Craft beer goes as well with cheese as does wine — if not better.
“With beer you can get so much better complexity with all the different hop and malt profiles,” suggested Jeff Nelson, New England regional sales manager for Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits. “You can really meet the complexities of the cheese.”
Nelson led a class on pairing last week at Yankee Wine & Spirits in Newtown, CT. Guests received a trio of artisinal cheeses, plus a handful of newer and classic Ballast Point beers.
For the unfamiliar: Ballast Point was founded in 1996 by a homebrewer and has since been at the forefront of the west coast and San Diego craft beer booms. Last year, the brewery was the country’s 13th largest in terms of annual sales. Ballast Point is best known for its best two sellers: Sculpin and Grapefruit Sculpin.
Their third-highest seller is Manta Ray, an “approachable double IPA,” Nelson said as he poured it alongside The Twain.
The Twain is a hard cow’s milk cheese from The Mystic Cheese Company. Rich and creamy upfront, it finishes with a soft yogurt note. Pairing this creamy delicacy with the aggressive bitterness of a DIPA may not be your first idea (and this was the most discordant duo of the night) but it worked for several reasons.
Manta Ray drinks remarkably smooth for its 8.5% ABV. It’s hardly the bitter bomb of your normal west coast IPA. Manta Ray focuses more on its tropical fruit and citrus hop notes, which pair well with the creamy buttery cheese.
Though this beer is still plenty hoppy. Which made the overall pairing more about contrast (against The Twain’s smooth creaminess) than comparison.
Next up was a more natural match. Nelson poured Grunion, a pale ale that Ballast Point launched nationally last February. With this we nibbled on Humboldt Fog, a goat milk cheese made by Cypress Grove Chevre of Arcata, California.
Like matching power with power with a red wine and steak, Nelson paired subtly with subtly. The smooth malt and light hop notes of the pale ale matched the restrained creamy funk of the goat cheese. Perfection.
Up third was Sea Change, a stracchino (or crescenza) style from Mystic Cheese Co. (pictured atop).
Sea Change is a young cow’s milk cheese that ripens externally. This means mold on the rind and a soft buttery interior. With this we drank Bonito Blonde, also launched nationally in February.
The array of soft malts and light Cascade hop in the blonde paired wonderfully with the light creamy pungent cheese. Again, subtly matched subtly. “The protein of the cheese coats your tongue and then the malts from the beer washes it away,” aptly stated Nelson.
For dessert Nelson opened the first nitro can from Ballast Point: Red Velvet.
Technically a stout thanks to its pale light malts, Red Velvet poured as pinkly red its cake namesake. The color comes from beats added during production, which are tasteless in the final brew. Nelson explained this was a preferable, all-natural alternative to red food coloring.
Red Velvet also tasted like its name — with sweet golden chocolate malts — though less sweetly than you might imagine. It’s smooth, not cloying. Drink it alongside any soft subtle cheese for a treat. A new seasonal, Red Velvet launched in October and will remain through April, and then return next holiday season.
Another new seasonal is Ballast Point’s Tart Peach Kolsch, out this spring. An “intro to sour beers,” this is lightly sour upon the nose and palate — but more sweet, fruity and smooth than sour. It’s a little lactic upon the palate, with sweet fruits. Tart Peach Kolsch pairs with any soft, creamy, subtle cheese.