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The Convivial Table gets down and dirty

By Wendy Crispell, CSW, WSET

Hudson Valley ApplejackIt’s true; I love wine and cheese pairings! For those who know me it may seem peculiar to imagine I would stray from the beloved grape when crafting a cheese pairing menu. But, I have to come clean, there are some amazing pairing combinations when it comes to the world of craft beer and cheese. I especially enjoy a hearty dark beer or stout with a range of soft or hard cheeses.

My first experience pairing beer with cheese goes back to a memorable evening many years ago in the bar room at NYC’s Gramercy Tavern. While waiting for my cheese plate, I chatted with the gentleman next to me dressed in a snappy, green-check wool suit. As I perused the menu for a wine to pair with my selection of local and international cheeses, he asked, “Why not try a beer?” Steadfast in my views of beer and food pairings I ordered a wine but was open to trying a few of his suggestions after the barman whispered that my new friend was a well-known beer expert. I must admit I was won over by his pairing of a luxuriously silky, triple crème with a dense chocolatey stout! It was like cream in a steamy, heady cup of fresh ground coffee. I remember being surprised, weeks later, to see a giant photo of my dining companion in the window of a Whole Foods market. On closer look I discovered my beer guide had been none other than Garret Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster and considered by some to be the ultimate authority on pairing beer with food. I’ve since read his books on beer, including, “The Brewmasters Table,” a feisty tome in defense of all things beer and food that is essential reading for anyone interested in food and beverage pairing.

While I’m still partial to wine, I occasionally dabble in pairings on the dark side of the beer spectrum. I also think it’s a good idea to have a few tricks up your sleeve when hosting a cheese pairing— not all of your guests may enjoy wine, and providing a tasty alternative will be sure to impress your guests.

Many brewmasters feel beer is a better match for cheeses given its carbonation. Like sparkling wines, the gentle fizz in craft beers cleanses your palate, prepping you for the next bite of rich, tongue coating cheese. Some beer geeks argue that cheese and beer, to some extent, both derive from grasses, making for a more harmonious pairing. Both are fermented and aged, and the type of microflora (microscopic plants) found in their habitats greatly influences the finished product, hence beer and cheeses sharing similar terroir can share common flavors. Many feel this factor makes for some of the culinary world’s best pairings.

While all of the above can be considered valid points, perhaps too scientific, you may simply want to experiment with flavors. The suggestions below are my favorites, but try experimenting with different styles of beer and cheese to create your own perfect pairing. I would also urge you to try darker, richer styles of beer with dessert! A berry-infused Lambic or Barley Wine is a wonderful alternative to Port with many chocolate desserts.

Another dairy delight you may consider pairing with beer is artisanal ice cream. Craft beer bars all over the country are experimenting with this new twist on a classic—the ice cream float. Pick up a few pints of the Hudson Valley’s own Jane’s Ice Cream, and end an evening of beer pairing on a sweet, nostalgic note.


4 small scoops of Jane’s Coffee and Cookies ice cream
16 oz. Chocolate Stout
Chocolate tuile cookies
Fill 2 tall glasses with 2 scoops each of ice cream.
Top with beer, stir and garnish with cookies.

So go on, don’t be afraid, explore the dark side of pairings with craft beer!

General Pointers for Spirited Pairings

Wendy Crispell, WSET Advanced Certificate, CSW is a wine and cheese specialist based in both the Hudson Valley and NYC. Join her for one of her weekly wine and cheese classes aboard the motor yacht Manhattan or plan your own private event in your office, home or event space.

Hudson Valley Wine magazine Summer 2014 issue

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