The holiday season inevitably brings warm gatherings of friends and family. It’s also the time of year when America’s small brewers release long-awaited winter seasonal beers. From craft beers aged on oak, to spice-infused ales, some of the finest beers in the world are just waiting to be savored by the fire with friends or while watching the game.
Entertain this season by enjoying a simple-to-prepare pairing of craft beer and artisanal cheeses. Beer is a natural match with cheese as the carbonation helps cut tongue-coating butterfat. Also, beer lends flavors that can complement your cheese selections. You don’t have to be an expert to host a successful pairing party. Just keep a few things in mind when making selections and you’ll spend more time enjoying your company and less time fussing in the kitchen.
It’s a good idea, and a lot of fun, to try combinations you plan on serving ahead of time. However, if you are looking for ease and novelty over tasted and tested, there are some general guidelines that allow craft beer and cheese to share the spotlight.
In her book The Best of American Beer & Food, author Lucy Saunders devotes an entire section to beer and cheese pairing and offers up these ideas to help you get started:
- Fresh and delicate flavors of soft spreadable cheeses are best paired with similarly delicate wheat beers, pilsners and lightly hopped amber ales.
- Full-flavored camembert has an earthy richness that benefits from a malty and slightly sweet maibock.
- The tangy goodness of an acidic aged chevres (goat’s milk) begs for a higher-gravity ale such as a strong golden ale.
- Bocks, Vienna or Oktoberfest lagers work well with gouda cheese. Smoked gouda, on the other hand, pairs best with dunkelweizens and porters.
- Romano and Asiago cheeses go nicely with amber lagers.
- The aged character of cheddar stands up to the malty sweetness of sweet stouts and rich hoppiness of strong dark porters.
- Doppelbocks or Belgian dubbel ales work well with bites of parmesan.
- Stilton’s powerful aromas are best met with strong malt-based beers such as stouts, brown ales or even barley wines.
Spend more time with friends this holiday season and enjoy the rave reviews you’ll receive using this unique, but simple, way to pair American craft beer and cheeses. It will leave you more time to enjoy the season and may just begin a new holiday tradition.
For further resources on beer and cheese pairing, consult the Brewers Association Craft Beer and Food Pairing Chart (PDF file).
For additional resources on craft beer styles, visit our Style Finder section.
Photo © 2010 Rick Souders/Souders Studio
Kristi Switzer has spent over 14 years in the craft beer community, first at Alaskan Brewing Company as Director of Marketing Communications and most recently as Publisher for the Brewers Association’s Brewers Publications. She is an advocate for both pairing craft beer with food and using it as an ingredient in cooking.