One of our favorite food-and-beer pairings is beer and cheese. Both are versatile. Both are delicious. And the flavor combinations you can create between them are surprising and abundant. We love a good beer cheese dip, don’t get us wrong. But we wanted to approach this pairing from a much broader perspective than how the two melt together. Below, you’ll find pairing fundamentals, and a few suggested pairing examples, for beer and cheese.
RULE 1: Balance loves Balance
You don’t want your beer to overpower your cheese, or vice versa. For a more balanced beer like a Belgian witbier, you’d want to pair something milder like a chevre or subtle swiss. Robust beer—like a hop-forward double IPA, or a big, roasty bourbon barrel-aged stout—requires a robust cheese, like a tangy goat cheese, or a washed-rind cheese.
RULE 2: Texture Meets Body
A big aspect of pairing is making sure one part complements the other. In the case of a cheese’s texture, you can range from flaky and crisp to fatty and gooey. For those flaky cheeses, it’s nice to match it with a more full-bodied beer, like a scotch ale. For gooier cheese, we suggest a dry beer—meaning almost all of the sugar has fermented out. Dry beers will have a crisp, bubbly mouthfeel that helps to cut through the fat of the cheese. Examples of exceptionally dry beers are saisons, pilsners, and witbiers.
RULE 3: Acid and Fat
Some of our wild beers have a tartness to them. When paired with a sharp cheese, the combination can be a little too intense. We’d recommend pairing a tart beer with a higher-fat cheese. Think of it like tomato with fresh mozzarella, there’s acid in the tomato, which makes it pair so nicely with the fat in the cheese.
RULE 4: Hops and spice
This pertains specifically to hoppier beers. Hops create a particular range of aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel in beer, broadly: citrusy, piney, tropical, and bitter. That combination can clash with a few different styles of milder cheese. You’ll want to find something to match the intensity of the hops. Some options are bleu cheese, cheddar, or, for those with a more adventuresome palate, something with some heat, like a habanero cheddar.
RULE 5: There are no rules
Like any subjective activity, you should follow your own palate when exploring pairings. If something just works, go for it. Half of the fun of pairing beer and cheese is in trying something new.
SOME SPECIFIC PAIRINGS
Below, you’ll find some specific beer-and-cheese pairings that people around the brewery enjoy particularly.
Allagash White and Jasper Hill Farm Harbison
A traditional Belgian-style wheat beer will have balanced notes of citrus and spice. Its pale straw color and lightly hazy body hold floral and citrus esters created by the yeast itself. We’ve enjoyed pairing it with the spoonable texture of a more woodsy, bloom rind cheese. A witbier will bring an equally nuanced flavor to match the cheese, in addition to cleansing carbonation.
Allagash River Trip and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar
A good sharp cheddar can match even the most robust of flavors. In addition to the tangy notes, you’ll find brown butter and even a parmesan-esque umami in aged cheddar. We’d say to go for a slightly more mild hoppy beer for pairing (one with an ABV between 4%-6%), as too much bitterness will all but erase your ability to taste the subtler aspects of the pairing.
Allagash Tripel and Swiss Emmental
A Tripel is a Belgian-style golden ale with a robust aroma of passion fruit and herbs. Because of the style’s normally high-ish ABV, it has a full flavor with nice perceived sweetness. We find this character works with the clean, rich, slightly sweet and nutty flavor you’d find in a traditional Swiss Emmental. The flavors pair nicely because they’re similar: you’ll find citrus and fruit notes in both the beer and the cheese.
Allagash Curieux and Cypress Grove Midnight Moon
Barrel-aging can impart a wide variety of flavors into a beer. Most often, you’ll find notes of vanilla and coconut from the charred wood. If aged in a barrel that once held a spirit like bourbon, you’ll also find a bit more warming. We’ve found that goat cheese offers robust enough savory and nutty notes to complement the perceived sweetness in a bigger barrel-aged beer.
Allagash Saison and Beemster Classic Aged Gouda
Gouda is reportedly one of the oldest recorded styles of cheese. Our favorites are aged for up to eighteen months, producing crystallization in some of its sugars for pops of crisp texture. These buttery, nutty notes light up when paired with the spicy, tropical fruit notes you’ll find in a classic saison. Another important characteristic of a saison is that it finishes bone dry. This means with each sip of beer, your palate will be wiped clean and prepared for another mouthful of gouda.