Ah, Beer Week. Joe and I agree that this was our best Beer Week experience ever, possibly because we’ve learned how to do it properly–plan ahead, mix up the type of events you go to, take a day off work (why not?), and once you get there, chill. Beer might run out. The lines will be long. The brewers will be too drunk to tell you what you’re drinking with any kind of clarity. Consider this all part of the fun.
Add to this mix an event we co-hosted with La Trappe that was filled with unique beer, absurdly delicious cheese, and very little stress (ok, Mike–the owner of La Trappe–may have lost a few years off his life trying to finish the booklets in the hour before the event, but we’re sure the happiness that came after totally counteracted that…). We did an event with them back in 2011 (“Sour & Stinky”) which was fun, but different, as the cheese and beer were a la carte instead of selling tickets.
This year’s event was based on the Zymatore series beer from B United distributors. Basically, they take beer from a brewer and age it in wine barrels that they have procured, then resell it once it has ripened the way they want it to. While this is a new and somewhat odd idea in the beer world, it is super common in cheese. There is even a French word for the person who does this, an affineur. This person does not make the cheese, but may wash or wrap or just age already made cheese, and then resell it once they become what they want. The final products are sometimes unrecognizable from the originals.
When I mentioned this to Michael, the B United rep who attended our event, he told us that the word “Zymatore” actually comes from a mashing of the words “zymurgy” and an Italian word that means the same thing as a cheese affineur (it may have been “assaggiatore” which is more like a sommelier for cheese, but I can’t recall for sure). He told us that all the brewers were fine with what they were doing–if a brewer was against their beer being changed, B United has plenty of other options, and so didn’t do it against anyone’s will.
Rather than give you a full list of the 13 beers and 10 cheeses, I thought I’d highlight some of our favorites:
1809 Berliner Weiss aged in Pinot Noir/whiskey barrels, paired with Cowgirl’s Redhawk triple cream: the Weiss was the most drinkable of all the beers, but was not light on flavor. It is bright and acidic, with distinct pineapple flavors. The funkiness of the Redhawk balanced beautifully, almost like a dessert. Sweet and stinky. It was the only beer (after trying all 13) that I went back for seconds for.
Bitter & Twisted aged in Pinot Noir/Gin barrels, paired with Quike’s Smoked Cheddar: what I heard from other participants was this–”I didn’t love the beer, really, until I tried it with the cheese, then WOW!” This is what we aim to do with pairings. Quike’s is fantastic on its own. The beer was ho-hum. Together they were even better, and no, the beer didn’t bring the cheese down.
Old Engine Oil aged in Grenache barrels, paired with Boerenkaas : Probably one of our favorite beers of the night. A hint of sour, but with a deep, dark, raspberry chocolate base. Our intention in pairing with the Boerenkaas was to have a sort of parmesan/balsamic vinegar flavor combo happening. I’ve been to cheese shops (and once a winery in Italy) that served their parmesan that way, and in this case it absolutely worked. The Boerenkaas is a tad sweeter than parm (being a gouda, of course), but Old Engine Oil is more bitter and sour than a sweet balsamic, so they balanced perfectly.
Hitachino Nipponia aged in Pinot Noir/Gin barrels: this was a surprise tap, so we didn’t have a cheese for it, but Joe declared it his favorite. It wasn’t really sour, more bright and light. The flavor of the barrels really came out strong, including a hint of herbal notes from the gin.
This event sold out long before the day of–watch for it (or something similar!) next year. The Beer at Joe’s staff will be hard at work looking for new pairings until then.