In spite of the varied sentiments about 2016, the Sherpas were determined to end it on a positive note. What could be better than friends, family, lights, camera and action?
We asked Scott how he felt about having a pairing with a Stilton blue and a bourbon barrel aged beer before holiday festivities. His answer was unequivocal: “Sounds great. Matt and I are uuuuge blue fans!”
Back in ’12, our first experience pairing craft beer and cheeses was in Belgium. At the Sint-Sixtusabdij Westvleteren (blog entry), we were introduced to Abbey cheese along with terrific Belgian Abbey Beers. The beer and cheese pairing adventure impacted us greatly, and has expanded our knowledge and interest in cheeses. We also wrote about a wonderful and insightful beer and cheese tasting at Earth Eagle Brewing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire!
The most important factor in setting up a beer and cheese pairing is that there are no rules, but there are some general guidelines for pairings. Keep in mind the intensity of flavors of the cheeses and the beers. Overpowering flavor profiles of either can mute the outcome of the pairings. Personal tastes play an important role in the experience, and our group of eight tasters did not agree on all pairings, which made the experience that much more interesting.
And so it began. We collected five blue cheeses and five big beers:
Crema de Blue:
a New Jersey cave aged blue, made from raw local cow milk. Spicy and creamy.
English pasteurized cow milk, and EU
Protected Food Name, only produced in three counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.
made in the south of France from sheep milk, aged in the Comalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, another EU Protected Food Name. Tangy and salty, this was a creamy roquefort.
made from unskimmed cow’s milk in northern Italian regions of Piedmont and Lombardy under Italian law it has Protected Geographical Status. Our selection was very creamy and powerful.
made from cow’s milk, this is a combination of a French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola, patented in Germany by Champignon, often called blue brie. Extra cream is added to the milk, which gives the cheese a triple creme texture, while the rind is similar to Camembert. A subdued flavor, but still obviously a blue tang.
The beers, paired in order with the above listed cheeses, were:
2014 Firestone Walker Parabola: 14 % ABV
Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout (brewed by Firestone Walker) aged a full year in a blend of barrels from Elijah Craig, Pappy Van Winkle, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace. The Parabola recipe and brewing methods remain the same every year, so vintage variation is rooted in barrel selection. “Every vintage is slightly different,” Brynildson said. “That’s the beauty and the point of making vintage beers.”
Soft vanilla notes throughout to blend the edges of the chocolate, plum, and caramel notes. Then the bourbon and wood from the barrels came through on the finish.
2016 Good People Brewing BBA El Gordo: 13.9 % ABV
Brewed by Good People, The bitter chocolate and bourbon sweetness are really at the forefront here with the nutty (eight o’clock) coffee notes bringing up the rear, then it is immediately followed by a not overbearing roasted malt character, while the boozy note is definitely present, it is not overbearing, as the beer settles the whiskey (given some time; out of the bottle I mean, this beer brings a more visual sense of bourbon) sweetness and subtle tones of wood do start to come out more in a way that really makes you think of the barrels it was in (hard to put into words in that sense)
2016 Stone Brewing Oakmeal: 11.4% ABV
Brewed by Stone Brewing, taste of big milk/dark chocolate, cocoa, coffee, caramel, toffee, vanilla, coconut, bourbon, toasted oak, dark bread, light char/dark fruit, and oak/roasted earthiness. Moderate roasted bitterness and bourbon/oak spiciness on the finish; with lingering notes of milk/dark chocolate, cocoa, coffee, caramel, toffee, vanilla, coconut, bourbon, toasted oak, dark bread, and oak/roasted earthiness on the finish for a while. Incredible complexity, robustness, and balance of dark/roast/bready malt, cocoa, and bourbon barrel flavors; with a great roasted malt/bitterness and bourbon/oak spiciness balance; with zero cloying flavors after the finish. Light dryness from bitter/oak spiciness as well, lightly increasing through the glass.
2014 Deschutes Brewery The Abyss: 11.1% ABV
Brewed bu Deschutes Brewery, massively complex nose. Thick roasted malts of dark chocolate along with a bit of molasses. Dark fruit and anise. Raisins and wood flavors; bourbon, vanilla, and oak. Age has been kind to this beer and the flavors blend extremely well.
Flavor follows the nose. Chocolate turns more to a sweet cocoa than the bitter dark chocolate flavor in the aroma. A bit of molasses and toasted sugar. Slightly bitter roasted coffee. Raisin, anise, and slight booziness from the bourbon. The virgin barrels aren’t overpowering but definitely noticeable. Lightly tart anise flavor. Raisins and just a tiny hint of cinnamon spice and vanilla sweetness.
2013 Ommegang Duvel Rustica: 8.5% ABV
Brewed by Ommegang, a Belgian Strong Golden Ale. Taste of big lemon, pear, apple, clove, pepper, floral, grass, bread, wheat, light banana, light bubblegum, and yeast earthiness. Lingering notes of lemon, light fruits, clove, pepper, wheat, and earthiness on the finish for a good bit. Fantastic balance and complexity of fruity/spicy esters with moderate malt; with a great fruity/spicy ester balance and zero cloying flavors after the finish.
Stouts and blue cheeses pair very well. The salty and creamy textures of the cheese stands up to the malty sweetness of the stout. The bourbon notes in some of the beers were more or less complimentary to the cheeses. Interestingly, the Ommegang Duvel Rustica was one of the winners in the tasting due to the fruitiness and the Belgian esters. Overall, the winning combination was:
2014 Firestone Walker Parabola and Roquefort! The creaminess of the Parabola, combined with the deep and complex flavors of this imperial stout paired perfectly with the creaminess and saltiness of the Roquefort.