If wine and cheese is a cliché, beer and cheese is a revelation. We’re not here to dismiss the fact that some wines and cheeses are indeed quite lovely, even transcendent, when consumed together. But the panoply of incredible craft beers on the market right now are just begging to be matched up with the equally as impressive number of fantastic cheeses that grace the tables of farmer’s markets, the shelves of gourmet shops, and increasingly, the dairy departments of mainstream supermarkets as well.
Beer’s malt and hop character, which can imbue craft brews with flavors as diverse as coffee, toast, and grapefruit, means that with a bit of research, you can find a beer that’s a perfect fit for any kind of cheese. Plus, beer’s effervescence helps to lift flavors off the tongue between bites, a little scrubbing bubbles action that can help prevent palate fatigue and combat the dulling effect of foods that are high in fat. There’s no possible way to quantify which craft beers are “best,” so we picked six that are easy to find pretty much anywhere in the U.S. from reputable breweries that represent the range of possibilities that modern day suds have to offer. Head to your local bottle shop, pull together a mix-a-six pack, and try some of these pairings at your next gathering where a cheese plate is front and center.
A note on our pairings: we chose cheeses that were featured in the story “The Big Cheese Plate,” from our Spring ’17 issue, and have provided a few alternatives as well. If you can’t find these specific cheeses at your local cheese shop, ask a cheesemonger’s advice and she or he will be happy to help you find the right wedge.
This is a classic American-style IPA, hopped generously with 100% Centennial hops (known for big, bold pine and citrus aromas), and fermented with Bell’s signature house yeast, which itself carries a noticeably fruity profile.
Pair with: Twig Farm’s Goat Tomme, a firm, aged goat cheese that’s got nice grassy, herbaceous notes. Similar types that could work are Beemster or Drunken Goat.
This American porter is at the top of its class with a robust, complex range of flavors including coffee, vanilla, dried fruit and toffee. Unlike some dark beers, this one maintains a medium body and mouthfeel, which means it’s roasty malt qualities can complement the right kinds of cheese without overwhelming them. (Pro tip: it also pairs beautifully with raw oysters).
Pair with: Ticklemore Dairy’s Beelneigh Blue, a gorgeous sheep’s milk cheese made in Somerset, England. The ewes that produce this milk are fed clover and grasses, which help maintain light and citrusy notes in the cheese. This blue is a milder one, especially the spring time batches, without too much bite and with lots of cream. Gorgonzola dolce is a great alternative.
This well respected brewery makes gorgeous beers in the Belgian tradition that remain more approachable than some others in their genre. Arabier is a Belgian strong pale ale, brewed with flower Nugget-hops that impart a dry, spicy flavor. The beer itself is a splendid orange color and holds a good amount of carbonation, which makes it perfect for cheese tastings.
Pair with: Parish Hill Creamery’s Humble Herdsman, a semi-soft tomme-style cow’s milk cheese that sports a rind washed with cider, giving it a meaty, boozy quality. Aged for over 5 months, the younger batches of this cheese are nutty, while more aged versions take on earthier qualities. A nice Gruyere makes a decent substitute.
The fine brewing team at Founders has created a raspberry ale that’s as vibrant in color as it is in flavor, an homage to the sunshine of summer without being cloying or syrupy in the least. Fresh raspberries are added at five separate stages throughout this beer’s brewing process, imparting a very true sweet tart fruit flavor. Fruit beers can be a bit tricky to pair with cheeses; a good rule of thumb is to think of a cheese that you’d enjoy with a swipe of jam, and use that as a starting point.
Pair with: Pecorino Marzolino, which is a young, milk sheep’s cheese, like a much more interesting cousin to mozzarella. Its mild, creamy qualities makes it a great match for a fruit forward beer, and for the wine lovers out there, it also goes very well with rose. Brie would step up nicely here, as well.
This stunning, hazy Belgian-style wheat ale, crafted in Maine by arguably one of the best breweries in the country, Allagash White is a massive crowd pleasing beer. With a beautiful balanced sweetness, a generous malt backbone and hop profile, and notes of coriander and orange peel, this beer could and does pair well with many kinds of cheeses. If you’re unsure about which kind of beer to serve at a cheese tasting or dinner party, this is the one to stock up on.
Pair with: King’s Kreamery’s That’ll Do Ewe, a soft-ripened sheep’s milk cheese, in the style of camembert. Produced in Lancaster, PA, this rich spreadable cheese tastes of cream and button mushroom, with the refreshing White beer can easily cut through. Any type of Camembert can be swapped in if necessary.
Whole flower hops and Germal malts meld to create this crisp pilsner, at once both bitter, earthy, and clean. Poured in a glass, it boasts a pretty golden color with lovely levels of carbonation, and makes for very easy drinking. Victory, based in Downingtown, Pa., makes lots of great craft beers, but we think Prima Pils is one of their finest.
Pair with: Cabra Raino, a Portuguese spoonable goat cheese with a vegetal, artichokey quality. A fun fact about Portuguese cheeses is that they are made with thistle rennet (as opposed to the animal-based rennet that’s more commonly used in other parts of the world), making them some of the only truly vegetarian cheese. However, the thistle does impart that telltale vegetal quality that some may find challenging. A crisp, clean beer helps to create a balance. Any other creamy Portuguese cheese can substitute if you can’t find this exact one.
What are your favorite beer and cheese combos? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by Nick Gang