Five years ago, when this video was made, people had a hard time understanding that they should try beer with their cheese plates. Fast forward to today, and a legion of craft beer fans have started to discover that beer might just pair better with cheese than does wine.
It turns out that beer has several characteristics that make it work incredibly well with cheese. For one, it’s carbonated. It actively clears the flavors from your palette, no matter how strong they might be. Wine, on the other hand, has a harder time standing up to the fats, oils, and fungi in cheese. Another point that might serve beer best: as a pair, beer complements, while wine contrasts. A well-chosen beer can match the flavor profile of a cheese, and it simultaneously adds complementary flavors to make a more complete taste experience. Wine, on the other hand, usually only adds contrasting flavors – and while the best-paired wines will transform your experience of a cheese into something incredible and new, it’s an antagonistic relationship that creates the balance, whereas beer seems to just be that much more balanced in comparison. Finally, you’ll get flavors that you simply don’t find in wine, and which work beautifully in cheese. Grassy, grainy, herbal, smoky, nutty and caramel flavors are found across several beer styles, but oenophiles are left wanting for all of these (and more).
Don’t think that I’m a wine hater, though. There are countless cheeses that work best with wine (I’m hooked on shirazShiraz with Stilton), and beer has its own failings too - sometimes, “complementary” ends up meaning something closer to “these taste exactly the same.” But for this article, I’m not trying to settle the debate. I just want to find out some of the best pairings that beer has to offer the cheese world. My research rarely found consensus, but there were certainly strong feelings all around, and I welcome yours in the comments.
Hefeweizen and buffalo mozzarella: fresh, clean mozza has a hard time working well with wines, which can provide a good acidity match, but end up overpowering the cheese in the flavor department. Wheat beers manage to pair higher acidity with light flavor, and they also bring in citrus and spice notes that take the pairing in a whole new direction.
Brown ale and comte: the comte brings the sweetness of roast nuts, and the brown ale brings bitterness. Most importantly, they share roasted notes that no wine can provide.
Chimay and Munster: earthy, washed-rine Munster is a beautiful and powerful cheese. It’s so powerful that wines have a tough time standing up to its flavor and its gooeyness. Cut through the fat with Chimay Grand Reserve. It’s really the carbonation that sets it apart from even the most robust wines, and the Chimay will leave you with a cleansed, not cloying, palette.
Saison Dupont and Humbolt Fog: Serious Eats calls it like it is: “saisons love cheese.” Poured with a serving of Humboldt Fog, you’ll see just how closely your idea of ‘cheese’ matches with the saison’s flavor profile. There’s really no wine that can compete, especially not with the herbal notes and carbonation that this style brings to the game.
Altbier and aged gouda: gouda’s salty-sweet balance is best described as toffee-like, and that’s a note that can be hard to match, especially in the wine world. Why not try a smooth, delicately balanced altbier? Hop bitterness and malty sugars are closely matched, but with enough IBUs that the sweetness doesn’t overwhelm. Consider the stronger Sticke variation of altbier if you’ve got an especially strong and old gouda to match.
Hopefully, beer’s place on the cheese-pairing throne will become cemented in the years to come. There’s a lot that craft beer shares with cheese, and it’s not just in the flavors. Brewers and cheese makers seem to care deeply about making the best product with the best ingredients, and when the two come together, it makes for something a lot greater than the sum of the parts.
Andrew Konoff is an avid homebrewer and a Community Coordinator over at Appliance Help and Parts, and he’s on a mission to show his friends how amazing craft beer can be.