After a busy morning of writing story queries and working on a book proposal, then rushing to beat the rain, I arrived at the store with nothing on my agenda for sampling. In a way this was liberating since my plans in recent days had gone awry.
When I asked about cheeses to sample, I was told to work the mixed milk “Manchego” again. This was a shade deflating because I’ve sampled it a lot recently but also because there’s no back story that I’m aware of. Part of my mission is to elevate or at least initiate the dialogue about food and beer, and to me the best way of doing that is to make clear the origins of the product. Farm to Table is a nice catchphrase but I strive to make it person to person. That’s easy with beer since most great new craft beers have a brewmaster behind it as do many cheeses. I really try to avoid the “oh, here’s something interesting that you might like,” pitches. With that thought in mind, I paired the manchego with the Evil Twin, Ron and the Beast Ryan, saison with Brettanomyces. Wild yeast is a fun talking point as it opens a window into the brewing process, but simpler in this case was that Jeppe (Mr. Evil Twin, if you will) is part owner of a Torst, a great beer bar that is only three subway stops away from the store. The cool citrusy aspects of the beer paired nicely with the sweetness and balance of the cheese.
We have a nice selection of northern Italian soft cheeses at the store but I fear that they languish sometimes as they are in the furthest corner of the primary cheese case (by contrast, the French softies are right in the middle). So I chose a Robiola Bosina for the second cheese, hoping that it’s buttery texture and light funk would match the Firestone Walker Opal (yeah, hot humid day is a good time to push saisons). The grapefruit overtones in the Opal brought India Pale Ales to mind to a couple of women who responded to the samples of the saison by buying bottles of Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA.
At that point, the rain, which had alternated between moderate and drizzly, turned to a full out downpour with water coming down in sheets at time. With soaking wet people entering our rather chilly retail environment, I decided that a stout might work and opted for the Hof Ten Dormaal/Stillwater Arcana, a slighty yeasty one resulting from a collaboration between Belgian and Brookyn based brewers. I chose the French alpine classic Beaufort to go with it. To say that it improved the customer experience was an understatement. The cheese and beer vanished very quickly.
I had thought that the Arcana/Beaufort board would take me to 7:30 and I’d spend the rest of the day fixing the signs in the beer aisle, but it finished just after 7, plenty of time for another round. I had yet to sample an India Pale Ale, and I wanted a 12 ounce bottle in case traffic slowed. I chose the Founder’s Dark Penance, a dark IPA, and paired it with the Basque sheep cheese, Etorki, which like the Beaufort was on special. Right after I opened the bottle, I noticed that the beer had an IBU (International Bitterness Units) of 100. I rarely venture above 80. Well the bottle was open, so here goes. I needn’t have worried; the beer in particular and the pairing in general were enthusiastically consumed and my stock guy is probably refilling the Founder’s section as I write this.
The final pairing was a happy reminder to me of how the store is located in a good beer neighborhood. I sometimes lose sight of this because we’re a stone’s throw away from several bars where 21st Amendment or Shiner is the best beer on the list. There’s nothing wrong with either brewery’s work, but there are about a dozen NYC breweries making better beer, and when you’re charging $8 or $9 a pour because Shiner or 21st A is your “premium” craft beer, then another two word phrase comes to my mind and it isn’t beer bar. OTOH, I walked three blocks east of the store and savored the day’s success by spending $9 on a tall glass of Mexican Cake, the limited edition Imperial Stout from Westbrook that is brewed with cocoa, cinnamon and habeneros. It would have been a bargain at twice the price.