Recent Beer and Cheese Pairing Highlights September 13-18

Slyboro Hidden Star

Yes, I was away. I went to Chicago for a long Labor Day weekend to cover a jazz festival and drink lots of beer; I also introduced my family to two wonderful goat’s milk cheeses, Kunik and Pantaleo. Upon my return to Westside Market East Village, the beer and cheese pairings felt kinda similar to what I had been doing before I left, then last Sunday, my cheese department colleague, took on a new tack. Rather than give me one piece each of three different cheeses to work with, he gave me three pieces of the same cheese. That created a new range of possibilities and focused the narrative somewhat.

On Sunday, he gave me three pieces of an Italian Asiago Fresco. Most Americans know Asiago as a aged cheese that’s a little more blunt and less sweet than Parmigiano Reggiano, a good cheese to grate into a mac and cheese with some mozzarella and fresh tomatoes. Asiago Fresco is different; it has a supple, creamy texture and lots of herbal notes ranging from basil to anise. I knew that I would need to explain the cheese to a lot of the clientele so I paired it with beers that were easily discussed. I went with India Pale Ales, hoping that the texture of the cheese would pair well with the florals overtones and resinous finish of the beer. It worked for Cambridge’s The Audacity of Hops and Singlecutt’s Does Anyone Remember Laughter.

Both pairings resulted in memorable comments from the clientele. NYU is back in session, so I’m cautious about sampling to anyone I think is under 23. But two of the people I judged to be just legal enough not to card, had amazing beer bonafides. One was a young man who is not only a homebrewer but has begun to grow hops on the roof of his apartment building. The other was a young German woman. After she and her boyfriend tried the Singlecutt, thrilled at sampling some NYC brewed beer, they began examining the Becks/St. Pauli Girl section of the case. I pointed them to the single bottles where we have Weihanstephaner, Schneider-Weisse and Mahr’s. When she saw the Mahr’s, she smiled broadly and told me she had interned there. She was the assistant brewmaster for a new brewery in Germany. That was a cool way to end the day.

Monday’s cheese was the Ford Farm Traditional English Cheddar, another cheese with significant talking points as it’s much more complex, grassy and earthy than conventional North American cheddars. I paired it with the Slyboro Hidden Star cider, a classic pairing that always goes over well.

I don’t remember Wednesday’s cheese but the beer itself was remarkable. It was the Stone Stochasticity Project Hi-Fi/Lo-Fi Mixtape, a beer from the Southern California based brewery that blends barrel aged ale with newly brewed ale. The result is a beer that has some of the bright hoppiness of a new ale and some of the depth, roundness and richness of a barrel aged beer. I assumed that they are using new American oak since the bottle offers no other information on the barrel. Anyway, that’s a mouthful and a half, and I’d avoided sampling the beer because of that. The store manager, my partner in crime on the beer program, asked me to sample it. Voluminous talking points or no, the beer is tasty and boom! 90 minutes of sampling moved ten 22oz bottles of the stuff.

I was also asked to sample the Stone Farking Wheaton Woot Stout, a collaborative beer that checks in at 13% ABV. It has very rich dark chocolaty overtones and it paired wonderfully with the nutty, grassy Schweizer Berggunuss from Caroline Hostetler. I was initially wary of sampling a high ABV stout on a warm Friday afternoon, but it worked out great. It’s a beer savvy neighborhood. No sense in underestimating the clientele.

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ICYMI: Some Posts for Beer Geeks TV Blog

On Craft Beer in Chicago

On Saisons

On Beer Lists, or at least ones that are not generated by Paste.

On the Big Apple Beer Renaissance

On Diversity in the Craft Beer World

On The Grimm’s, everyone’s favorite husband wife duo Award Winning Gypsy Brewers Stave Hop Savant

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At Beer Geeks on Lists and NYC’s Craft Beer Rise

Most lists are ridiculous.

NYC is on the rise

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Beer and Cheese Pairings August 23 and 24


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.

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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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