What’s a holiday? Easy. It’s a bunch of traditions that you share with a few special people. Familiar foods, drinks and faces are what make these days feel like celebrations. But 2020 hasn’t been about doing things the usual way; this year, it’s all about staying connected to your traditions within the new normal.
To help bring the warm fuzzies, we asked five Beer Store employees to share their memories of favourite holiday get-togethers from years past and what made these celebrations special. Whatever you celebrate, we hope their traditions of delicious food, great beer and good company remind you of your own — or inspire new ones to try.
Multi-Location Retail Operations Manager, Barrie
The gathering: A leisurely day of snacking and dining with extended family, followed by a trip downtown to watch the Barrie Santa Claus Parade
Jennifer has a large blended family. And with all their schedules, it’s tough for the whole crew to get together around Christmas.
“Once we all had babies, my mom started a new tradition,” says Jennifer. “We all get together to celebrate on the day of the Barrie Santa Claus Parade.” That usually happens in mid-November, before the chaos of the holiday season really begins. “All of us kids and our kids go to Mom’s house and munch throughout the day. Then we head over to the parade, which is so magical at night.”
The nibbling and sipping lead to a turkey dinner with interesting extras. “My mom does a butternut squash soup with cheese and crackers,” says Jennifer. “I usually bring a mixer pack of beer for the adults to sample and share. We’ll pour different varieties into little cups and do a taste test.”
Then it’s off to watch the parade — and the even better spectacle of the kids enjoying the sparkly, exciting procession. “Now that I have a child, and she’s five, my favourite part is just watching her enjoy it,” says Jennifer. “The first couple of years, they don’t really notice too much. But now the excitement starts in September.”
The key dish: Jennifer’s mom makes her famous apple crisp for parade day. “It’s delicious,” says Jennifer. “It has a nice, thick topping of oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. I love it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top!”
The perfect pairing: “Try pairing apple crisp with an amber ale. The caramel-flavoured malt is a perfect match for the apple bits and the warming winter spices,” says Jennifer.
Procurement and Inventory Control, Draught Services, Oakville
The gathering: Canada’s Largest Ribfest over the Labour Day long weekend
For the last 10 years or more, Scott’s family and friends — around 20 people, give or take — have gathered at one house and walked over to Burlington’s Spencer Smith Park for one purpose: to stuff their faces with incredibly delicious barbecue.
Other holidays involve sitting in one place, Scott observes. “This? It’s an adventure the whole day,” he says. “Over the years, the groups have changed, but it’s always been an opportunity for my mom’s friends, my sister’s friends and all of us to meet up, go down there and share a big rib feast.”
For the ribfest uninitiated: The day involves choosing from rows of competitive rib slingers selling their specialties side by side. Many of the stands look similar, but not all ribs are created equal. As a huge fan of this meaty main, Scott looks for one favourite vendor in particular every year. He grabs a family platter of ribs, piled high with baked beans, coleslaw, cornbread and — for those with an even bigger appetite — maybe even a quarter of a smoked chicken. A visit to the beer stand completes the meal.
After the feast, Scott and his family take the opportunity to walk home together. That’s another nice thing about the day, he says — the chance to walk and talk and catch up.
The key dish: So, what’s Scott’s pick: dry or saucy ribs? “Definitely saucy ribs,” he says. They go best with spicy baked beans.
The perfect pairing: “I feel the boldness of an IPA stands up against the kick in the sauce and the spicy, smoky flavours of the beans. It gives you a little kick, too,” says Scott.
Customer Service Representative, London
The gathering: A late-July barbecue focused on local produce, a.k.a. “Christmas in July”
When you’re part of a large family, you can be sure of two things. One: It’s hard to coordinate everyone around the big holidays. Two: With so many people in the clan, there are bound to be clusters of birthdays — so you might as well celebrate them in bunches.
At Donna’s family celebrations in a typical year, “there are probably about 30 to 40 of us, depending on whether everybody comes with their significant others,” she says. To solve the problem of getting together at Christmas, and to take advantage of a bunch of summer birthdays — including Donna’s — her family gathers each July around the 25th for a big “Christmas in July” backyard shindig, complete with burgers, hot dogs, macaroni salad and coolers of nicely chilled beer.
“For whatever reason, at that particular barbecue, we get the best attendance. We even get the cousins who don’t always show up — they always seem to come to Christmas in July because of the delicious food and the great weather,” says Donna.
But perhaps the biggest draw? It’s corn season. “We schedule the barbecue in time for the first corn harvest, usually somewhere in mid-July,” she says.
According to tradition, the Christmas in July sweet corn has to come from a particular local farm in Haldimand County (its identity is a closely guarded family secret). “There’s no rhyme or reason to it — their corn is just better,” says Donna. And it’s even tastier with beer, naturally.
The key dish: Donna’s family digs into Haldimand County sweet corn on the cob drenched in butter and sprinkled with black pepper. Burgers are great alongside but totally optional.
The perfect pairing: “Light lagers are standard at my big family barbecue, and they really are ideal for corn on the cob. Their mild flavours and aromas don’t get in the way of enjoying each crunchy-but-subtle bite of those delicious little kernels,” says Donna.
Operations Supervisor, Distribution Centre Warehouse, Stoney Creek
The gathering: A classic turkey dinner on Christmas Day — and don’t you dare forget Mum’s stuffing
Tina’s Christmas Day celebrations with her extended family are a testament to the pull of tradition. Though her mother has been gone for 20 years, she’s still the master of ceremonies in spirit.
For starters, Tina says, “We have turkey with Mum’s stuffing. It doesn’t matter what house we go to; it’s always Mum’s stuffing.” And it has to be done to her exacting specifications. “You don’t buy stale bread. You have to break the bread yourself,” Tina says. “You fry it up with butter, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, sage and other seasonings. Add some bacon and mashed potatoes and stuff it in the turkey.”
Another Christmas fixture is Mum’s old white Christmas tree with blue bulbs — except now it resides in the family’s memories and on their bodies, instead of in the living room corner. “When Mum passed, there were only two of the blue bulbs left,” Tina says. “I have one, and we hang it on our tree. And all three of my girls got tattoos of that blue bulb to remember their grandmother.”
The key dish: Turkey with stuffing pairs up with other comforting sides, including sliced baked squash and apples.
The perfect pairing: “If your family is crazy about stuffing too, I would try an English-style pale ale, also known as a best bitter. The herby, tea-like hops flavours are so good with the sage-infused stuffing and the earthy squash. Plus, pale ale is light enough for you to refresh your palate after each starchy bite.”
District Manager, Barrie
The gathering: Annual holiday potluck with the old gang
Sarah’s had the same group of friends forever. And no matter how much time has passed, they still have as big a laugh together as they ever did.
“The majority of us met in high school, so we’ve known each other for many, many years,” says Sarah. “A few new folks have since joined the crew, but for the most part, it’s a very exclusive party!” When the big evening arrives, “We get to see each other and share some laughs, with some competitive games.”
Sarah’s crew gets up to new hijinks every year. “One year we went and recorded a Christmas CD. One of my co-workers at The Beer Store was a DJ, so he took us to his studio and we recorded an entire album,” she says. “We surprised the rest of the group when we busted that out! Now the CD gets played every single year at everyone’s houses.”
The key dish: Sarah looks for simplicity when she’s choosing her potluck dish. “Otherwise, I’m not going to lie to you, I burn everything,” she laughs. “My family has told me that the only reason fire extinguishers exist is because of me.” The potluck menu varies from year to year, but some recipes have earned repeat performances. “I’m always getting requests to make my sriracha-panko-topped mac and cheese,” says Sarah. “There’s nothing like a cool beer to chill out the heat of that dish.” More recently, she made fried beer-battered asparagus with chipotle mayo dip, and incorporated golden lager into the batter. “Actually, it worked out really well — and no fire!” she says.
The perfect pairing: “I made the asparagus batter with a pale golden lager, which was great to sip while eating. The light-bodied beer keeps the dish from feeling too heavy, and its crisp finish clears out any oiliness from the batter bits,” says Sarah.