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Beer and cheese pairings

The Dayton Daily News really should let Jim Witmer – otherwise works as a staff photographer – write about beer more often. He follows up on the New Scientist report that wine are a less than perfect match with a terrific list of beer and cheese pairings.

A few suggestions:

  • Goat cheese with a Belgian Saison such as Dupont.
  • Havarti Light with Bud Light, Miller Light.
  • Triple Cream Brie with Lion Stout.
  • Stilton with barley wines such as Sierra Nevada Big Foot, J.W. Lee’s, Victory Old Horizontal.

Make yourself a copy of the whole list.

Local beer for local people

Britain’s Society of Independent Brewers Association (SIBA) says beer sales by of member companies are projected to show a 15% rise over the last year.

Why have the independents been able to buck the trend?

“It’s all about local beer for local people. There is a definite demand for cask beer if the right opportunities are presented to licensees,” said SIBA chairman Keith Bott.

The story from the Morning Advertiser doesn’t discuss if a CAMRA campaign launched two years ago – Local Beer for Local Pubs – has had an impact, but doesn’t it make sense that people like to drink a local beer?

Another example of why it sometimes makes a difference where a beer is from, and it also matters where it is enjoyed.

Wimpy Midwest beers?

It would appear that this column with the headline “Yo, Johnny Budweiser: You can’t handle our bold microbrews” disrespects Midwest beers.

If sports rivalries are about more than just the teams, then Seattle vs. Pittsburgh in Detroit is also about the sometimes preposterously Epicurean Pacific Northwest vs. meat-and-potatoes land. The culture clash beneath this Super Bowl extends to Chad Microbrew vs. Joe Sixpack. Since beer is an indisputable part of football (Pyramid Alehouses report five times the normal business in their beer gardens during the two weeks of playoffs), it makes sense to check out our liquid lineup.

Here’s the premise:

There’s a reason for the bitterness in this rivalry, according to Shannon Borg, a writer for Northwest Palate and other food-and-drink publications: “Northwest brewers have basically learned from each other and have developed the ‘Northwest style’ of beer — not German, not English. Those beers are definitely more wimpy. Northwest style is very hoppy, and I think there’s a testosterone thing going on — they try to out-hop each other.”

Somebody needs to send this guy some beer from Three Floyds or Bell’s. (And, for you Midwest hopheads, those are but two examples.)

Beer a better match for cheese

The New Scientist tells its readers: “Next time you are organizing a cheese and wine party, don’t waste your money on quality wine. Cheese masks the subtle flavors that mark out a good wine, so your guests won’t be able to tell that you are serving them cheap stuff.”

Of course, we can tell you something that will stand up to flavorful cheese, but more on that in a moment.

Decanter magazine – the prestigious British wine publication – has a great lead on its version ofo the story, beginning “to some, it will be like saying Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were out of step. But new research has revealed that cheese and wine do not make the perfect pair.”

Then it gets to the truth, noting:

Despite debunking the tradition, the news does not come as a shock to those in the business of wine and food matching.

“What amuses me is that people need scientists to tell them this,” said Decanter contributing editor and leading food and wine writer, Fiona Beckett. “Anyone who actually enjoys their wine will know that cheese will ruin their favorite wine.”

Beckett, who runs her own website on food and wine matching, said that wine lovers should pick one or two cheeses to have with their wine and not plump for a wide selection.

So what’s the alternative when you want to serve a wide range of cheeses? Flavorful beer, of course.

hopsLast year, Janet Fletcher of the San Francisco Chronicle tackled the subject, writing: “After several weeks of ‘research,’ including two marathon tastings, I’m convinced that beer as a partner for cheese rarely stumbles.”

She talked to Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster and author: “With wine, you’re almost always working just with contrasts. That’s not as satisfying as also working in some harmonies,” he said.

Lucy Saunders, a Wisconsin-based beer writer, also offered advice. “It’s useful to think in terms of four things: hops bitterness; malt sweetness or breadiness; the level of carbonation, and extra flavors added to the beer,” she said.

Several years ago, Saunders worked with Wisconsin’s Milk Marketing Board on its 16-page full color “Sampler’s Guide To Wisconsin Specialty Cheese and Craft Beer.” The pamphlet featured tips on pairing beer and cheese, tasting tips and recipes.

Some of the suggested pairings:

– Mascarpone, a soft Italian-style cheese, with a Belgian-style Saison. The tangy beer will contrast nicely with buttery richness of the Mascarpone.

– Fresh Mozzarella and and a dark lager. Another nice contrast: In this case dark malts and sweet dairy flavors.

– Monteray Jack with Jalapeno and a bottle-conditioned winter warmer. A big, malty beer will stand up well to the hot peppers and Monterey Jack. A great combo in front of a roaring fire.

– Smoked Gouda and bock beer. Another beer for cool days, smooth yet with enough toastiness to take on the mild smokiness of the cheese.

– Gruyere and witbier. The spices of the Belgian white beer – coriander, orange peels and other ‘secret” choices – should meld well with the earthy, nutty Gruyere. Substitute Swiss cheese if you want.

– Aged Cheddar and stout. A big stout, with lots of chocolate and black malts so that it hints of coffee, should be handle the the complexity of a well aged, still sharp Cheddar.

Does price equal quality?

A story by Paul de Grauwe in the Financial Times last week included this interesting study on the effects of pricing:

A few weeks ago an interesting experiment was undertaken at the Brussels food fair, a yearly affair where food lovers wander around among the many stalls stuffed with all imaginable delicacies. A stall was put up selling boxes of Belgian chocolates. The first day the price was set at Euros 9 for each box. Sales went well. The next day the price was raised to Euros 15 per box. Steeped in economic theory, you might think that demand now declined. Wrong. Demand doubled. On the third day the price was lowered to Euros 2 for each box. Demand for chocolates collapsed. What went wrong with the law of demand?

The explanation is given by psychologists. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the consumer to find out the quality of chocolates by just looking at their appearance in the shop. When confronted with such uncertainty about the intrinsic value of things, consumers use simple rules of thumb that they understand. Psychologists call these “heuristics.” In this case, the price of the chocolates provides the rule of thumb.

Most consumers have some experience that allows them to associate high price with high quality. It is not always like that, but on average it probably is. Thus when looking at the Euros 15 box the consumers infer that the high price reflects high quality and they buy the chocolates. Consumers who see the boxes priced at Euros 2 infer that the quality of these chocolates is not to be trusted, and they do not buy them. The law of demand is turned upside down.

Stephen Beaumont made this same point in a story I wrote for All About Beer Magazine last summer – How much should you pay for beer?, saying:

“To the American consumer in particular, price tends to equal quality. Charging higher prices for beer is a) a means of garnering respect from the average consumer; b) a path out of the cheap six-pack ghetto of mainstream beers and a point of differentiation; and c) a way to reflect the quality of ingredients, rarity and amount of knowledge, effort and risk that goes into the creation of some beers.”

I agree that many better quality beers are underpriced, but I can’t agree that price is a reliable indicator of the quality of a beer.

So what’s a beer drinker to do? Sometimes you can turn to critics before buying a more expensive beer, if you trust them and they’ve had the particular beer you are considering. (Note, I occasionally fill the role of critic, but we’re only talking about tasting four beers every other month of All About Beer Magazine.)

Or you can look at online beer rating sites, the largest being Beer Advocate and Rate Beer.

But what happens when . . . you open a 750ml bottle that cost $10, as we did last week, and totally inappropriate diacytel (butterscotch) is apparent? Part one is easy: We know what’s in our glass isn’t a good beer. What we want to know is if this is true of other bottles, if we should consider trying it again.

So I look online and don’t find a “trusted critic” who has notes on the beer. Meanwhile, it gets generally high marks on the beer rating sites – and those who don’t like it don’t mention diacytel. However, in an e-mail discussion with a local friend he mentions he bought a bottle and found the diacytel overwhelming. Thinking it might be a local problem I checked in with a friend on the East Coast. Whoops – he had the same experience.

Where’s this going? Nowhere, I’m afraid. Except to note that if this beer reappears on local shelves costing $2 more I won’t be assuming the brewer has cleaned up the diacytel issue.

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