Beer and Food Matching: Christmas Pudding

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Ben Bartlett catering development manager, the Union Pub Company: Christmas pudding is a steamed pudding massively heavy with dried fruit and nuts...

Ben Bartlett catering development manager, the Union Pub Company​: Christmas pudding is a steamed pudding massively heavy with dried fruit and nuts and usually made with suet. It should be very dark in appearance and moist with brandy or a dark beer such as mild, stout or porter. A fantastic seasonal beer that compliments Christmas pudding is Jennings Red Breast.

This beer is brewed with two English whole cone hops and natural coloured malt giving a chestnut red hue to the beer. Redbreast drinks with a full flavour and a warming glow.

Traditionally puddings were made on or immediately after the Sunday "next before Advent", five weeks before Christmas. The day became known as "Stir-up Sunday". Traditionally everyone in the household, or at least every child, gave the mixture a stir, and made a wish while doing so. It was common practice to include small silver coins in the pudding mixture, which could be kept by the person whose serving included them and the coin was believed to bring wealth in the coming year.

Other tokens are also known to have been included, such as a tiny wishbone (to bring good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), or an anchor (to symbolise safe harbour).

Once turned out of its basin, the Christmas pudding is traditionally decorated with a spray of holly, and it may be doused in brandy, flamed (or 'fired'), and brought to the table ceremonially - where it may be greeted with a round of applause. In some houses the lights are turned out as the pudding is brought in amid a halo of purple brandy flames (this is related to the Christmas tradition of snap-dragons). It can be eaten with hard sauce, brandy butter, rum butter, cream (lemon cream is excellent) or custard and is often sprinkled with caster sugar (the fall of the sugar on triangular slices resembling the fall of snow on a pitched roof, or snowy mountain tops).

Craft Guild of Chefs member John Rudden, chef and director of the White Hart Inn, Lydgate:​ To accompany Christmas pudding I would recommend JW Lees Plum Pudding Beer as it has lots of body and a high ABV, which is needed to cut through the sweetness of the pudding.

Plum Pudding Beer is a rich, warming and dark seasonal cask ale brewed with a hint of fruit, available throughout November and December for the Christmas trade. The malty and sweet flavours of this English strong ale make it the ideal winter warmer to accompany Christmas pudding.

White Hart Christmas Pudding with brandy sauce is on all of our Christmas menus throughout December, as it's a must have dessert over the festive season."

Phil Vickery, chef and broadcaster​: With Christmas pudding, it would have to be a fine raspberry or deep flavoured fruit beer such as cherry. (Phil has just launched his own food range, including Christmas puddings. Visit​)

Paul Drye, Catering Development Manager, St Austell Brewery​: With something as deep, dark and characterful as a Christmas pudding, the beer you choose must be made of the 'right stuff' - any lighter ales may simply be lost in the melee of rich flavours competing for your taste buds' attention. Look for full-bodied ales with a hint of sweetness and flavours of molasses, caramel, spice and dried fruit (you can see where I'm going with this one). Beers with these flavours will complement your Christmas pud perfectly and sit happily with the fresh cream or custard accompaniment - but probably not with brandy butter.

A good stout that is perfect for the job is Saint Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout from Thornbridge Hall Country House Brewery with pronounced dried fruit, malt and chocolate flavours. It's hard to get hold of but just superb.

Another stout that is a little less potent, but oh so moreish, is St Austell's Cornish Cream - rich creamy, delicately sweet with a hint of dried fruit - it's simply made to go with desserts like this.

You only need a small 125ml glass of these stouts at this stage in the meal, and anyone who does manage to down a pint of stout at the end of their Christmas dinner deserves to sleep through the Queen's speech.

Richard Fox, chef and broadcaster​: Strong, barley wine-style beers will complement the rich alcohol-soaked fruit flavours of a Christmas pud such as Fullers Vintage Ale. However, the most appropriate of all - and one which contributed to me getting into the joys of beer and food matching is a fine stout. The first time I sampled Guinness with Christmas pudding at a Beer Academy seminar was a Eureka moment! Fruit flavours come out in the beer that are not detectable when drunk on its own; while the flavour is reciprocated by the beer on the pud. If you can get hold of it, Scorsby stout from the Cropton Brewery near Pickering in Yorkshire is outstanding, as is Fullers London Porter. Merry Christmas!

Melissa Cole, beer writer​: If you're lucky enough to get hold of some, the Spirit of the Dragon from Breconshire Brewery is a great beer that will pick up all the rich fruit and alcohol flavours from your pud. Matured for >anything between three and four months in oak whisky casks it's a trememdously rich, dark beer and sits at a not too hefty 5.5% ABV. It has a real whisky nose and a warming flavour on the palette, which is beautifully complemented by the spicy vanilla undertones and fruity malt notes.

Rupert Ponsonby, R&R Teamwork​: My big revelation about 5 years ago was that a wide range of beers are excellent with Christmas Puddding. Why? Because beer has the natural carbonation to cleanse and refresh the mouth's delicate sensors, which become muddied by the richness which assaults them with this particular pudding.

My favourite style for Christmas Pudding used to be the roasted, chocolate flavours of porter or stout - beers such as O'Hanlons vinous Port Stout, the more chocolaty Titanic Porter, Fullers London Porter, or even Guinness itself.

More recently, with age, my affections have veered towards the sensuous plum and raisin flavours of Britain's wonderful old ales of 7 pwer cent+. These are fabulous with pud as they share the same sweet, bready yeastiness and mirror each others flavours - my present paramours being Robinsons Old Tom, Youngs Old Nick and Brakspear's Triple. And there are a host of cask and bottled stunners from micros and regionals out there on the market - and at a much lower abv than the 17-20% abv of Madeiras or Port, much as I love those too.

But I wouldn't be averse to pairing my XP with wildly hoppy barley wines such as Whitbread's Gold Label or Chiltern Bodgers Barley Wine either., especially on a brisk sunny day when the barley wines' lighter colours will be a revelation, the colour of sweet wines like Sauternes. Roll on Xmas.

John Keeling, Fuller's head brewer:​ I've got only one recommendation for this dish, and it's by far the best. 1845 has spicy fruit notes, and has Christmas written all over it. I don't need to say any more!

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