Ombré Rosé, or a sparkling rose. For spicier dishes, like Szechuan chicken or curry dishes, she opts for dry Rieslings, such as Black Star Farms’ Aucturos or one from Chateau Grand Traverse, or sparkling wines, such as Mari Vineyards’ Simplicissimus and Mawby’s Blanc Brut.

Because these regional wineries have limited production and are only located in a few stores, Young suggests local beer and wine shops or specialty stores​. If you’re driving to your holiday destination, stop by a local winery on the way to ​purchase a bottle or two.

No meal is complete without a decadent dessert. To pair with rich desserts, Young suggests a sweet Riesling while LeRoy prefers barrel aged imperial stout.

“Here in Chicago, there is a seemingly endless list of breweries producing high-tier, rare release stouts that clearly have the attention of their buyers as they sell out in minutes,” he says. These include Goose Island’s Bourbon County, Half Acre’s Benthic and Revolution’s Deth’s Tar. But LeRoy suggests consulting with beer store employees for their best offerings.

Young says being intentional about beverage pairings can take some time to plan and recommends trying some of the wines in advance with similar foods that will be served alongside the big event. Finding delicious wines and beers to enhance your meal can elevate the dining experience.

“Having a good story about the wines and beers selected in addition to where they come from is something you can share along your meal,” she says.