The Sweet & Savory Side of Cheesecake & Craft Beer

By Lisa Morrison

One of my favorite things in life is craft beer. What most people don’t know is another one of my favorite things in life is cheesecake.

Beer and cheese is quickly becoming a classic pairing as beer aficionados and foodies alike discover how well the two go together. So, that got me thinking; if beer and cheese works so well together, why not beer and cheesecake?

It’s not as wacky as it might sound. Beer does a great job of balancing out the fattiness of cheese; so it should work the same way for cheesecake. And it’s not a reach to think of the tart fruit flavors in a Belgian-Style Lambic, like a raspberry-flavored Framboise, could ac

t as a substitute for the fruit topping on a slice of classic New York-Style cheesecake.

This theme required some extensive research.  So, I enlisted the help of Sarah Pederson, owner of Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern, in Portland, Ore. Not only does she have a great palate, but she also carries a lot of beer styles at her shop to work with. Talk about a perfect pairing!

We got to work. After gathering our subjects, we broke the tasting research into two different kinds of cheesecakes: sweet and savory—those more suitable as appetizers or a main course.  Here are the results:

Savory

Bourbon Bleu Cheese with Bacon and Balsamic Reduction: Block 15 Brewpub in Corvallis, Ore., offers a main course cheesecake on its menu, Bourbon Bleu Cheese with Bacon and Balsamic Reduction. The predominant flavors in the cheesecake are blue cheese and bacon, with saltiness from both, and a touch of sweetness from the balsamic reduction.

With all those strong flavors happening, we first selected a sturdy American Stout as a possible pairing. Pike Brewing Company’s XXXXX Stout  complemented the flavors of both the bacon and the blue cheese, supporting the pleasant saltiness of the cheesecake.

But we hit it out of the ballpark with a big, West Coast Imperial IPA from Green Flash Brewing Company, of San Diego. The bright, citrus, and grassy notes from the hops were a welcomed contrast, and even helped make the flavors in the cheesecake more distinct. A touch of sweetness supported the light hint of bourbon and the bacon, while the hops and carbonation cleansed the palate, making our mouths ready for another bite.

“The stout gave the cheesecake more depth; but it was almost too complementary,” Pederson said. “The Imperial IPA was a more distinct contrast, which really worked well for this cheesecake.”

Pairing Suggestions: West Coast Double or Imperial IPA, American Stout

Sweet

New York Cheesecake: A Framboise offered a winning combination, providing the right amount of raspberry-tart to complement the cheesecake. The creaminess of the cheesecake proved to be an ample backdrop to the effervescent Framboise.

I was more of a fan of a Flanders-Style Red paired with the New York cheesecake than Pederson. I found it to be a captivating combination of tart and sweet. She thought the sourness of the beer made the cheesecake seem too sweet, causing the whole thing to end up “tasting like a Sour Patch Kid candy,” she said.

The hands-down winner was a malt-forward beer by Barley Brown’s Brew Pub in Baker City, Ore., called Whiskey Malt. With spicy hints of rye and a lightly bready finish, it “makes the cheesecake pillow-soft on the palate,” Pederson said. The beer made us think that bourbon-barrel aged beers, Nut Browns, and lightly-hopped Ambers would also be good partners with this style of cheesecake.

Suggested Pairings: Framboise, ESB, Nut Brown, Amber

Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake: Chocolate and Stout are a classic combination, and this was proven again with Pike’s XXXXX Stout paired with a chocolate fudge swirl cheesecake.  Hints of coffee and chocolate in the beer tasted as if they were made for the chocolate-cookie crust.

The Framboise proved to be another tasty, but contrasting, pairing. We found it to bring a nice balance to the tart and sweet flavors, much like a chocolate-cream covered raspberry truffle.

Suggested Pairings: American Stout, Framboise, Kriek

Caramel Turtle: Caramel and nuts take center stage with this cheesecake, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Whiskey Malt, a sweeter beer with similar flavors, paired expertly with it. The toasted notes brought out the flavors of caramel and nuts without growing too cloying. I also thought a Nut Brown would go well with this style of cheesecake, while Pederson thought an ESB would make a good pairing.

Suggested Pairings: English-Style ESB, Nut Brown

The bottom line is that contrasting flavors, tart and sweet, seemed to work for the simpler cheesecakes, such as the New York-Style. Beers with complementary flavors seemed to work with the cakes that had varied ingredients in them. Savory cheesecakes worked well with both complementary and contrasting flavors.


Lisa MorrisonLisa Morrison, also known as the Beer Goddess, hosts “Beer O’Clock!,” a weekly, hour-long commercial radio show devoted to craft beer, available in podcasts on KXL.com and on iTunes. She is a regular columnist for numerous beer publications and blogs, and was the first female recipient of the national Beer Journalism Awards. Her first book, Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest will be released in April.