I ’m not just a wine and cheese professional, I’m a culinary hedonist, open to exploring flavors, aromas and textures not familiar to me. While I usually prefer the pairing of wine and cheese, I’ve attended quite a few tastings offering up beer as the beverage of choice to perfectly complement many types of cheeses. My curiosity has since opened up a whole new appreciation for beer, and a few new favorite pairings.
Beer experts will argue that the slight carbonation and range of flavors make beer an easier choice for cheese. The high fat content in cheese makes it very mouth-coating, and each sip of beer helps to break it down, giving your palate a bit of a tingly scrub.
Beer can be made from a wide range of malted grains, hops, and yeasts, along with other add-ins, such as fruits and spices, opening them up to ideal cheese pairings. Flavors such as coffee, chocolate, and vanilla beans can make certain darker, richer beers a perfect ending to a meal, especially when served with a rich dessert or a rich cheese.
Experimental barrel aging has also opened up a plethora of pairing possibilities for beer. Vessels previously used for wine, whiskey, and even maple syrup can create unexpected results and increase a beer’s aging potential. These vessels can also impart a range of flavors not present in other beverages, making them easy to pair with many foods.
There are no hard and fast rules in beer and cheese pairings—many different experts have their own favorites—but a few basic tips will help you craft your own tasting. Try some of these combinations to start your journey, making sure to go in order from lightest to heavier flavors:
- Fresh Young Cheeses and Saison: The bright, clean flavors of both the beer and cheese complement each other perfectly.
- Sheep’s Milk Cheese and Brown Ale: The dense, complex, nutty flavors in many aged sheep’s milk cheeses play well with the roasty, toasty malt flavors present in these brews.
- Blue Cheese or Triple Cream and Stout: The bold flavor of Stout is often paired with a rich blue cheese, but a must-try is a silky triple cream. Think decadent heavy cream in your coffee.
- Aged Cow’s Milk Cheeses and IPA: Citrus, tropical fruit and resinated notes in an American IPA play well with Cheddar and other flavorful cow’s milk cheeses. The tangy beer and bubbles cut through the rich, buttery flavors of the cheese.
- Washed Rind Cheeses and “Brett” Beers (sour or wild ales): These funky flavors can be a beautiful marriage when paired together properly. The rustic, earthy, wine-y notes in many sours can stand up to the bold flavor of many pungent cheeses.
With beer and cheese pairing, experimenting with combinations and having fun with them is key to your enjoyment. Adding other elements such as jams, nuts, and different breads to the pairing can turn a good combination into a fabulous favorite.
Hoppingly Happy Local Beer and Cheese Pairings
Short, Tart and Handsome, a dry-hopped American-style sour ale from C.H. Evans is delicious with Lynnhaven Chevre, pink grapefruit, and a drizzle of local honey. This sweet-sour combo is a great Sunday brunch starter. Swap it out for a Mimosa.
The Beer Diviner’s Ancient Gruit Ale is a very different, sour and herb-y ale made from an ancient recipe of wormwood, wild yarrow, grains of paradise, and local honey. Try this unique brew with a funky, washed-rind cheese such as Hudson Red from Twin Maple Farm. Be prepared for weird and wild flavors! Add some crusty bread and dried figs for a total sensory sensation.
2 Way Brewing’s Beacon Brown Ale pairs exceptionally well with Hawthorne Valley’s Alpine cheese. Add roasted almonds, apricot jam, and a brown bread for crowd-pleasing pleasure.
Satan’s Gut Imperial Stout from Rare Form Brewing Company is mind-bending when paired with the silky, decadent St. Stephen cheese from the Hudson Valley’s Four Fat Fowl Farm and a piece of deep dark chocolate. Add a ladyfinger biscuit and Luxardo maraschino cherries for a memorable end to any meal.