An East Coast-West Coast Beer Slam – with Cheese

Kristen Sykes, founder of BABES (Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts) is a contributor to WDWU. Her expertise is in beer.

On Wednesday, June 27th the Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society (BABES) were taken on a whirlwind tour of tastes and sensations by one of the top beer guides in the world, Nicole Erny. Last winter Mz. Erny became the fourth person in the world to pass the Master Cicerone exam. She now joins this elite class of uber beer geeks as the youngest and the only female. Cicerone, an old English term for guide, is one who conducts visitors and sightseers to museums, galleries and in this case beer.

 How did Nicole study for this intense 2-day long exam? She drank a LOT of beer. She also played around with her home brewer boyfriend making different beer recipes and using a variety of ingredients to get interesting results. Sounds like a rough gig, eh! Nicole is also a certified beer judge through the Beer Judge Certification program.

Since Nicole is from the Bay Area in Northern California, we decided to have an East Coast vs West Coast “Beer-Slam.” The contenders: East Coast-Victory’s Ranch “R” a Double IPA, and Slumbrew’s Flaigraiser IPA vs Russian River’s Pliney the Elder Double IPA. East Coast – Pretty Things Jack D’Or Saison vs The Bruery’s Saison Rue. To add to the fun the beers were paired with interesting cheeses including a Zimbro from Portugal and a Landaff from New Hampshire.

The Slam

The R Ranch is a special once a year brew. The hops come from a ranch in the Yakima Valley in Washington and the brewers work with the hop farmers to obtain the perfect specimen of alpha acidity goodness. The Yakima Valley is  the Mecca for hops with some of the most popular hops hailing from this region such as Simcoe, Centennial, Summit and Warrior among many.

Next we sampled the extra special Pliney the Elder, which our “hostess with the mostess” loving transported in her suitcase all the way from California! This beer is a Double IPA like the Ranch R, so it’s got a lotta of hops, however while the flavor hop is very present it is surprisingly light on bitterness. Nicole explained that this is because the hops are fresher. While there are some successful brewers growing hops on the East Coast (including yours truly) most hops come from the West Coast. So these little babies have to travel thousands of miles before getting thrown into the brew kettle. As a result many East Coast IPA’s use more malt to balance the bitterness.

There’s much more to say about hops, which to some people define beer and bring big smiles and exhortations to ones face when their piney, grapefruity grassy notes are inhaled, but I leave it to you all follow your noses to learn about this conical vegetation: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hops

We next took a bend in the road and moved on to the Saisons. We first quaffed the Saison Rue. This is a very complex beer. Rye, which accounts for 30% of the grain used in this brew is spicy and fruity, think pepper and strawberries. Although it can be tough to brew with the rye, this grain compliments well this traditionally Belgian style. To add to the layers the Rue also has an addition of Brettanomyces. Brett for short, this yeast ads an earthy almost vegetable aroma and flavor to beer. It can be off putting to some (it’s not my favorite). Nicole explained that this yeast, often used in wild fermented brews, is messing with our biological instincts as it can come across as rotten. Our bodies are hard wired to reject rotten food but one can learn to love this yeasty beast and enjoy it like “a peach cobbler that is a day old”.  Jack D’Or produced by the mercurial brewers at Pretty Things was an interesting contrast to the Rue. It is Saison like and also uses rye but includes 4 yeast strains, which give it the spiciness found in this Belgian style but a dryness as well.

Now to the fromage! As Nicole put it pairing cheese and beer is much easier than pairing cheese and wine. It’s really hard to make a mistake but when you get the right mix, its Nirvana. My Nirvana moment was the Bruery Saison and the Zimbro, a unique cheese that is vegetarian as it uses thistle rather than rennet. The pungent almost acidic quality of the cheese was perfectly met by the earthy spiciness of the Saison. I also enjoyed the Flagraiser with the Landaff.

Prost!

Beer & Cheese Aficionados

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