When it comes to holiday gatherings, there is nothing quite as comforting, luscious, and satisfying as cheese and holiday beer. “Beer?” you ask.
“What about champagne and cheese, or Cabernet Sauvignon matched up with a plateful of pungent cheeses?”
The answer is plain and simple. Although you may have been initially educated by old-school ideas that wine is posh and suited to an evening soiree, artisanal craftsmen and women recognize the taste explosion inherent in matching fine beer with the finest cheese. Wine with cheese is a fairy tale, a clash of the Titans. The creaminess of cheese coats the palate, blocking the full flavors of the wine.
Beer and cheese are both artisanal products, derived from the farmlands – Cheese, from cows feeding on grasses; beer from the malted grains. Beer goes through a fermentation cycle, as does cheese, and they are both given a bit of age.
Beer and cheese are about balance: The bitterness against the lactic flavors of fermentation; fruitiness walking the tightrope next to acidity; sweetness alongside nuttiness.
Some people complain that beer fills them up, and just isn’t conducive to drinking along with cheese bites. If this sounds like you, you may need to modify your perspective. For too long, stadium advertisements tried to sell beer and soft drinks – lots of them – by convincing John Q. Public that beer is to be chugged by the bottle, one after another, and soft drinks consumed as a “Big Gulp." But how many times do you chug glasses of milk, one after another; glasses of water, one after another; or glasses of juice, one after another? I have yet to hear anyone say, “I went to a party and must’ve drunk 8 bottles of milk.”
My solution has always been to share a bottle of craft beer with several friends. When a cheese plate is in view, there is nothing quite like enjoying several different beer styles for cheese matching. If several varieties of beer are available, a few ounces in a tulip glass, re-filled over the course of an hour, or two, will easily provide a spectacular experience.
You can identify nuttiness and a touch of tart flavor in a funky, cave-aged Gruyere. Pair this with a mild American Brown, such as Brooklyn Brown Ale, to accent the nuttiness while adding a subtle caramel sweetness. If you want a more intense experience, try the Gruyere with Samichlaus Classic Bier, a Doppelbock of 14% ABV. The molasses sweetness, along with alcohol-drenched fruitcake flavors, create a powerful dance on the palate when combined with the farmyard profile of the cheese.
Tangy goat cheese, layered in ash, makes a marvelous pairing with farmhouse Saison. Boulevard Brewing Company crafts Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, with a sweet maltiness in the primary taste, followed by tart and zesty fruit flavors that make the cheese come alive.
A salty and pungent Stilton Cheese begs to be showcased with Winter Warmers and Barleywines. Old Guardian Barley Wine Style Ale from Stone Brewing comes forth with caramel, spice, prunes, figs, and leather, riding along with the assertive flavors of the Stilton. Try Stone’s Smoked or Belgo Style Old Guardian for a tasting with a fine twist.
Biere de Garde, Dubbels, Quads, and Fruit Lambic open up possibilities that accent the flavors in everything from Havarti and Mondseer to Gamonedo or Cambozola.