Think Bud and pizza is the only palatable way to pair your favorite cold one with cheese? How about beer and chocolate? Recently, I’d been reading that beer actually pairs better with cheese than wine because its carbonated rougher finish cleanses the palate between samplings. Chocolates and beer…well I heard they could be flavorful companions but I had my doubts.
So rather than remaining skeptical, I hunkered down with a few hand selected brews and put them to the test with different cheeses and chocolates. I needed some expert advice to get started and for that I headed over to Bierkraft in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood. A gourmet market and beer emporium located on Fifth Avenue, I was in good hands with an assortment of over 250 artisan cheeses, 900 beers, and hundreds of specialty chocolates at my disposal.
First, the helpful staff suggested that I select my favorite beers. At first it was hard to pick from their mind boggling assortment of American microbrews, international ales, lagers, porters, stouts, APAs, IPAs, and lambics. Luckily some were on tap allowing me to taste and select a diverse triad ranging from pale and fruity to dark and heavy:
- Yuengling Black and Tan – combination of dark brewed porter and golden pilsner smelled of roasted malt and chocolate. Smooth with a biting hop presence on the tongue, a faint chocolate pulls through tempering the sharper porter yielding a light caramel sweetness. Make no mistake about it; this beer is dark with bitter undertones yet in an elevating non oppressive way.
- Old Speckled Hen English Fine Ale – a deep amber pale ale named after an unusual speckled vintage MG car, smelled a bit like malt liquor and had a touch of bitterness but was silky and creamy going down. A clean moderately hoppy pub beer with an even reliable finish. Definitely a beer with subdued flavors when cold but after warming up revealed a subtle bouquet of classic English malt tempered with smooth hints of butterscotch.
- Abita Purple Haze – cold filtered wheat malt brewed in Louisiana, with fresh raspberry puree added after filtration, can really be considered a dessert beer. The berries gave this very light brew a subtle purple coloration and haze, fruity aroma, and tartly sweet flavor that lingered on the palate.
With a bottle of each in my basket, I headed over to the cheese counter and asked for their pairing recommendations. After a few tastings and discussions about cream densities and curds, I added a quarter pound of the following to my basket:
- Chistou, a smooth Muensterish blend of 50% cow and 50% sheep’s milk. Encased in a natural rind, it had a semi-firm smooth texture with soft subtle nutty flavors pulling through.
- The Cooperstown Celena, a crumbly, nutty aged cheese had a soft slightly smoky interior resembling gorgonzola in taste and smell closer to the rind.
Next it was on to the chocolate case where, being a confirmed chocoholic, I had even more difficulty making up my mind. This was compounded by the fact that I couldn’t taste these before buying. Luckily, staff again came to the rescue suggesting a few pieces hand made in Brooklyn by chocolatier Justine Pringle at NuNu. After considerable deliberation, I picked:
- golden caramel butterfly covered in bittersweet chocolate
- hand dipped salted caramel covered in milk chocolate
- coffee cup shaped dark chocolate filled with espresso cream
Now back at my abode, I began the methodical yet highly pleasurable task of nibbling a little of each cheese and chocolate washing them down with each beer. Here are the results:
Hands down, the Yuengling Black and Tan paired best with both the Chistou and Cooperstown Celena. Its darker more complex body enhanced and showcased rather than masked the cheeses’ spunky flavors. All the other beers’ smoother, sweeter flavors seemed to overpower the cheese enzymes.
Picking a clear standout wasn’t so easy. Old Speckled Hen’s pub beer origins made it a natural with the hand dipped salted caramel, similar to a chocolate covered pretzel with its combination of velvety caramel and long lasting salty milk chocolate. A close second, the Purple Haze’s fruitiness played well with the salt and milk. Funny enough, all the beers worked well with the soft light caramel butterfly covered in rich dark chocolate making each brew creamier. The coffee cup shaped dark chocolate’s espresso cream and the Black and Tan’s dark porter complemented each other exquisitely while The Purple Haze again edged in with a close second, its berries enhancing the espresso nicely.
So as with all experiments, a conclusion has to be drawn, right? Based on my taste buds, I would say that a darker beer is best with sharp cheeses while a paler golden beer complements the mild and creamier varieties. And chocolates? It’s always an adventure, there simply isn’t a road map.