One of the finest food partners for beer is cheese. Beer pairs better with cheeses than wines. The basic reason is that there is a much wider palette of flavors with beer than there is with wine, enabling more options for complementing or contrasting.
Beers such as kolschs can be lighter than wines, both in flavor and alcohol levels, and much more delicate. Beers also can be robust with higher alcohol and deeply roasted grains in styles such as porters and stouts, which can and stand up to hardier cheeses.
The ingredients can also make a difference. In addition to the normal yeast, malt and hops, many beers use fruits and herbs, and brewers are starting to range even further afield. Beers and cheeses share flavors: nutty, tangy, floral and earthy.
After the yeasts have finished with their sugar diet while fermenting the beer, beers generally have some residual sugar from the malt that contrasts nicely with the relatively high amounts of salt and fat in cheeses. Further, the carbonation in most beers and the hop bitterness cut through the fats in cheeses, refreshing the palate and opening it up to the cheese’s special flavors. However, one must be careful not to overwhelm the cheese with a too highly hopped ale.
Like beer, cheese is best served fresh, preferably purchased on the day it will be used. Also like beer, cheese should not be served too cold, both needing to warm up for maximum flavor. Oxygen is the friend of neither so avoid cutting up the cheese in advance and use separate knives and plates to avoid cross flavors.
We find it best to look for similar characteristics in both the beer and cheese, such as texture or flavor, for instance pairing light with light. If you are doing a tasting pick only a few cheeses and pair several beers with each. As with any beer tasting start with the lightest and work towards the heaviest.
Janet Fletcher, an expert on cheese and beer combinations, suggests: pairing delicate beers with young, fresh cheeses (wheats or pilsners with young goat cheese, feta, or mozzarella); pairing malty beers with nutty or sweet cheese (bocks, marzens, porters with aged alpine cheeses and goudas); pairing hoppy beers with tangy cheeses (pale ales and IPAs with goat cheeses and cheddars) and pairing strong beers with blue cheeses and hard aged cheeses (imperial stouts, barleywines and quads with blue cheeses and aged sheep’s milk cheeses.)
We selected four cheeses often found in many home refrigerators as a basis for a beer and cheese tasting and four beers which are very good examples of their style. The selected cheeses were a sheep’s milk creamy feta from Israel, a double cream cow’s milk gouda from Holland, a 6-year-old aged cow’s milk cheddar from Vermont, and a French sheep’s milk Roquefort blue cheese.
The chosen beers were Brooklyn Brewery’s Brooklyn Pilsner (5.1 percent alcohol by volume, ABV), Great Lake Brewing’s Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (5.8 percent ABV), Weyerbacher Brewery’s Quad (11.8 percent ABV) and Victory Brewery’s Hop Devil IPA (6.7 percent ABV).
The best beer with the feta cheese was the Weyerbacher Quad in which both were obvious but complimentary, followed closely by the Victory Hop Devil IPA. The only beer that did well side by side with the gouda was the IPA. With the cheddar, again the IPA was the only beer that stood out by blending well with the texture of the cheese. Surprisingly, the Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter cut through the sharpness of the blue cheese, resulting in one of the tasting’s best blends, followed closely by the Weyerbacher Quad.
From a beer perspective, the Pilsner complimented best with the tanginess of the Roquefort blue and OK with the feta. The high alcohol, malty quad matched best with the blue, dancing with one another, and nearly as well with the feta. The IPA had the best showing of all the beers across the cheese board and went especially well with the cheddar and quite well with the feta. The porter did best with the blue, receiving the highest score of any taste pairing, but did not do well with the other cheeses.