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.