Suggest pairing wine with cheese and people won’t bat an eyelash, but beer and cheese? Well, now you’re indulging in a growing culinary trend. Celebrated London Chef Mark Hix has created his take on it at Mark’s Bar, and in Chiswick, England, The Italian Job, the U.K.’s first dedicated Italian craft beer pub, opened in February. France, too, is embracing craft beer. When in Paris, do as the locals do and head to hot (yet affordable) spots like Les Trois 8 beer bar and La Fine Mousse.
“Beer is a much more natural pairing with cheese [than wine],” says Mirella Amato, Toronto’s Master Cicerone (or beer sommelier) and author of Beerology: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Beer Even More. “Both are farmhouse products often produced in the same regions, and both can have similar flavour notes: caramel, earthy, nutty or, on occasion, buttery.”
Whether abroad or at home, there are plenty of craft beer and cheese choices to indulge in. The key is to match strength to strength in terms of flavour and alcohol. Here, a few brewers suggest pairing recommendations to get you started.
Innis & Gunn
Based in Edinburgh, Innis & Gunn began its fortune in 2003 when a custom recipe used to age whiskey barrels was found to be too good to throw away. The resulting brew became the Innis & Gunn Original. “Whiskey has long been considered an interesting accompaniment for cheese and, as with our beers, the right combination can be incredible. It’s all about the balance of flavours and textures,” says Dougal Sharp, founder and master brewer.
I&G Original “Toronto’s Beerbistro does a cheese and lager fondue that’s paired with our Original label. They use aged cheddar and emmental. I also love durrus, an Irish farmhouse semi-soft cheese with a creamy, slightly fruity taste that really lifts the sweetness of the beer.”
I&G Lager “The sharp, savoury flavour of a good Parmesan pairs well with our Lager. The Italians serve it in huge hunks with almonds and this is a pretty special way to really draw out the crisp, aromatic hops.”
Double Trouble Brewing Co.
Based in Guelph, Ont., just outside Toronto, owners Claude Lefebvre and Nathan Dunsmore are fuelled by a passion for sessionable, flavour-packed beer. Lefebvre says, “Beer is more versatile than wine, especially with cheese that has big, bold flavours. Also, carbonation levels in beer cut through the creamy texture of cheese, and the fat.”
Hops and Robbers IPA “This was our breakout beer, and our most popular. It’s a crisp, golden IPA with fruity aromas of lemon and hints of pineapple that combine with caramel notes, and a malty backbone. I’d pair it with cheese with sweet spices, aged cheddar or milder blue cheese such as gorgonzola.”
Fire in the Rye “An unfiltered rye pale ale, it is our most aggressively hopped beer, but also offers the most characteristics and unique flavour. I’d pair this with an equally bold, hard cheese such as aged cheddar or smoked gouda.”
Founded in 1979 and based in Northern California, Sierra Nevada is the revered American brewing company that helped start the craft beer movement with the launch of its iconic Pale Ale. If you find yourself near Chico, California, head to the Taproom and Restaurant to try one of their 19 brews on tap, combined with local farm fare, artisanal cheeses and meats. (In Canada, the brand is available in British Columbia and recently rolled into Ontario LCBO stores.)
Porter One of the three original beers in the Sierra Nevada portfolio, this classic Porter is true to its London working-class inspired roots, but with an American hop-forward style. It’s dark and deep, with complex malt flavours and notes of coffee and cocoa. Pair it with Bleu d’Elizabeth, a semi-soft blue veined farm cheese from Quebec.
Ovila Abbey Quad with Plums For a more unique craft beer experience, try the Ovila Abbey series. A collaboration with the Abbey of New Clairvaux, the rotating ales feature ingredients locally grown by the Abbey’s monks. This Quad combines the sweetness of sugar plums harvested from their 130-acre orchards, with complex caramel and rich malt flavours, and pairs well with gouda or a sharp cheddar.