The Session #51: Beer and Cheese Pairing (Part 3)

The SessionThis month’s Session has Jay Brooks tasking us to pair beer and cheese, and to do so he 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; first was Fort George Brewing’s Vortex IPA with Tillamook Vintage White Cheddar, and the second was Pelican 2010 Stormwatcher’s Winterfest Barleywine with Rogue Creamery Blue Cheese.

My goal for the three pairings was to go with Oregon beers and cheeses as much as possible; and since my third pairing was a goat’s milk cheese with (suggested styles of) a Doppelbock or a Belgian wheat beer, I thought I’d dip into my “cellar” and select a beer I had on-hand: Widmer‘s Cherry Oak Doppelbock, the first of the “Brother’s Reserve” series beers that Widmer first released back in September 2009. I loved this beer the first time around—so much so that it was one of my top beers of 2009—so I was curious to see how a year-and-a-half would treat this beer.

The cheese, however, wasn’t an Oregon cheese this time: Goat’s Milk Cheddar Cheese from Trader Joe’s, which turned out to be from Canada. Not entirely what I’d intended, but I’m not losing any sleep over it.

Widmer Cherry Oak Doppelbock and Trader Joe’s Goat’s Milk Cheddar

The beer: As a refresher for the beer, this is Widmer’s description:

Cherry Oak Doppelbock is a rich ale, cold-fermented with dark sweet and red tart cherries, then conditioned on new, heavily toasted American oak. The result is a dark lustrous brew with up-front malty sweetness and cherry fruit notes completed by caramel, dark chocolate, and toasted oak undertones. The complex flavor profile balances the impressive 9% ABV and 40 IBUs.

I reviewed this beer back in ’09, and my overall note was:

Overall: Wow, this beer is amazing—the cherry is perfect, the Doppelbock is perfect, there’s nothing harsh or overplayed here—it’s fantastic.

It’s worth reading my original review to compare to the aged bottle—go ahead, I’ll wait.

Widmer Cherry Oak DoppelbockBack? Good! Since I had already written up the full review previously (and we had friends over, drinking beer as well), my notes this time around are more summarized:

It’s a deep ruby brown, fairly still now. Still has a bit of cherry in the nose, but it’s muted and more cherry pit than fruit; sweet. Much more tart and dry in flavor, and it has woody character and some sherry oxidation but not in a bad way. Oaky tannin character.

The cheese: The goat cheese is gamey and earthy, mellow and creamy with that distinctive “goat” character; not as intense as a straight chèvre, I suppose the cheddar aspect of it is what makes this a bit mellower.

Paired with the beer, however, doesn’t work entirely: they are not bad together, but there is a bit of a clash. The cheese seems to bring out strong wood notes in the beer, a bit harsh. Almost like it’s drawing out the woody notes from cherry pits, and the fruit character of the beer is lost amidst the tannin, wood flavors. I think a straight Doppelbock would have worked better with this cheese, or perhaps a Witbier of some type; or, selecting a creamier chèvre, perhaps a brie, might have worked better.

I did have a bit of the Rogue Oregon Blue left, so I tried some of that with the Cherry Oak Doppelbock as well. Much better fit, the tang of the cheese played well off of the tart fruit of the beer.

Great Session this month! Jay has already got the roundup posted, and also outlined the plans for “Session 51.5”:

Use the list of beers chosen by everybody for each of the three cheeses that are listed above to try a few more beers with the same cheese. Over the next two weeks, simply pick up some of the other beers that were suggested, and try them with the same three cheeses and do a follow up blog post on Friday, May 20 — which I’m calling Session #51.5 — to explore more fully pairing cheese and beer.

You can write about how your choices compared, or what you learned from the other suggestions, or which out of all the ones you tried worked best. What recommended pairing most surprised you? Which didn’t seem to work at all, for you? It’s my way of taking the Session concept and making it more interactive and collaborative, essentially an “online cheese-off.” First, we made our best recommendations for pairing a beer with these three cheeses, and now we have an opportunity to try as many of the suggestions as we can, and discover which worked best. I’ll then do a second round-up and report the findings of the group as a whole to the beers and the three cheeses together.

I did say this was the most involved Session yet!