Here, Taste This…
I had something of a craft beer epiphany the other day. I realized, for the first time, that I prefer beer with dessert over any other beverage. Sure, I appreciate a great Sauternes or a glass of Amaretto or Bailey’s, but I usually enjoy those drinks most by themselves. The one actual pairing I keep coming back to is beer with dessert.
Why is beer so great with the sweet stuff? Well, for one thing, it’s typically not as sweet as the other options. When you’re pairing a beverage with a sugary dessert you mostly want some contrast—not more sweetness. Secondly, beer is carbonated, which means it has a natural palate-cleansing action in your mouth. The carbonation provides a refreshing complement to rich, buttery, fatty, desserts.
Case in point: At the end of dinner the other day, the cheesecake came out. I hadn’t quite had my fill of beer for the evening, so I went to the fridge and (instinctively?) pulled out a bottle of Mother Earth’s 2014 “Summer” selection from their “Four Seasons” collection. The “Four Seasons” program (as MEBC’s Kevin Hopkins described it to me) includes the brewery’s most exclusive beers in both bottles and draft. Each release is named for a specific season and, although the “Seasons” stay the same, the beer changes with each release. The 2014 “Summer” is an imperial brown ale, created by barrel aging one of MEBC’s cores, called “Por Que No?” I knew this beer would pair well with a plain vanilla cheesecake, but—frankly—I had no idea just how well.
The rich, vanilla-laden, ultra-umami texture of the cheesecake was the perfect match for the full-bodied but surprisingly crisp beer, which had loads of caramel, vanilla, and coffee aromas, with just the right hints of raisins, wood, and bourbon. The vanilla in the cheesecake echoed the vanilla notes in the beer, and the bourbon and caramel in the beer complemented the cheesecake, just as a sauce poured over it would. This beer is also notable for its perfect balance of flavors—not too boozy, not too (alcohol) hot, and not too thick and heavy (kudos to Head Brewer Chris Baker for that). So, a bite of cheesecake, a sip of “Summer,” and BAM. Craft beer epiphany.
You may have noted that this pairing involves a brown ale, not a stout or porter, which most people think of for desserts. While stouts and porters can be excellent with sweets, many people feel they are too “heavy” or “filling” to have at the end of a meal. If that’s been your experience, try going to browns. In general, they will provide rich, caramel, and coffee flavors in a more medium-bodied beer.