If you’ve ever heard of musical artist Girl Talk or listened to the vocals of one track overlaying the instrumental version of another (aka mash-up), you’ll know that sometimes two very different things go well together. Karl Strauss Downtown offered us not a symphony of music, but one of flavors – cue Monster Beer and Cheese Night. Beer and cheese, you ask? Isn’t that wine’s territory? Well, it appears cheese wanted to see other people and found beer, its new soul mate, in the process.
The friendly hostess led us to a table covered with “KARL” pins and “San Diego Beer Week” stickers, strewn like confetti. I felt like a kid who had arrived at a friend’s birthday party, eagerly awaiting the goody bag I was promised. But instead of cheap erasers, toys and candy, this was a plate of meticulously chosen cheeses to go with a taster flight of select Strauss brews. Within seconds of getting settled and saying my hellos, a smiling waitress brought it over.
First up – 2010 Great American Beer Festival and 2010 World Beer Cup Gold Medal Winner Red Trolley Ale. The Irish-style Red Ale was astutely paired with a Midnight Moon goat milk. The sweet cheese perfectly complemented the toffee and slightly fruity flavor of the beer. This was a winner, one that could be easily imitated for an at-home beer and cheese pairing.
Next was Karl Strauss’ Winter Seasonal: the Fullsuit Belgian Brown Ale, paired with French Beaufort cow milk. By itself, the aroma of vanilla in the beer teetered on the edge of becoming overly dominant. The Beaufort brought the vanilla back to earth while intensifying the nutty, oaky spice that makes this beer a fantastic example of the style. This was an interesting, satisfying pairing to the say the least.
Third on the list was the pairing of Karl Strauss’ Trippel with Italian Piave Vecchio. This pairing was all about the fruit that can be found in beer and cheese. At first sip, all present simultaneously shouted, “Bubblegum!” Banana was a close second in the flavor profile. The cheese by itself had some fruit flavors, but it was really the beer that pushed those to the forefront. A striking pairing – one that really stretches the boundaries of how beer and cheese can work together.
We’ve passed the half-way point, going strong. Jeff Hammett, West Coaster and San Diego Beer Blog writer, was enjoying the festivities with his wife. Melani & Jeff “Flash” Gordon, as well as interns Kyle & Mike of TapHunter were there, too, ostensibly making sure the tap lists were up to date. Jena Francis, Karl Strauss VP of Marketing came to make sure we were all enjoying ourselves as well as the pairings – and we were.
It was time for Karl Strauss’ Imperial Amber Lager, paired with Balarina goat milk from Holland. I had never tasted a cheese like this in my life – “hints of browned butter and caramel” was an understatement. With the beer, sweet caramel and butter literally coated the palate, the richness subdued slightly by the hops. If you never thought caramel and cheese could go together, think again. An attention-grabbing pairing – if you love caramel, this is the one for you.
Last, but not least, was the one I was dreading. I won’t lie: I despise blue cheese. When I saw that their Big Barrel Double IPA was paired with Stilton, the English “King of Blues,” I visibly cringed. Since Karl Strauss had done such a great job expanding horizons thus far, I figured I should try to do the same. I was not disappointed. Being a big hophead, I first took a big swig of the New Zealand Nelson Sauvin-hopped IIPA before consuming the smallest of crumbs. If you’ve ever had Alpine’s Nelson, you’ll recognize the trademark citrusy, tropical flavor and aroma that comes from these hops. The tasting description nailed it on the head: “The beer transforms this cheese from earthy/musty to fruity and tropical.” Although still not my favorite of the lot, blue cheese became, I dare to say, tolerable. Big Barrel gave me a big surprise.
The Monster Beer and Cheese Night was a huge success and indicative of things to come. Karl Strauss, a San Diego institution, proved that they continue to be innovators in the craft beer community. Many thanks to Melody from Karl Strauss & San Diego Beer Week for the invite and the hospitality. If you’re interested in doing a beer and cheese pairing, use this as an example, or try to make your own. It’s more fun and offers greater possibilities than wine.