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Deep Thoughts On Big Pairings

October 27, 2016

This isn’t about beer. But I can’t start this story without talking about beer. Because it’s the beer that got me thinking about the subject.

I’ve had some perfectly lovely beer and cheese pairings in the past, but nothing that really wowed me. So awhile back, I asked for some people’s favorite beer pairings. And I sought some of those out. And now, I’m working with Eric and Richard at The Cheese Traveler to see if we can come up with some combination that will just blow my mind.

Heck, as I’m writing this I’m noshing on Bayrischer Blauschimmelkase and sipping on a Knee Deep Hop Surplus. My thought was that perhaps I needed to be pairing cheeses with big beers in order to get that wow factor.

Mostly because the single most wow-inducing pairing I’ve ever experienced comes from two huge flavors which combine to form liquid gold.

Here’s the crazy part. Neither of them is a food.

There are things that go harmoniously with each other. Then there are things which bring out unexpected elements in each other. But occasionally you can bring together two items which transform each other into something other than itself.

Perhaps the best example of that is whiskey and cigars.

It’s not hard to argue that cigars are disgusting. I might have one or two a year. And the morning after, when I wake up, my mouth tastes like an ashtray. It’s vile. Mrs. Fussy won’t give me a kiss when I’ve been smoking a cigar, and I can’t blame her.

The world of whiskey can be quite refined. Especially these days. So you may enjoy your sherry barrel aged 18 year old scotch whisky. And that’s great. But something like Jack Daniel’s still has some edge to it. It may not be raw. But it’s hot and coarse. Sure, you could find lesser spirits that are even harder to get down, but Jack is pretty familiar territory to most people.

So one night, a million years ago, I was smoking a cigar and drinking Jack Daniels. But here’s the amazing thing. The cigar made the whiskey taste like honey. And the whiskey wiped clean any of the sooty muck from all the smoke in my mouth.

Combined, these two bombastic mouth killers balanced each other perfectly. Alone, each might be dreadful. But together they were a gift from the angels.

Which led me down the path of a 10% IPA with a huge Bavarian blue cheese. And they went well together, but it wasn’t like whiskey and cigars. The problem here is the IPA. I think we need more sweetness and booziness, without the bitterness and floral characteristics of the hops. Eric already suspected that would be the case. But I had picked up the beer for its own sake, and the idea of pairing it with cheese was more of an afterthought.

Honestly, I’m starting to think that I am chasing unicorns. Especially since brilliant pairings are even more remarkable when they are unexpected. Still, I think there’s something to this idea of looking for contrasting, high intensity flavors in order to coax out a transcendent moment of taste. Think blue cheese and port wine. Or bacon with dates.

I’ll just have to keep on eating.

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