Cheese Pairing with Craft Beer

Ditch the wine for your next dinner party.

There is this misconception of beer when it’s compared to wine, seeing how beer has been associated with the working class, where wine is for the elitist.

Wine has five main styles: red wine, white wine, rosé wine, sparkling wine and fortified wine (commonly known as a dessert wine).   There are hundreds of varieties in terms of grapes and wine making styles.  As for brews, it depends on those little critters that consume sugar which then poops out alcohol; yeast.  As yeast is the foundation of beer, there are pretty much only three types: ales, lagers and wild beers (made by snatching natural yeast from the air by using open containers), but the variation is in the thousands or 42 for those Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans.

Firstly and foremost, about spicing up your next dinner party to sound like a beer bon vivant is to read Taihei’s article about the different styles, just to familiarize yourself with the basic beer 101 class you slept through.  If not, let’s move forward and we will begin with cheese.

Cheese and wine go hand in hand, but it’s a “yawn” and everyone does it.  The upside about beer is not just only pairing up with the right cheese, but explaining the backstory of the brewery and owner (everyone loves an underdog story and craft breweries fit that mold).  There will be only six styles of cheeses covered in this article.  The reason is that Japanese only consume 2.0kg of cheese per year and they love their processed cheeses.  The love of processed cheese means high quality cheese is limited and costly when you do find it.  The six styles featured in this article are the most common to find in supermarkets, department stores, and specialty cheese shops throughout the Tokyo area.

Fresh Cheese

It is not aged at all, in order to retain high moisture levels, but this leads to a short shelf life.  They are mild and acidic, but sweet with citrus notes or with a bit of an herby taste to it depending on the region of the world.  The most common found in Japan are Feta, Cottage Cheese, Ricotta, and Cream Cheese.

Best Beer Pairings

  • German Wheat/Witbier/Weissebier
  • Pilsner
  • Fruit beer
  • Blonde Ales

Soft Ripened Cheese

Unlike fresh cheese, these cheeses tend to be easier to find; the most common is Camembert (any Family Mart or 7-11 will have it) and you can find Brie here and there.  The best way to spot these is to look for the white rind around it.  The rind is pretty much flavorless, but the best way to describe the taste of this cheese is mushroom, buttery and earthy (such as grassy or hay).

Best Beer Pairings

    • Saison (avoid Saison IPA, it could be too overpowering)
    • Sour Ale (best to rely on an imported beer)
  • Belgian Golden Ales
  • Blonde Ales

Semi-soft Cheese

It has little to no rind and the moisture is less as its aged to create more firmness to it.  Flavor notes are more tamed but with nutty and herbal tastes.  An example of theses cheeses are Monterey Jack and Swiss.  Any supermarket that is not a discount supermarket (like Okay supermarket or ones that carries foreign products) should have it.

Best Beer Pairings

  • Pale Ale (an herby British Pale Ale will be fitting)
  • A hoppy Saison or Pilsner

Semi-hard (phrasing) Cheese

This category is easily found throughout Tokyo in a number of places.  Japanese are fond of their Gouda, but other types you can find are: Cheddar, Edam and Swiss.  A slightly hoppier beer is great for pairing because the taste can range from pungent or barnyard to even a smoky taste.  However it must be firm and it shouldn’t crumble.  Places to find them will be at the bigger supermarket chains like Aeon and Ito Yokado.

Best Beer Pairings

  • Pale Ale
  • Amber Lager
  • Strong Golden

Hard (still phrasing) Cheese

Look for one with low moisture content, such as an aged Cheddar or Gouda, but with a longer shelf life, that is at least one year aged.  It must be crumbly and grainy to give its caramelized or nutty taste.  Best place to find them will be at Seijo Ishii.  Some Seijio Ishii locations have a wide selection of IPAs (double win there).

Best Beer Pairings

  • IPA
  • Double/Imperial IPA
  • Barley Wine
  • Imperial Stout

Blue Veined Cheese (ones with a strong and bold smell to them)

This is where you will break the bank to impress your dinner guests.  These beers and cheeses are costly and even more difficult to find.  They can range from gritty, salty, tangy, spicy, herbal, to even metallic; plus, it can be creamy to dense.  Gorgonzola is pretty easy to find, but good luck with finding Cambozola, Stilton, and Roquefort in your local supermarket.  To find these goodies, I recommend going to Queen’s Isetan, the well-known (high end) department stores, and Kinokuniya.

Best Beer Pairings

  • Belgian Tripel
  • Strong Belgian
  • Double/Imperial IPA
  • Barley Wine
  • Imperial Stout

There you go with your first step of pairing.  It will add some uniqueness to your dinner and the plus side is that cheeses are easy to plate and doesn’t require preparation time.  Presentation and being knowledgeable is the key to any great dinner party.


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