So, you’re a member of numerous high-volume beer clubs, have bottles and cans tucked away in every fairly temperature-constant crevice of your home, and have no hope of ever polishing off all those oh-so-fine gems. What is an overstocked beer nut to do? Have a bottle share, of course. But let’s face it, one beery blowout isn’t going to move the needle.
It was this realization that led to the bi-weekly meeting of an assemblage of San Diego beer buds who share a lot more than just ales and lagers. They share a passion, a thirst for sensory experimentation, and an unquenchable hunger for beer-and-food-pairing revelations, all of which was sparked by local educational events like White Labs’ Fermented Pairings Series and professional sensory guru Gwen Conley’s myriad food-and-beverage workshops.
The origins of this epicurean ensemble trace back to Jerry Shiller, the proud owner of a three-panel, liquor store cooler that’s stocked to the gills. Years ago, after attending several impressive beer pairing dinners, he bandied about the idea of marrying beer and food from the comfort of his own home and inviting friends to take part. One of those early participants was a beer fan he knew through work with the Boy Scouts of America, Bob Parks. But it wasn’t until Park’s son, Sean, came into the fold, that things really went to the next level.
One of the most fervent fans of craft beer in San Diego, Sean’s living quarters are stuffed to the gills with bottles, cans, and even crowlers of beers from around the county and nearby regions. But that’s not enough. He rents a temperature-controlled storage unit that’s even more densely-packed with beers. With his and Jerry’s enthusiasm and beer collections overflowing, they decided to up beer pairing sessions to twice a week, holding them Sundays and Thursdays, alternating between residences. I have been honored to attend two of them and have been blown away each time.
The first rule of beer club is not don’t talk about beer club. Instead, Jerry and Sean ask that nobody bring beer. I have gone against the request each time, but it was unnecessary. There was plenty of beer each time, ditto food. Each time there was a veritable smorgasbord of varied items—meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, nuts, confections, crackers, dips, condiments and more—all up for grabs at any point during the nearly four-hour sessions.
Yes, four hours. Why so long? One reason is the sheer volume and alcoholic content of the beers, which lean largely to high-ABV/age-able styles such as imperial stouts, Scotch ales, barley wines, and various other strong ales. Group members learned early on how much flavor fluctuation occurs as a beer warms up, so they decant everything at once in order to taste throughout the evening; the way beers (and their interplay with edible items) change over multiple hours is something to behold. What might be a so-so pairing at the start may blow minds an hour later. Such revelatory moments happen frequently every time they meet up.
The following are some of the best pairings discovered the last time I was invited to partake:
Barrel-Aged Belgian Quad with Mole Salami: The spiciness of the salami balanced the sweetness of the beer.
Barrel-Aged Peach Sour with Blue Cheese: The funk of the cheese brought even more funky depth to the sour.
Barrel-Aged Tangerine, Lime and White Wine Grape Sour with Pork, Kumquat and Pineapple Lettuce Wraps: Fruit-skin pithiness from kumquats upped real-fruit flavor of the sour.
Barrel-Aged Macadamia and Coconut Imperial Stout with Semi-Hard Sheep’s Milk Cheese: The cheese’s lactic spike amplified the beer’s bourbon character.
Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout with Chocolate-covered Pecan: The confection brought out otherwise absent orange notes.
Chocolate-Orange Imperial Stout with Soppressata and Blue Cheese: The salami spice and cheese’s creaminess mellowed the beer’s sweetness.
I even notched my first successful pairing, matching a single-hop lager brewed with Zuper Saazer hops with a combination of mole sausage, turkey, guacamole and a cherry tomato on a gorgonzola cracker. Some of the beer’s hop-borne bite was balanced by the sweetness and acidity of the cherry and the citrus-tinged avocado, plus it all just tasted perfect together.
I could easily see myself getting used to twice-a-week indulgence of this nature, but my biggest takeaway wasn’t that events like this need to be as grandiose as this group’s. They can be scaled-down and simple while still providing the same pairing-inspired fun and excitement of this top-level squad. All it takes is a beer or two and some things you like to eat—or maybe some you haven’t even tried before. The world is your oyster. Ooh, oysters, that’d be fun!
- 28th Anniversary Bourbon Barrel-Aged Belgian-style Quadrupel, Karl Strauss Brewing
- Tusk & Grain Bourbon Barrel-Aged Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, Saint Archer Brewery
- X Parks the Spot, Lagavulin Scotch Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, Mikkeller San Diego
- Veto Power Belgian-style Tripel, Council Brewing
- Silva Stout Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout (2015), Green Flash Brewing
- Devil’s Teeth Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout with Macadamia, Coconut & Cocoa, Modern Times Beer
- Frankenstout, White Labs
- Veritas 016 Barrel-Aged Sour Ale with White Peaches, The Lost Abbey
- Water Lily Barrel-Aged Sour Ale with Tangerine, Lime, Sauvignon Blanc Grapes & Citra Hops, Stone Brewing
- Hipster Chocolate-Covered Orange Imperial Stout with Chocolate & Orange Zest, Wild Barrel Brewing
- The Bachelorette Single-Hop Lager with Zuper Saazer Hops, Societe Brewing
Food for Pairing
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Green Grapes
- Olive Tapenade
- Tomato & Mango Salsa
- Tortilla Chips
- Gorgonzola Crackers
- Potato Chips
- Chocolate-covered Pecans
- Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Peanut Butter Cookies
- Pulled Pork Lettuce Wraps with Pineapple and Kumquats
- Turkey Breast
- Mole Salami
- Elk & Berkshier Pork Salami
- Tieton Farm Sheep and Goat’s Milk Cheese
- Central Coast Seascape Semi-Hard Cheese
- Andanté Nocturne Soft-Rind Blue Cheese
- Kenny’s Farmhouse Kentucky Bleu Cheese
- Kenny’s Farmhouse Ted Cave-Aged White Cheddar