Although some believe that wine and cheese are the ideal partners, some content that beer and cheese are the true soul mates. Historically, beer and cheese were commonly made by the same person, or at least in the same setting: on the farm. Today, cheeses made in areas with celebrated breweries are classically paired with beer.
Wine and cheese combinations are often outstanding, of course, but they can also be disappointing. That’s because the best marriages typically rely on contrasting flavors, which can be difficult to match successfully. Pairing beer and cheese is much easier, because their flavors tend to complement each other. This is particularly true of malty beers, such as ale, porter, and stout, which include many of the same nutty caramel flavors found in aged cheeses. And the highly flavored washed-rind cheeses, which are especially challenging to pair with wine without overpowering the wine, meet their match with beer, often one made in the same area. Here’s our guide to characteristics that work best together.
Malty with Nutty
Mellow, malty beers tend to be predominantly sweet, pairing best with nutty or caramel-toned cheeses. Try a malty amber or brown ale with a Gruyere, Gouda, or Asiago.
Light with Light
Dry, delicate lagers, particularly pilsners, call for younger, milder cheeses. But do not assume that the inverse is always true. Pairing an intense beer with an intense cheese may result in an unpleasant clash.
Biter with Sharp
Particularly hoppy, bitter beers call for sharp, biting cheeses. Pair a single or double IPA with an aged Cheddar or Cheshire. The strong hops and high alcohol content of the pale ale make a great match for a tart cheese.
One of the main reasons that beer and cheese pair well is the carbonation. All beers are carbonated, which means they work as palate cleansers, not unlike Champagne or other sparkling wines. After enjoying a mouth-coating bite of cheese, a sip of beer refreshes you for the next morsel. This is particularly true for creamier cheeses and fizzier varieties of beer; try a luscious soft goat cheese with a bright, light-bodied hefeweizen.
Other Beer Flavors
Porters and stouts offer bold flavor, featuring cocoa or espresso tones. These brews work well with many soft-ripened and pungent washed-rind cheeses. Even feisty blue cheeses, which defy many attempted wine pairings, can find a good partner here: the right dark beer makes a felicitous match with a Stilton.
To learn more about cheese varieties, see our Guide to Cheese.