Food to put you in the mood, and the beer to drink with it.
Oysters and beer are such fast friends that there exists a style of beer, called oyster stout, to categorize the creamy-textured dark beers that are made to be drunk with the briny bivalves. Some even incorporate oysters, shells and all, into the brewing process. Though the rich, roasty brews can provide an interesting foil for the salinity of oysters, I prefer something a little more palate-refreshing. From the local Ballast Point Brewing Company, I like the seafood-friendly citrus notes of the Wahoo Wheat and the Kolsch-style Ballast Point Pale Ale, which has a bit of the biscuity flavor of a brut champagne. Or perk up your taste buds with the tangy fizz of Hottenroth Berliner Weisse, a tart German wheat beer from Orange County’s The Bruery, best paired with oysters topped with a vinegar-based mignonette sauce or a simple squeeze of lemon.
For centuries, monastic breweries in Belgium have been simultaneously handcrafting artisan cheese and brewing beer, so it makes delicious sense to seek out abbey ales when putting together a cheese plate for two. Among the most cheese-worthy beers from San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey is its Trappist-inspired Lost and Found. Infused with raisins, the beer tastes of dark, sticky fruit and would be great alongside a nutty cheese like an aged Gouda. The brewery’s Red Barn, a farmhouse ale with a little kick from ginger and black pepper, contrasts nicely with a buttery triple-cream Brie or a runny, washed-rind cheese; the carbonation of the beer offsets the richness of the cheese. And with the most pungent cheese, such as a blue-veined Stilton, try a barleywine. The American versions of this strong ale are big both in body and flavors of toffee, dried fruit and malt, but the beers have an addition of bittering hops that keep them from being cloying; AleSmith’s Old Numbskull and Stone’s Old Guardian are good local examples.
Chocolate and stout make a tasty, complementary duo; the flavor of roasted cacao beans is echoed by the toasted barley malt. The beer provides respite from the mouth-coating sweetness of chocolate, but it can also be so silky-smooth that it drinks like dessert. Alpine Beer Company’s Captain Stout is an easily drinkable example; it smells of coffee and tastes like malt and chocolate, with a pleasant, dry finish. Bottles are available in stores, but it’s also fun to visit the brewery for a growler of the treat they call The Captain and Vanil — a mix of the stout and a vanilla-flavored wheat beer. Another favorite is the Double Stout from Green Flash Brewing Company. Sweet, soft and well-balanced, this imperial stout was the winner at a friend’s recent truffle-and-beer tasting.