Happy Hour: Fall Beer Tasting

This week I was lucky enough to whittle my work hours back to 40. I told myself I would use the extra time to do laundry, balance my checkbook, and clean my kitchen floors. You know, do all the things I barely had time to do when I was working 55 hours a week. On my second day of work-hour-normalcy, I sprinted out of the office at 5:15 PM and headed straight to. . . a beer and cheese pairing.

I did not see the laundry room, my bills remained in a pile next to my disheveled wallet and checkbook, and my pudgy cat served as the primary method of crumb retrieval in my kitchen. But I tasted some great beer!

I will achieve work-life balance in my own time.

I attended A Fall Palate at Ellwood Thompson last Tuesday. The class featured fall beers paired with cheeses, which was very interesting because I had never tried pairing cheese with beer before. I tasted some old favorites (Dogfish Head Punkin Ale), new favorites (Ommegang Cup O Kyndes, which Kyle and I had tried ourselves just one week before this class), and some pleasant surprises that I never would have picked up on my own (Crispin Honeycrisp Hard Cider).

Some of the pairings were spot-on while others were less than perfect. My favorite pairings were the last two we tasted:

Rembrandt Aged Gouda with Crispin Honeycrisp Hard Cider

This 18-month aged Gouda was nutty and dry with some crystallization throughout. It was very tasty by itself. When paired with the hard cider, both the beer and the cheese came alive. Alone, this cider was sweet and flat-tasting, but to me and my tasting partner’s surprise, it stood up well to the aged Gouda. We felt like Danish warriors enjoying the spoils of a victorious battle, while chomping on aged cheese and sipping from barrels of mead. Historically accurate or not, we agreed that this scenario closely resembled the pairing experience we found ourselves in at that moment.

Smoked Quickes Farmhouse Cheddar with Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes

This hearty block of cheddar had been aged 12-15 months and then smoked by oak, resulting in a sharp and smoky flavor with delicate crystallization throughout. Kyle and I had tried a bottle of the Cup O Kyndnes the week before the pairing and it was a major hit, so I was happy to see this beer as the finale to the pairing class. Cup O Kyndes pulls together elements of two of my favorite styles of beer: Belgian ales and Scotch ales. This treasure is a Belgian-style Scotch ale, brewed with caramel and smoke malts and flavored with heather tips. It is a spicy, smoky, and smooth dark beer. The combination of the oak smoked cheese and the chimney smoke flavored beer was perfect for a chilly Autumn night. I am in love.

Besides the pairings I already mentioned, I also enjoyed some cheeses (without their boozy complements) and some beers (without their dairy companions). My favorite solo acts were:

Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest – one of my favorite Oktoberfest beers. Simply delicious amber lager that is perfect alone or with a wide range of foods.

Cricket Hill Fall Festivus – nice caramelly, slightly hoppy, self-defined ESB that is probably better described as an amber ale. I was struck by this beer’s versatility; I could serve it at a party and probably please most of my beer-drinking guests. It’s a seasonal that I would like to share.

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale – spicy, refreshing ale that is actually made with pumpkin (unlike most pumpkin beers). I love this brewery, and their version of a pumpkin ale is one of my favorites.

Parrano – a classic Gouda made with Parmesan starter and aged 5 months, which tastes nutty and sweet with a hint of salt from the Parmesan. Interesting cheese, except it overpowered the beer it was paired with (Schneider Edel-Weisse) which was just kind of eh for me. I would like to try the beer alone, and try the cheese in a different pairing. Left me wanting to experiment a little more.

Goats R Us Fresh Chevre – fresh and tangy goat cheese that tasted like sour cream. I had never tasted chevre like this before, and I want to know more! I’m looking forward to getting some of this in my kitchen and playing with it more.

I hope I will get the chance to attend some more classes at Ellwood Thompson in the future. I learned a lot and had a great time. I think that while I get back into the groove of things, a little more social time and a little less laundry is not necessarily a bad thing. After four months of working my butt off, I’m making up for lost time during my favorite season for gathering with friends and family. Cheers to that!

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