Delicious Beer Pairings

  • December 20th, 2019
  • By Stephen Rich

This is one of the best times of year, when friends and family gather to reminisce, create new memories and share the festivities of the season. If your family is anything like mine, it will also be accompanied by a wide selection of snacks, treats, meals, and late-night raids of the fridge.

I thought I’d share some of my favourite food and beer pairings perfect for the holidays, or any time! I encourage you to share your favourite food and beer pairings with us. Have fun with some of these ideas, and let us know what your family enjoyed, and share some of your own traditions with us! Cheers!

Cheese and beer is one of the all-time great pairings. Forget about wine and cheese... beer shows up to the party! With softer alcohol, balancing bitterness and brisk carbonation, beer is the ultimate complement (or contrast!) to the world’s greatest cheeses. Here are three delicious pairings you can try at home.

Absent Landlord with Oka, such as Saint-Paulin or Oka Classique. Oka is a soft cow’s milk cheese with light sweetness and velvety taste of butter and cream, with a gentle elasticity. This is such a wonderful introductory pairing with Cowbell’s Absent Landlord Country Kolsch. The beer and cheese share an elegant nature and are easy to enjoy. Absent Landlord has soft fruity and herbal notes that complement the buttery smooth Oka. Together, they show off a soft honeyed ham sandwich flavour. Elegant and fun.

Doc Perdue’s Boxing Bruin with aged Gouda, such as Blyth Farm Cheese Golden Blyth Aged, or Beemster XO. Aged Gouda combines rich butterscotch milkiness with sharp crystal-like nutty and salty flavours. It is semi-firm and is delicious on its own. At 6.3% ABV, and 50 Bitter Units, Cowbell’s Doc Perdue’s Boxing Bruin IPA has the strength and bitterness to stand up to cheese such as this, and actually cuts through its fatty-rich character. Your palate will be cleansed for the next bite. The tropical hoppy flavours in Bruin contrast the savoury cheese, and treat you to a salty/sweet collaboration of flavours. Very exciting.

Reunion 1st Solera Vintage with Blue Cheese, such as Stilton or Roquefort. Blue cheese has potently rich flavours of earth, mushroom, funk and salt. But there are also sweet, smoky, and creamy characteristics in this complex cheese. Similarly Cowbell’s Reunion 1st Solera Vintage, at 11% ABV, is rich with a complex complement of dark chocolate, fudge, caramel, figs, sherry and brandy. Blue Cheese and Reunion is definitely not a pairing for the novice beer or cheese fan, but if you are a fanatic or know one, this will be a memorable pairing where dense flavours complement each other, and friends are made for life. Complex and contemplative.

Thinly sliced salami, prosciutto and Iberico Ham all share space on a platter alongside olives, pickled veg and dried fruit. What a mix of flavours! So how do you choose a beer to pair with such a selection? The key is finding a beer that is both versatile and not overwhelming. It has to have enough character to stand up against the rich and potentially salty or spicy cured meats, but also not overpower the more delicate meats.

Doc Perdue’s Bobcat is your perfect match for a charcuterie board. Cowbell’s Doc Perdue’s Bobcat West Coast Red Ale has moderate strength (5.5% ABV), moderate bitterness (30 IBU), and a complement of caramel malty notes with citrus and piney hop aromas. It is the ultimate pairing for a variety of classic charcuterie meats. It has the body and bitterness to match stronger meats that may be spicy or rich, but it is not so robust as to overpower softer more delicate meats like prosciutto. The beer’s primary goal will be to cut fatty and rich flavours, but it will also complement many classic cured meats with a touch of maltiness, and contrast with those pine and herbal hop flavours. Bobcat’s piney hops can even play with the saltiness of olives or pickled vegetables, brightening them up and refreshing. It’s going to be fun, I promise.

Why didn’t I just start with chocolate? Or maybe you’re asking, “chocolate and beer? Really?” Yes, really. Not only “yes”, but beer can be the best pairing with chocolate you’ve ever enjoyed! Beer and chocolate actually have a lot in common. They are both fermented to create new, delicious flavours and they both balance bitter and sweet flavours harmoniously.

When pairing chocolate, it follows a similar path as cheese; both are built on a foundation of creamy fats. Sure, some very dark chocolates have significantly less, but regardless, nearly all chocolate share those savoury, creamy, delectable characteristics as cheese. They need just as much of a contrast as a complement to make the pairing shine.

Lorna Bray Fly Girl with Milk Chocolate Truffle. You know those creamy foil wrapped chocolate balls that seem to find their way into every part of the holidays. They are smooth, moderately sweet, and melt with decadent milk chocolate notes. Cowbell’s Lorna Bray Fly Girl Nitro Oatmeal Stout is silky and creamy with oatmeal cookie, dark chocolate and light coffee flavours. It’s low to moderate in strength (5.1% ABV) and balances sweet and savoury, perfectly showcasing coffee-like roast against chocolatey sweetness. The stout matches the silky mouthfeel of the milk chocolate with its own creamy nitro sensations. Then the real magic happens. The sweetness from the chocolate softens the roasty-bitter in the stout, creating a more chocolate stout. And the sweetness from the stout softens the chocolate bitterness, creating a decadent treat. In the end, any milk chocolate will work with Fly Girl to create a made-in-heaven chocolate pairing. While you may not be able to enjoy Lorna Bray Fly Girl at home this season, we hope that you will be able to in the very near future!

McNall’s Mission with Almond Bark and Peanut Brittle. This is a home run. These two classic holiday favourites work so nicely with the balance of sweet and savoury in McNall’s Mission. Almond bark, with its nutty and sweet cocoa flavours, and peanut brittle, with its salty sweet flavours, both serve as a conduit to showcase Cowbell’s McNall’s Mission Honey Brown Ale beautifully. For both, the pairing is a balance of elegantly sweet honey, malt and caramel with savoury roast, cocoa and coffee. The salty caramel brittle complements McNall’s malty sweetness, while the nutty chocolate bark complements the savoury side of the beer just as soft carbonation shows up to cleanse your palate. That same carbonation and cocoa and coffee notes in McNall’s highlights the nutty flavours in both the bark and brittle. The result is a delightful cascade of caramel candy, malted chocolate, light savoury salt and toast. It’s a fun 1+1=3 scenario.

Almanac 2019 Imperial Stout with Chocolate Souffle. Think about any of your favourite rich chocolate desserts - chocolate souffle, flourless chocolate cake, chocolate cheesecake, or old fashioned brownies. All these full-flavoured desserts need complementing decadent flavours, as well as strength, to help cut through some of the richness. Cowbell’s Almanac 2019 Imperial Stout is a potent espresso and chocolate-like Imperial Stout. At 11.3% ABV, Almanac’s strength will help break down the heft of the souffle into parts. Bitter dark chocolate and creamy, airy cake will melt alongside the sweet fudge and chocolate in Almanac. Candied dark fruit, butterscotch, crème brulee, and brandied-fudge envelop your senses. It’s a decadent combination of flavours, creating a memorable finishing dessert pairing to a wonderful meal.