The recent push for matching beer with food is something I’ve rather neglected. “Now good beer is gaining more commercial recognition, it’s time to push the food pairings,” I read on a blog at the start of the year (can’t remember which so can’t credit this.) It’s not that I don’t see the benefits; it’s just that I tend to enjoy my beers on their own, call it my failure to multitask. I’m the kind of man who’d eat lemon sole with a side of chicken curry and not care how they complement each other.
But late last year, before this blog existed, I went to a Schneider Weiss beer and cheese pairing evening at the Cross Keys, Leeds and really enjoyed myself. So when I heard Brewdog Manchester were doing something similar with The Queen Brie I signed right up. I’m not writing my experience of the evening down to cast an expert opinion over beer and cheese matching, rather to give my opinion on an area where my knowledge is so limited.
So, here’s a picture I stole from their Twitter (forgive me) of the set-up where you can see my arm and part of my face on the left. I was expecting something a little bigger perhaps, but the intimate set-up worked well and gave more of an opportunity to talk to others and give feedback. I was pleased to see from the menu that not all the beers were going to be Brewdog’s and that we were only trying 6.
We started with a Dolphinholme’s Goats Cheese and Cigar City Guava Grove, a beer I’d not had before. It’s a decent, hoppy effort from the Americans but the guava flavour gives a sweetness a little overpowering for my pallet. I’m not an expert on Goat’s Cheese fan but could tell this was a good version, however I soon found it cloying. But together, they take away these negative points and truly do match, forming a different taste that leaves a great honeyed aftertaste.
Next was the Cranberry Wensleydale and the 5am Saint. When I saw this pairing on the menu I understood the theory immediately and thought this would be a combination that would really work. But, in fact, I found the cheese immediately nulled all the great hoppy flavours I love about 5am Saint, leaving a thin taste to the beer and removing the sweetness of the fruit. Didn’t work for me, surprisingly.
Moving on to a completely different cheese – Burt’s Blue with Punk IPA. I’m not a massive blue cheese fan but this was truly fantastic, possibly the best I’ve had. The idea behind the beer, so we were told, was to create a complete contrast, rather than a counterpart and it was an idea well executed for me. Both worked as polar opposites.
I was excited about the Vintage Cheddar and Green Flash Barley Wine pairing, as it’s my favourite type of cheese going with a Barley Wine I’d yet to have. For me though, this was the best example of where my understanding of food matches reaches its limits, because both the cheese and beer here were incredible, so I stopped caring whether they complemented each other. This might be my favourite Barley Wine I’ve had the chance to try and was so in awe of it that I soon forgot the point of the evening or the experiment.
With four glasses of Barley Wine in front of me (people around me didn’t like it – heathens) we had the Ballyoak Smoked Brie with Riptide. On paper, this was another obvious pairing, presumably hoping the smoked flavours added to an Imperial Stout would create a Paradox Jura effect. But, being a fan of all things smoked, I like my flavours BIG and this cheese only hinted that it had spent any time being smoked. It was nice enough, but it’s an area where I’m particular.
We ended on the Stinking Bishop with Cantillon Gueze; the two biggest and most intense flavours creating a battle in your mouth for tastes. The cheese isn’t to my taste but the Gueze wasn’t to a lot of others on the table so this pairing was rather inconclusive. I just returned to my Barley Wine in peace.
The evening was a lot of fun and I prefer any form of tasting in a social environment. But what have I learnt? Certainly, the first pairing of the evening was the best and there were others that didn’t work so well, so we know that complementing beer with food has to be done meticulously. But truthfully I think the night just served to prove that it’s not something I’ll ever be overly concerned by. I’m not a heathen, I love everything to do with beer tasting, this just isn’t an area I find myself worried about because I rarely have beer at mealtimes. Maybe I need further educating and if any similar evenings are occurring I’ll be sure to go until I’m smart enough. I recommend you do the same just for the enjoyment if nothing else.