I and my fellow cheesemongers have been getting together occasionally to do our own tastings, for our own education and, well, for fun. I missed the wine and cheese group, but had the honor of planning and hosting the beer and cheese tasting. We managed to do all west coast (if you count Hawaii, which I do) beers and cheese. The pairings were thus:
Mirror Pond from Deschutes Brewery with Pondhopper goat gouda from Tumalo Farms, both in Bend, OR: I wanted to pair these because the curds of Pondhopper are washed with Mirror Pond ale as the cheese is being made. I love this cheese, and I didn’t think most of the mongers had ever had Mirror Pond. The result was sort of like sprinkling peanuts on your peanut butter sandwich. Texturally it’s nice. Taste-wise it’s good because, well, peanuts are peanuts. But it didn’t add anything special to either one.
White Ale from the Telegraph Brewing Co. with Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove: I have been loving Humboldt Fog lately, and really wanted to figure out something to pair with it. I knew it needed something light in flavor and I thought a wit beer would do it, yet still have enough mouthfeel to stand up to Humboldt Fog’s heaviness. This one was dead on. The citrus notes in both worked together to make each one better (they didn’t cancel each other out like the hoppiness of the first pairing) possibly because the textures were so different, creamy and crisp. I didn’t think we would finish this big bottle of Telegraph Hill or eat all the Humboldt Fog (which we all get to eat nearly every day) but we destroyed both.
Pliney the Elder from Russian River Brewing with Mt. Tam and Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery: My original idea had been to do just the Red Hawk with this one. I thought the bitterness and hops of Pliney would cut right through the triple cream. At City Beer Store, they recommended Mt. Tam, which they carry in store, so we decided to give both a shot. Mt. Tam was too mild and I thought it got run right over by Pliney. Someone did point out that we had a very young Tam–as Tams age they get sharper and funkier, so an older one might hold its own just fine. The Red Hawk was good. Texturally excited and complimentary, and while the flavors didn’t do anything amazing for each other, they didn’t clash at all and I thought it was tasty. Others thought the bitterness of both was just amplified, so it was not a pairing for everyone. No one else had ever tried Pliney before though–I think it’s a California classic, so I’m glad I got to show it off. The Pondhopper actually went quite nicely with it, even more so than the Red Hawk.
Pipeline Porter from Kona Brewing with Buche from Juniper Grove: When I told Joe I had a beer from Kona for this one, he laughed, but it came highly recommended from City Beer Store. They were right. It is far less bitter than many coffee beers, and light in texture but without having that “thinned” tasted to it. I wanted to pair a cheese called Bijou with this, but we were out, so I substited Buche instead, which I think was a mistake on my part. While Buche can be wonderfully creamy, runny, and sharp, it lacks the earthiness and moldy funk that Bijou has that might have made this pairing work. Even then I’m not sure I would have been right. Add to this the fact that we had a not-fantastic batch of Buche (we’re cheesemongers–we’re picky) and as a pairing it was a Big Fail. However, we tasted the porter with the remaining shreds of Humboldt Fog and it was amazing. If I learned only one important thing from this tasting it was that Humboldt Fog is a great beer cheese. It went great, not just okay, with every beer we had.
Mirror, Mirror from Deschutes Brewery and Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery: Whenever I read about beer & cheese pairings, I read over and over that any blue will go with any barleywine. We didn’t prove that wrong. To me, this rivalled Telegraph White & Humboldt Fog as the best pairing, but to be fair, it was kind of easy. Rogue River is probably the favorite blue of the majority of our cheesemongers. We were waiting for this to come out for months, even before it won best in show at the American Cheese Society competition. I thought Mirror, Mirror would be nice because we all know how cheese changes as it ages-and here we learned how beer changes as it ages. Mirror, Mirror is, granted, a double-strength batch of Mirror Pond, but 35% of it is then aged in oak barrels. It’s a great barleywine, not cloyingly sweet, and not too heavy. At 11% alcohol, it falls right in the mid-range of barleywines. It was a perfect ending to our night of pairing.