Beer and Cheese Pairings August 23 and 24

evil_twin_big_bottle_0017_femme_kabosu

I used to think that the hardest transition in offering downtown New Yorkers top flight beer and cheese was from Sunday, when the vibe was typically chill, to Monday when the hustle bustle often came just short of violent.

I’ve changed my mind as “summer” (in other words, Memorial Day to Labor Day not the season the calendar defines) winds down, the hardest transition is Friday, when the vibe is chill and Westside Market East Village customers are game to experiment with the goodies on a big wooden board from a stranger to Sunday when the reactions are mixed.

For instance some encounters on Sunday were so amiable that I felt bad about not exchanging information and planning to get a flight of beers and a cheese plate sometime soon. Others, not so much; a German woman began scolding me. She told me that I didn’t know what real beer was and was escalating until I told her that the IPA with wild yeast that I was sampling probably didn’t adhere to the Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity laws. She shut up and walked away. Another woman a short time later tried that particular beer and zigzagged. “Oh this is really good,” she opined initially. Then she blurted out “oh wait, ew, I don’t like beer,” she said which prompted me to offer to take the sample cup back. “Oh no, I’ll finish this, I like it,” she responded and walked away leaving me equally relieved to be done with her, and ruing the missed opportunity to parse her ambivalence. Maybe she doesn’t like pilsners, lagers and India pale ales, but beers with wild yeast (btw: the beer in question is Evil Twin Femme Fatale Kabosu) or saisons might be a different story. The cheese, Ossau Iraty, a distinctive but subtle sheep cheese from France’s Pays Basque, was nowhere near as controversial. In fact, it was universally adored.

The other pairing went much more smoothly. I sampled Pretty Things brand new beer, American Darling with Etorki, another buttery, gently herbal Basque sheep. Yes, Basque sheep cheeses were having a moment on the board as we have a lot of them, and they are looking sad and neglected these days. These cheeses are always underrated by all but the hardcore cheesemonger crowd; yet one taste and people light up. The American Darling was sold to me as an India Pale Lager, an emerging genre that I still haven’t warmed up to, but it isn’t, nor does it try to be. It’s a straightforward lager. Lagers lag behind IPA’s, Saisons and Imperial anything in cachet, so I guess folks were trying really hard to make it hip. It makes me wonder what’s next: India Pale Potato Chips, India Pale Barbecue, India Pale Hip Hop? American Darling doesn’t need hype, it just needs to be tasted; it’s lean and crisp with a perfect balance of sweet and bitter overtones. Pretty Things is a husband/wife duo of gypsy brewers in New England and their Jack D’Or (a saison), Baby Trees (a quadruple) and Meadowlark (an IPA) are worth going well out of your way for some. American Darling is that good too.

By contrast Monday’s pairings offered less drama. Off Color Scurry, a variation on a German alt beer, lean, dark and brewed with honey, molasses and oats, was an ideal foil for Lou Bergier, a buttery grassy Italian cheese. We finished the night with Evil Twin Ryan and Beaster Bunny, a saison paired with Ossau Iraty. Absence of drama is good; we sold two four packs of each beer and a decent amount of cheese. The rest of Monday was strikingly pleasant too. Twice I told customers on the beer aisle the origin stories of saisons and IPAs and on the cheese aisle I introduced a woman to Beaufort and Beemster. I left feeling like I’d earned my stripes.

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Beer and Cheese Pairings August 16-21

oude-gueuzeThere hasn’t been much time for either pairing or blogging this week. At the store, Westside Market East Village, we’re without our stock guy, who quit after calling out for two weeks. This means my boss and I have to do the job. This has two positives: for one the job gets done right and for another I slept soundly regardless of the ABV% of my post retail refreshment. Also, I was working on a rather lengthy piece profiling 20 Black winemakers for one of my regular outlets, so even when I did get home with energy, there was other writing to do.

Somewhere in the midst of it all I did organize some pairings of interest. We currently have the awesome amazing Marcel Petite Comte on special at the lowest price I’ve ever seen. On Sunday I decided to keep pairing it with beers until I got tired of saying Franco-Swiss border. That took awhile. First up to the pairing board was the Mikkeller Keeper, a beer with great talking points since its brewed by the twin brother of brewer behind Evil Twin (there was a great NY Times Magazine piece on them about eighteen months ago). Keeper is his American Pilsner; it’s maltier than a Bohemian or a German variety. I figured the maltiness would pair nicely with the nutty overtones from the cheese. It went quickly (I think the clintele is finally figuring out that I’m offering really great food and beverages; fewer folks treat me like a nuisance) and led to several sales of each.

The warm reception at the outset emboldened me. I’m accustommed to pouring out some of the opening beer on a Sunday afternoon, but both boards of Keeper disappeared in less than five minutes. So, I chose the Crooked Stave Vielle Saison, a farmhouse ale brewed with wild yeast, next. I figured its complexity and funky blend of fruity and grassy flavors would be offset by the gentle balance of the Comte. I also like to showcase an unusual beer or two on Sunday just to expand people’s conceptions. I think I blew some minds, which led to going further out with the next beer, Tilquin Geueze. The cherished blend of Lambics really got conversation going on the back aisle. It’s tart then sour then plummy then the cycle starts all over again. People were texting their friends to come and try it. And of course, I enjoyed a bit of it too. If you’re into sour beers and willing to dig a little deep financially, there’s simply no greater reward than Geueze. We didn’t sell any on the spot, but now it’s moving slowly but steadily.

The other noteworthy pairing came on Friday. I took a piece of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from the pile of cheeses my coworker was cleaning to rewrap. The Clothbound Cheddar is a crowd pleaser with great talking points about its production and flavor. There’s a sweet, nutty flavor in the middle of the usual cheddar sequence and I decided to draw on that to pair with a Berliner Weisse made with wild yeast, the Weizen Bam from Jolly Pumpkin (though I refrained from using the brewery name in my introduction for fear that people would expect an entirely different flavor). The beer is lean herbal and sour. The first person to sample it thought it was a sparkling Jura Chardonnay, an intriguing concept. In general people grasped the sour/sweet pairing, but toward 7:15, business was slowing down and my last board looked like a loser. I have only about seven minutes per board before the beer starts going flat. My time was almost up, when I spied a group of young people in the beer aisle so I approached them and announced that I had samples of the most unusual beer they had tasted this year. They jumped on the samples and one of the guys immediately said, “wow, this is just like a geuze.”

It turns out that they were recent college grads and four members of the group spent their summer on a beer drinking tour of Belgium. Yeah, if they hadn’t been shopping for beer, I would have carded them. But to have eight people chattering away about wild yeast and buying rare artisan beers was the latest data point that the craft beer rise is far from over.

Oh yeah, they liked the cheese a lot too.

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At The Root on Five Summer Beers

I chatted and corresponded with Michael Ferguson of Beer Geeks TV about his five favorite styles of summer beers.

http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/08/_5_perfect_beers_for_summer.html?wpisrc=topstories

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Beer and Cheese Pairings August 10-12

Crooked Stave Hop Savant

Our stock guy was out all week at Westside Market East Village, so that meant that my 55 year old body had to channel its more athletic 35 year old iteration and spend time lugging cases of beer from the basement. I was happy that I could do it especially since I’ve been so fragile physically for the last few years, and in the end, my manager and I got our stock section reorganized so that the Founders are all together, the Bells are altogether, the Evil Twins are all together (a fun concept), the ciders are altogether, etc. However, all this moderately heavy lifting left little time for circulating among the clientele with boards of craft beer and artisanal cheese.

There were two notable pairings. On Monday, the cheese counterperson enthusiastically gave me a several pieces of truffled cheeses to sample declaring them the best cheeses. He saw my less than thrilled expression and inquired. I rarely pout because of the language barrier and in truth truffled cheeses are very popular and since the clientele are in overdrive Monday rush hour, they are actually a good choice. But I wasn’t about to agree with the notion that they are the best cheeses. Most of them just taste fungal. The truffles have overwhelmed the cheese’s intrinsic flavor. It’s parallel to the way some bourbon barrel aged beers just taste like bourbon as if the hops never made it into the mix. My limited Spanish was going to keep us from having a deep conversation on the matter. Further, I did realize that these cheeses were not only a good choice for a high volume, high intensity traffic moment, but that they’d pair well with a beer brewed with Brettanomyces. So I chose the Crooked Stave Hop Savant and went to work. As it turned out the sweetly fungal flavors of the Pecorino di Moliterno didn’t totally overwhelm its buttery texture and this went nicely with the grassy, funky and tangy flavors from the Hop Savant. We sold a few pieces of the cheese (nearly a given) but we also moved three bottles of the beer, a surprise since Crooked Stave, though wonderful, ain’t cheap.

On Wednesday when I arrived at the cheese station, my colleague had a pleasant surprise. He had just cut a perfectly ripe wheel of Moses Sleeper, a yummy soft ripened cheese from Jasper Hill Farms in Vermont. The cheese was oozing beyond the rind as he handed me a piece. It was ideal: creamy texture, root vegetable, fungal and cauliflower overtones in full effect. I opted for a bottle of Stillwater Of Love and Regret, which I had just put on the shelf after it had been rescued from sitting under boxes of Miller Lite for a coupla weeks. Of Love and Regret is a saison brewed with lavender and chamomile. It’s floral overtones and aromas were a perfect match for the cheese and again several of each sold.

On Friday I stocked the case till 7:30. I took a breather to catch up on baseball blogs and read happy recaps as my team has won 14 of their last 16. When I came upstairs the beer aisle was crowded and I spent an additional 45 minutes chatting with customers and making recommendations. After all that talking about beer, I decided to skip doing rehab work at the gym and go straight to Milk and Hops and drink some. At that hour, it was an either or proposition and I chose correctly. When I got to the bar, I discovered that they are doing a Crooked Stave tap takeover tonight.

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At Beer Geeks TV on Rising Diversity in the Craft Beer World

At the Beer Geeks TV blog with some thoughts about the increasing diversity in the craft beer crowd.  http://www.ora.tv/beergeeks/article/2015/8/14/diversity-in-the-craft-world

ruinten

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At Beer Geeks TV on the Grimm’s

Grimm labelHow a husband/wife duo in Carroll Gardens are conqueiring the NYC beer scene, one interesting brew at a time.

http://www.ora.tv/beergeeks/article/2015/8/7/great-beer-youve-probably-never-heard-of

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Beer and Cheese Pairings August 9

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Sunday was a fun day to pair beer and cheese at Westside Market East Village. For one, customer traffic was busy enough to sustain tastings all shift (it really sucks to pause with a beer half way done because it’s slowed to a crawl and find that the beer has gone flat when traffic picks up). For another the cheese people gave me two alpines, a versatile Italian cheese, and a soft ripened goat cheese to work with—all good pairing partners. Finally, the beer geeks were in the house and buying. On my first pass through the beer aisle I saw big holes in the Crooked Stave, Maine Beer Company and Evil Twin segments of the case and they just got deeper as the day wore on.

I started with one of the alpines, Affineur Walo, it’s like Gruyere but older, sweeter and earthier while retaining a solid backbone of nuttiness albeit roasted almonds rather fresh ones. I used that nutty flavor to justify pairing it with the Evil Twin Femme Fatale Kobosu, an India Pale Ale, brewed with wild yeast and Japanese citrus fruit. Yes, to quote an old Cornershop song, it was funkee with the double e at the end; the beer started grassy the segued in fairly distinct order into a burst of tropical fruit flavors, some bready notes and a strong lemony finish. I think it’s bliss in a bottle and the clientele thought so too; six of the seven bottles on the shelf sold.

When the Affineur Walo ran out, we continued with the Affineur Walo Starnachas, a younger version of the same cheese with a creamier texture, and more of a fresh almond flavor. It went well with the rest of the Evil Twin, and it’s nutty notes paired well with the Mahr’s Ungespundet Hefetrub, a fanastic Bamberg Lager. I’ve really enjoyed watching people hear the word lager then respond to the distinctive vegetal notes and crisp delivery in the Mahr’s. No, Toto we’re not in Stella Artois anymore.

The cheese finished before the beer but I had a small piece of Tramonto Rosso, a northern Italian cow’s milk cheese rubbed with must from red wine production. I’d love to say that it’s rubbed in the must from Barolo production just to keep that ridiculously delicious wine in mind, but that might make the cheese a disappointment. Also I’d be lying. I have no idea what must its rubbed in, could be Sangiovese or even Dolcetto; I’m not one to look down on Italian red wines in general. The must gave the cheese a nice grape-y finish and that sweetness paired well with the savory overtones of the Mahr’s.

I finished with something called Triple Cream Goat Brie. It didn’t have the look or texture of a triple cream, but after walking around hawking cheese and beer for five and half hours, I wasn’t in a mood to quibble. It was gooey and runny and seductive—really what else mattered? I paired it with the Hof Ten Dormaal Blonde, a Belgian farmhouse ale, which is bright, yeasty and just slightly bitter in the finish. The herbal overtones of the cheese paired nicely with the beer.

After that I punched out and found myself some beer that I didn’t have to talk about.

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