Saturday, March 15, 2008

Beer and Cheese Pairing with Garrett Oliver

One of the marquee events included at the 4th Annual Brewer’s Plate, held last Sunday as one of the kick-off events of Philly Beer Week, was a beer and cheese tasting with Garrett Oliver. Author of The Brewmaster’s Table and, as the book’s title suggests, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, Garrett made the trip down to Philly to extol the merits and flexibility of beer’s place in the gourmand’s arsenal.

As seems almost inevitable, at least based on the context of the last few beer tasting events I’ve attended, Mr. Oliver promoted beer’s strengths in the food-pairing arena in contrast to –and to the detriment of – wine. To paraphrase his words in a nutshell, he prefers beer to wine as he feels it works in harmony with rather than in contrast to food. Feel about that as you (and I) may, he does present rather uncanny statistics. In twenty beer-versus-wine challenges in which he’s participated across five countries, he claims a 20-0 record in beer’s favor.

There would be no competition on this night, as the venue’s very nature dictated a beer-only showing. Here’s what Garrett presented:

  1. Southampton Double White Ale (7%) w/ Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog (goat)
  2. Brooklyn Local 1 (9%) w/ Brillat-Savarin (cow)
  3. Victory St. Victorious (7.6%) w/ Ossau Iraty (sheep)
  4. Southampton Bière de Garde (6.6%) w/ St. Marcellin (cow) and Époisses (cow)
  5. Victory Twelve (12%) w/ Pleasant Ridge Reserve (cow)
  6. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (10.1%) w/ Colston-Bassett Stilton (cow)

The first four matches worked well, all following Garrett’s approach of matching flavor to flavor. The citrus and wheat driven ale from Southampton worked in much the same role, minus acidity, as would Sauvignon blanc, perhaps the most ubiquitous wine pairing for goat’s milk cheeses.

I quite liked the creamy on creamy layering provided by the match between Brillat-Savarin and Garrett’s own brew, Brooklyn Local 1. There’s a minor parallel here, too, with classic wine pairings – Brillat-Savarin and Champagne – as Brooklyn Local 1 is a bottle re-fermented, Belgian inspired ale that is made in a way that approximates the méthode traditionelle. Brooklyn Brewery installed a new bottling line and warm room solely to facilitate its production.

The Bière de Garde from Southampton was an inspired choice, as it worked equally well with both the sour tang of St. Marcellin and the pungency of Époisses.

It was really only in match five that Mr. Oliver’s previous successes with the same-on-same approach came tumbling down. Beer’s relative lack of acidity and total lack of tannin rob it of two of wine’s most important attributes in playing well with food. The over-the-top nature of Victory Twelve, tasty enough on its own, was too closely matched to the big, caramelized flavors of Pleasant Ridge Reserve. The match ended up being overblown, with the beer dominating the cheese on the front palate and the cheese overpowering the beer on the finish.

I liked the idea of Chocolate Stout with Stilton. As this was a particularly fudgey example from Colston-Bassett, the potential for chocolate and cheese goodness was certainly evident. Garrett shared an anecdote of how he came up with the pairing at a previous event. He’d planned on serving Stilton with Brooklyn’s barleywine, Monster Ale, but the beer never arrived. Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout was handy though. He went with it, liked it and now continues to show the duo. It may be facile to say I’d have preferred the barleywine… but I would have preferred the barleywine, or a sweeter chocolate stout such as Young’s. The dry, bitter style of Brooklyn’s version, which is compelling on its own, created an acrid reaction on the palate – not to this man’s taste – when matched with the Stilton.

Garrett’s incredibly in-depth knowledge of beer and its place in the culinary spectrum, along with a charismatic presentation style, made his event an absolute highlight of the evening. Four for six is not a shabby batting average in the cheese pairing game. However, I’d like to think I might have scored better with wines of my choosing paired to the same cheeses. Care to go for a twenty-first round, Garrett?

Related post:
Highlights from the 4th Annual Brewer's Plate

Related reading:


Joe M. said...

Sounds like a terrific time. I've very little experience in serious food and beer paring. Though one of my more memorable pairings of any kind was a braised short rib dish and Duchesse de Bourgogne. Harmonious and delicious!

David McDuff said...

It was a good time, Joe. I'll confess straight up that I don't experiment with beer pairing nearly as much as with wine and food. I do get immense enjoyment, though, out of attending events like this one.

I can't remember what it was paired with, but Duchesse de Bourgogne was served at the last beer dinner Michael Jackson hosted here in Philly before his untimely death last year (may he RIP). Definitely a tasty brew.

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