I wasn't much of a beer drinker in the past, consuming cheap beer in college (PBR in bottles before it was ironic) and spending my first night in Manhattan post-college at McSorley's Ale House where I drank a large quantity of the beer in tiny glasses (you ordered by the half dozen); so much so I got sick. It was only in 2006 when I spent several months consulting in Belgium for a client that I finally saw the light. Quality beer was readily available everywhere and whether in Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Mechelen or the countryside, I sought out the beers and wines that the locals were drinking. It was there I was smitten with Tripel Karmeliet, a Belgian tripel brewed from wheat, oats and barley and with a light citrus and delicate aroma.
So for the Hot Knives beer and cheese pairing challenge I knew I had to go back to patient zero, Tripel Karmeliet, the source of my appreciation for beer. Fortunately I was able to get a four pack at Beverage Warehouse, a store which is dangerous for me to enter as the variety of beers and spirits is enormous and it is tempting to keep on adding just one more bottle to my cart, budget be damned. I picked up some other treats to be written about later, so stay tuned.
Next I needed some cheese to pair with the beer and I headed to Andrew's Cheese Shop in Santa Monica, a well curated cheese shop whose eponymous owner Andrew Steiner is a wealth of knowledge about cheese and isn't shy about sharing his opinions. I opted for both a blue cheese in the Stilton tradition and a cheddar. I am a huge fan of the Hook's, but Andrew convinced me to try the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.
The Tripel is a light clear color and has notes of citrus, with light spices and a hint of lemon. The yeast is front and center and the foam is serious. I first tried it with the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar which is a whitish yellow sharp cheddar from a cooperative family creamery in Vermont. I can just picture the happy cows. It was won awards, and as it tastes delicious I can see why. It was very sharp and nutty and tangy flavors predominate. The cheese overpowered the beer, which was too delicate for such a bold partner. A strong dark brew would be a better partner for the Cheddar.
Next I turned to the Stichelton, a blue cheese from England that was created as a partnership between Neal's Yard in London (go if you haven't been) and Joe Schneider, an American cheese maker. It is a raw milk Stilton style cheese and despite being a blue, has the subtlety to be an appropriate dancing partner to the Tripel Karmeliet. The cheese, which I let warm up to room temperature before trying (cheese served too cold is a pet peeve of mine), has an assertive flavor without the sharpness of the cheddar. The cheese is salty and creamy and luxurious without being too soft. No runny brie here. The Stichelton sneaks up on you with its flavor, demanding more and more bites, until I realized I had gone through two bottles of Tripel Karmeliet and a fifth of a pound of Stichelton in one sitting (not counting the cheddar I couldn't help but find a more suitable partner for).
Tonight is the beginning of LA Beer Week, where you can have your patient zero experience. It all begins tonight at Naja's Place in Redondo Beach, where there will be 40 Stone beers on draft, the most ever available in one spot outside of the brewery. This could certainly be a bragging rights worth event to go to. Just bring a big appetite and a designated driver. The fun continues all week long through the finale at Union Station on Sunday October 17th. I already bought my ticket for Josh from FoodGPS's 2nd Annual Beer Float Showdown at Verdugo Bar, coincidentally the same location as the sold out Bruery and Hot Knives beer and cheese pairing extravaganza on the 14th. I can only dream that they pair one of the beers with my favorite assertive cheese, Époisses, which I first sampled at a restaurant in New York more than ten years ago when the maitre'd took a liking to our table and said, "Do you like cheese." As they say, the rest is history. Delicious stinky history.