The Session #51: Beer and Cheese Pairing (Part 2)

The SessionFor this month’s Session Jay Brooks tasked us to pair beer and cheese, and selected three cheeses (a cheddar, a blue, and a chèvre) to pair with beers and write about. I’m breaking my Session notes into three parts, covering a beer and cheese pairing each, and the first pairing I wrote about was Fort George Brewing’s Vortex IPA with Tillamook Vintage White Cheddar.

Besides the cheese suggestions, Jay also posted notes suggesting what styles of beer might pair well with those cheeses, and since I’m still fairly ignorant of cheese pairings, those styles were what I went with. For the record, they were:

  • Cheddar, with IPA
  • Blue cheese, with an Imperial Stout or Barleywine (or similar strong and complex beer)
  • Goat cheese, with Belgian Wheat or Doppelbock

The Vortex IPA and Tillamook cheddar already reported on, I turn my attention now to the blue cheese; since I had the idea of loosely “theming” the pairings on Oregon cheeses and beers, the blue cheese I ultimately selected was Rogue Creamery‘s Oregon Blue Cheese. And given the suggestion of a strong (or “Imperial”) beer to pair, I had the perfect beer in mind: the 2010 Stormwatcher’s Winterfest Barleywine from Pelican Pub & Brewery.

Like my first post, I’m presenting my beer review notes first, then I’ll talk about the cheese.

Pelican 2010 Stormwatcher’s Winterfest and Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue Cheese

The beer: Several months ago, Pelican began officially distributing their beers here in Bend, which gave me the opportunity to pick up the bottle of the Stormwatcher’s Winterfest, one of the Pelican brews I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to try. (Regular readers know I’m a big fan of Pelican and Pacific City, where they’re located—you can see past write-ups here and here—but I’ve missed most of their highly-touted seasonal beers simply due to the inconvenient distance between Bend and Pacific City; so I couldn’t pass up their Barleywine, even though it carries a heftier price tag than I usually go for in a 22-ounce bomber—$13.99.)

Here is the Pelican’s description of the Winterfest:

Stormwatcher’s Winterfest is the perfect brew to savor on a stormy Oregon Coast day. Its deep amber-red color, massive toasted malt, toffee and caramel aroma, and full-bodied malty flavor lead to a smooth, soft and warming finish. The floral aroma and flavor come from Hersbrucker & Goldings hops, while a rich toasted malt sweetness balances a mild, subtle bitterness in the finish. Its big, warming flavor makes it the ideal complement to nasty weather!

The beer is a whopping 12.7% alcohol by volume(!).

Pelican 2010 Stormwatcher's WinterfestAppearance: Nice deep brown color with orange tints (makes me think of maple syrup), with an orange-tinted tan head.

Smell: Deeply malty with dark fruits all over the place and a prominent burnt-wood alcohol heat. Hot with a touch of sherry.

Taste: Brown sugar, raisins, leather, woody heat, lots of molasses-infused fruits, sweet and hot. Pleasant alcohol heat which grows in the back, almost spicy. Some of the sherry from the nose is here too, nicely complex.

Mouthfeel: Sticky but not quite full-bodied (well attenuated); dry finish from the alcohol even as it presents sweet.

Overall: Excellent; aging would be well founded, but it’s really nice right now.

BeerAdvocate: A-. RateBeer: 3.8, only two reviews so far so no percentile, though previous vintages were as high as 98%.

The cheese: The Rogue Creamery (not related to Rogue Ales) is located in Central Point, Oregon, just north of Medford in Southern Oregon. They make a variety of artisan cheeses but primarily focus on blue; you can order eight different varieties from their site directly, and they’re usually found in (good) cheese coolers around Oregon. If you like blue cheeses, you should definitely seek them out if they’re available in your area.

Of their Oregon Blue, they say:

Created a half a century ago, Oregon Blue Vein cheese has been the West Coast’s exemplary award-winning Raw Milk Blue cheese.

Aged at least 90 days in our Roquefort modeled caves, its semi-soft texture is smooth and its flavor subtle.

Richly hued blue-green veins randomly  highlight the wheel.Pairs nicely with figs, red silk pears, fresh spinach, Viognier wine,  rustic peasant bread and coffee.

Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue Cheese

The cheese itself is a nice, lightly intense blue with milky, creamy flavors full of that savory “bleu” character—pungent, tangy, earthy, a little bit reminiscent of flavorful mushrooms (moldy? which doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as it tastes).

It seems to draw out a strong toffee character in the beer, while the beer cuts into the pungency and brings out creaminess—but they also stand up to and complement each other really well, particularly in their respective complexity. Big earthy flavors come out of the cheese, moreso because of the beer I think. Meanwhile the beer’s heat (intensity) is dampened by the cheese—remember, this is a hot, young beer at 12.7% abv—allow those toffee flavors to be drawn out. Lingering aftertastes from both is intensified.

I liked this combination of beer and cheese better than the previous, not because the beer or cheese is inherently better but largely because I love Barleywines and big bold, intense flavors. The Blue-and-Barleywine combination really works for me, and I’m curious as to trying other “big” beers with blue cheeses—in particular, I have an apricot Stilton from Trader Joe’s that doesn’t have big “bleu” flavors but is very good that I think would pair well with an Imperial Stout. So much to explore!

Next up: Goat cheese and Doppelbock!