This year has wrought its share of terrible things, but one bright spot in the darkness is the beautiful foods that are still being produced for us to enjoy. Just as animals don’t stop producing milk, plants don’t stop growing and people don’t cease needing to eat—even when lives are threatened by a pandemic, social and racial injustice, raging fires, catastrophic thunderstorms, and billowing hurricanes. We can take solace—or even find purpose—in supporting our neighbors who continue to make delicious foods to sustain us in these trying times and all the time.
In my last post, I promised I would write about a beer-and-cheese tasting I did with a couple of Métier Brewing Company’s beers. If you are of the beer-drinking sort (or are not but might be beer curious), I hope my tasting notes will inspire you to seek your own bright spot with these brews or some similar to them.
I got hip to Métier Brewing Company earlier this summer, when many of our local breweries began canning their beers and selling them in grocery stores because they weren’t able to sell beer on tap with tasting rooms and bars closed. This clever solution introduced me and my fellow shoppers to a plethora of brews previously unknown to us.
After talking to Christy, the beer and wine steward at the new Central District PCC Community Market I helped open in June, I got excited about a couple of these new-to-me beers. I was especially jazzed to try the ones from Métier Brewing Company.
Beside the fact that their beers are perfect partners for many different cheeses—which I will get to shortly—Métier Brewing Company is the first and only black-owned brewery in Washington state. Their Trail Blazer Pale Ale is named in honor of Major Taylor, who was the first Black American to win a world championship in cycling in 1899 and set a bunch of world records during his professional career more than 100 years ago.[i]
The brewery, which has also been a haven for bicyclists and a meeting place for the Cascade Bicycle Club, has worked to benefit the club’s Major Taylor Project. The project is an after-school cycling club for Seattle-area youth.[ii] I haven’t been to the brewery’s tasting room in Woodinville yet, but I read that they boast a “Beer it Forward” board where you can buy a beer for a future patron.[iii] It’s a cool idea that locals can take part in now that the brewery is open with 50 percent-capacity seating (mostly by reservation).
PCC sells cans of Métier Brewing Company’s Trail Blazer Pale Ale. They also sell the brewery’s Black Stripe Coconut Porter, which is a collaboration with Jerk Shack, a Caribbean restaurant in Seattle.
In retrospect, I should have probably tried pairing Black Stripe with New Woman, the Jamaican jerk-spice Cheddar-style cheese from Seattle’s Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. Instead, I paired it and Trail Blazer with a variety of different cheeses I found in my refrigerator’s cheese drawer.
As I mentioned in my previous post about pairing beer and cheese, the best way to figure out what goes together is to experiment and try different things. Some will work; some will not.
Trail Blazer Pale Ale
I tasted Métier’s Trail Blazer against eight different cheeses over two days.
According to writer Janet Fletcher, pale ales go best with full-flavored and well-balanced cheeses. She recommends you, “Turn to firm cheeses with the savoriness and concentration that emerge with age, such as Cheddar and Manchego. Pale ales stand up to cheeses with herbs and spices, especially peppercorns…”.[iv] Fletcher warns against trying blues or young and buttery cheeses with pale ales, as blues take away from the beer and the beer takes away from young, buttery cheeses.
There are always exceptions to the rule, and with food those exceptions depend on the specific items you are tasting, their seasonality, the individual batch, environmental factors, and your own palate.
I find Trail Blazer an incredibly balanced, smooth pale ale. I tend to view this family of beers as very floral and a bit hoppy—but not as hoppy as most IPAs—with a balance of bitter and sour notes.
Trail Blazer has a fruity aroma. It is hoppy, but with a balance of malt that is reminiscent of freshly baked bread. Up front it has a little bitterness, but that relaxes into a honeyed sweetness. The beer has lemony citrus notes, an herbal-but-sweet finish, and is not overly floral in character. Trail Blazer has good body and a soft mouthfeel.
My favorite pairings with this beer were Milton Creamery’s Flory’s Truckle and Jasper Hill Farm’s Bayley Hazen Blue.
Flory’s Truckle, a traditional clothbound Cheddar from Missouri, is firm and crumbly with lemony acidity and grassy, nutty-sweet flavors. This cheese enhanced the beer’s acidity—but then the two mellowed out together into a nutty and sweet partnership that was refreshing at the same time as it was substantial.
In an exception to one of Fletcher’s recommendations, the combination of the pale ale with Jasper Hill Farm’s Bayley Hazen was my far-out favorite. This partnership between the beer and the natural-rind blue cheese created a rich, delicious, salt-forward, but malty commingling. The pairing was sweet, but not overly so, and it reminded me of toasted marshmallows straight off the campfire.
My least favorite pairings with Trail Blazer were Twin Sisters Creamery’s Whatcom Farmhouse with Peppercorns and Fromagerie Guilloteau Fromager d’Affinois.
Although Fletcher recommends pairing peppercorn cheeses with pale ales, I did not enjoy this beer with Twin Sisters Creamery’s Whatcom Farmhouse with Peppercorns, a Caerphilly-style cheese studded with whole black peppercorns. Together they reated a puckery, tart pairing in which the butyric[v] cheddariness of the cheese fought against the fruitiness of the beer.
Nor was Trail Blazer a good partner for Fromagerie Guilloteau’s Fromager d’Affinois, which is the top-selling Brie-style cheese at just about every cheese counter in America. The mild and buttery double-cream was combative with the beer. While the cheese brought out the beer’s honeylike qualities and the beer highlighted the cheese’s inherent sweetness, the cheese felt too fatty for the beer and they did not meld with one another on the tongue.
My complete tasting notes are tabularized below:
|Cheese Name||Cheese Attributes||Cheese Alone||Cheese + Beer||Beer Alone: |
Trail Blazer Pale Ale
|Pale Ale; 6.2% ABV. Hoppy aroma, citrusy—like lemon; fresh, not super floral. Good body and mouthfeel. Bitter up front, then honey-like; becomes malty, sweet, fresh-baked bread. Finish = herbal, but sweet.|
|Caseficio dell’Alta Langa La Tur||Pasteurized cow, sheep, goat milk; bloomy rind/geotrichum candidum-ripened Robiola; Bosia, Italy||Buttery, lactic, rich. Little bit tangy; notes of grass, fresh cream, faint wool.||Mellow pairing. Refreshing, but also tongue-coating. Highlights citrusy notes in beer. Brings out grassiness in cheese. Good!|
|Fromagerie Guilloteau Fromager d’Affinois||Pasteurized cow’s milk; bloomy rind, double-cream Brie-style; Pélussin, France||Buttery, mild, fresh cream, slight sweetness; faint citrus—oranges? Hint of mushroom note.||Combative, not melding. Brings out honeylike qualities in beer and sweetness in the cheese, but too much fat. Nah.|
|Twin Sisters Creamery Whatcom Farmhouse with Peppercorns||Raw Jersey cow’s milk; flavored Caerphilly-style; Ferndale, Washington||Creamy, but firm paste; “Cheddary” smell and flavor; firm, crunch of peppercorns gives bit of spice. Lactic and slightly butyric. Super snackable.||Really puckery, tart pairing between “cheesiness” of cheese and fruitiness of beer. Eh.|
|Formatgeries Montbrú Sarró de Cabra||Pasteurized goat’s milk; quail egg-washed semi-firm; Moià, Spain||Firm, but fudgy. Tart, goaty, butyric. Full-bodied, not too goaty. Sweet.||Snackable! Highlights sweet malt in beer through floral, grassy, little-bit salty, butyric cheese. Tart + fat = mellow and nice.|
|Milton Creamery Flory’s Truckle||Raw cow’s milk; traditional clothbound Cheddar-style; Jamesport, Missouri||Firm, crumbly and dry. Lemony acidity, grassy, musty, sweet. A+.||Enhances acidity at first, but then becomes nutty and sweet. Nice melding of flavors. Refreshing, but substantial. Filling. Not bad.|
|Parish Hill Creamery Cornerstone||Raw cow’s milk; semi-firm American original; Putney, Vermont||Fudgy, smooth. Mild, sweet, grassy, slight mineral. Citrusy like Valencia orange; fresh milk.||Nice. Citrus-heavy, like honey on a lemon wedge. Really pleasant: herbal, but in a good way.|
|Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk||Pasteurized organic cow’s milk; triple-cream washed-rind; Point Reyes Station, California||Rich, dense, fudgy. Little bit brothy, heavy cream, teeny funk/yeastiness. Slight salt.||Brings out salt in the cheese. Amplifies the hops in the beer. Great, yeasty finish. Good pairing!|
Black Stripe Coconut Porter
After focusing my tasting on the pale ale, I moved on to Métier’s Black Stripe Coconut Porter. Porters are dark beers with a tendency toward chocolate, coffee, caramel, nut, and smoky notes. Despite all these rich, sweet flavors and aromas, they often finish dry and acidic.[vi]
Black Stripe has a black coffee aroma that is both acidic and rich. It has almost no head and a lighter mouthfeel. Its flavor is like medium-roast coffee with a malty sweetness reminiscent of yeasted donuts proofing on the counter. The beer’s finish hints at lightly sweetened strips of toasted coconut.
Over the course of two days a couple of months apart, I tasted Black Stripe with 10 cheeses. It took me a minute to finish this tasting, because my family kept drinking all my cans of this beer.
While not specifically speaking to the coconut element, Fletcher suggests pairing porter beers with “robust cheeses,” such as Alpine-style or Swiss cheeses, mellow Cheddar-style cheeses, and buttery blues.[vii] Speaking about porter and stout beers together, she cautions that they are difficult to pair, because this family of beers is so large and diverse that many factors must be taken into account.
Using stouts[viii] as the example, she asks: “Is the stout dry or syrupy sweet? Is it moderate in alcohol and medium bodied, or as viscous as maple syrup? Even mellow blue cheeses can vanquish some dry stouts, for example, while an Imperial stout, with its alcoholic power and residual sugar, doesn’t bow to many blues.”[ix]
I had a hard time picking one favorite pairing for Black Stripe, because it was good with many of the cheeses. If I had to choose, I loved it most with Caseficio dell’Alta Langa La Tur and Briar Rose Creamery Maia.
Alta Langa’s La Tur is a cow-, sheep-, and goat-milk Robiola from Italy. This cheese, which has a geotrichum candidum bloomy rind—the kind that looks a bit like brain coral—is one of my all-time favorites. It is luscious, milky, creamy, and sweet. Tasting Black Stripe with la Tur is like eating cookies and cream. The two meld together to remove the beer’s bitterness and bring out the cheese’s richness.
Another softie, Briar Rose Creamery’s Maia is a semi-soft washed-rind cheese from Oregon. The cheese really brought out Black Stripe’s coffee note and bitterness, but not in a bad way. While their flavors competed a little, the finish was incredibly satisfying. It left my mouth feeling like I had just eaten a malted milk ball.
My least favorite pairings were with Milton Creamery Flory’s Truckle and Boxcarr Handmade Cheese Rocket’s Robiola.
After my great experience trying Flory’s Truckle with Trail Blazer, the pairing between this cheese and Black Stripe was disappointing. It was quite tannic up front with accentuated coffee notes and a weird mouthfeel. The pairing tasted OK, but not great. Flory’s Truckle was much better suited to the pale ale.
Rocket’s Robiola from Boxcarr Handmade Cheese in North Carolina is an ash-rubbed geotrichum-ripened semi-soft cow’s milk cheese. Tasting it with Black Stripe was a master class in unsuccessful cheese pairing. The combination was very bitter up front, and then the cheese overpowered the beer and the beer’s flavor totally died out.
It’s worth pointing out that you can adore a cheese, but it may not be the best partner for a given pairing. That’s OK! Not all things have to work together.
I included Formatgeries Montbrú Sarró de Cabra in both my tastings with Black Stripe. The first time, I loved the cheese and beer together; the second time, I was not as excited about the pairing. This shows that every batch of artisanal cheese can be a little bit different, and that you have to keep tasting things because your own taste buds evolve and what you enjoy might change over time.
My complete tasting notes for Black Stripe follow:
|Cheese Name||Cheese Attributes||Cheese Alone||Cheese + Beer||Beer Alone: |
Black Stripe Coconut Porter
|Coconut Porter; 5.5% ABV. Black coffee aroma, acidic. Lighter mouthfeel. Medium-roast coffee; malty sweetness, like yeasted donuts proofing. Almost no head. Hint of toasted coconut sweetness.|
|Caseficio dell’Alta Langa La Tur||Pasteurized cow, sheep, goat milk; bloomy rind/geotrichum candidum Robiola; Bosia, Italy||Buttery, lactic, rich. Little bit tangy; notes of grass, fresh cream, faint wool.||Cookies and cream! Melds together: removes beer’s bitterness and brings out cheese’s richness. YUM!|
|Fromagerie Guilloteau Fromager d’Affinois||Pasteurized cow’s milk; bloomy rind double-cream Brie-style; Pélussin, France||Buttery, mild, fresh cream, slight sweetness; faint citrus—oranges? Hint of mushroom note.||Like coffee with heavy cream. Sweet, nutty, malty. Almost desserty. Has great body. Good.|
|Briar Rose Creamery Maia||Pasteurized Ayrshire cow’s milk; semi-soft washed-rind; Dundee, Oregon||Sweet aroma: unsalted butter, white mushroom caps. Herbal. Smooth, rich paste. Salted butter, grass/hay. Damn good.||Really brings out bitter coffee note. Not bad, but flavors do compete/play back and forth. Finish is really pleasant. Like malted milk balls. Good.|
|Boxcarr Handmade Cheese Rocket’s Robiola||Pasteurized cow’s milk; semi-soft ash-dusted geotrichum candidum-ripened; Cedar Grove, North Carolina||Salty aroma, minerally. Dense, fudgy paste. Tastes lactic, with notes of cream, hay, and onions. Mineral and fermenty.||Very bitter up front, then beer totally dies (RIP). Cheese overpowers. Meh.|
|Formatgeries Montbrú Sarró de Cabra||Pasteurized goat’s milk; quail egg-washed semi-firm; Moià, Spain||Take 1: Firm, but fudgy. Tart, goaty, butyric. Full-bodied, not too goaty. Sweet. Take 2: Salty, barnyard aroma. Firm, creamy paste. Slight acidity, low salt, little earthy, sweet like green grapes.||Take 1: Salty and sweet, good fat content, nutty. Fantastic! Keep eating. Take 2: Beer kinda drowns cheese, but picks up saltiness. Not bad; snackable.|
|Briar Rose Creamery Callisto||Pasteurized Ayrshire cow’s milk; semi-firm Alpine-style washed-rind; Dundee, Oregon||Salty, musty aroma. Cave-y. Chalky-smooth, dense paste. Acidic; tart up front, then butter, grass, herbal. Almost floral.||Salty, mellow; melds together. Tones down both beer and cheese. Very snackable. Finish not great, though. Generally good.|
|Milton Creamery Flory’s Truckle||Raw cow’s milk; traditional clothbound Cheddar-style; Jamesport, Missouri||Firm, crumbly and dry. Lemony acidity, grassy, musty, sweet. A+.||Tannic up front; accentuates coffee. Weird texture/mouthfeel. Tastes OK, but not great. Disappointing.|
|Parish Hill Creamery Cornerstone||Raw cow’s milk; semi-firm American original style; Putney, Vermont||Fudgy, smooth. Mild, sweet, grassy, slight mineral. Citrusy like Valencia orange; fresh milk.||Creamy texture, like coffee with cream. Sweet, nutty, great. Most pleasurable texture of all.|
|Spring Brook Farm Ashbrook||Raw Jersey cow’s milk; semi-firm Morbier-style washed-rind; Reading, Vermont||Slight aroma is milky, little bit earthy. Notes of melted butter, salt, hay, allium (onions and garlic?). Herbaceous. Creamy.||They fight each other a bit. Cheese wins out. Combo is OK, not that interesting.|
|Twin Sisters Creamery Whatcom Blue||Raw Jersey cow’s milk; semi-firm rindless blue; Ferndale, Washington||Salty, mildewy but sweet/fermenty aroma. Fudgy, rich texture. Fruity like strawberries. Milky, lactic, butyric, and salty.||Interesting. Tones down salt in the blue, but the finish is VERY blue. GOOD in the middle, but finish is gross/moldy.|
Writing up this post made me realize that there is more pairing to be done with these two beers, and that I really need to get up to Woodinville to try Métier Brewing Company’s other beers. But there are also a lot of other beers I need to try with all the cheeses mentioned above (and more!).
I hope you’ll join me in the pursuit of finding many more great beer-and-cheese pairings. What are some of your current favorites? Feel free to drop a comment and spread the good word of brews with curd!
[i] “Marshall Walter ‘Major’ Taylor: Champion Cyclist.” Mass. Hall of Black Achievement at BSU. Bridgewater State University, 17 Nov. 2004, https://web.archive.org/web/20120306003040/http://www.bridgew.edu/hoba/taylor.cfm. Accessed 24 August 2020. << https://web.archive.org/web/20120306003040/http://www.bridgew.edu/hoba/taylor.cfm>>.
[ii] For more information, visit https://www.cascade.org/learn/major-taylor-project.
[iii] See the Métier feature article in the February 2019 issue of 1889 Magazine, posted here: https://metierbrewing.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Metier.pdf. Dodd, Jackie. “Beervana: The Might Métier.” 1889 Magazine. February-March 2019. 20.
[iv] Fletcher, Janet. Cheese & Beer. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel, 2013.7.
[v] Butyric acid is the fatty acid responsible for the “cheesy” flavor and aroma. See Michael H. Tunick, “Whey and Pickled Cheeses, Amino and Fatty Acids, and Salt.” The Science of Cheese. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 75.
[vi] Dornbusch, Horst, and Oliver, Garrett. “Porter.” The Oxford Companion to Beer. Ed. Oliver. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 660-4.
[vii] Tunick, 59-60.
[viii] According to Horst Dornbusch and Garrett Oliver, “Stout is a stronger porter, with larger amount of dissolved solids, and containing six or seven per cent of alcohol.” See Dornbusch and Oliver, 663.
[ix] Ibid., 60.