Beer Effortlessly Subs for Wine in Janet Fletcher’s "Cheese & Beer"

Say this about Janet Fletcher, the lady knows her cheese.  In addition to writing a weekly column on cheese for the San Francisco Chronicle, she’s authored numerous books on cheese including the “The Cheese Course”, “The Cheese Tasting Party Kit” and “Cheese & Wine”.  The Napa-based food writer has earned three James Beard Awards and the IACP Bert Green Award, and  now ventures into new territory with her latest book, “Cheese & Beer”.  Sure, she knows plenty about cheese.   But does she know beer?

I’d say she does.  Judging from her book, it appears she’s enjoyed many fine brews when her wine friends aren’t looking.  Or maybe they drink more beer up in Napa than we think.  Either way, her book is a very complete, well researched guide to pairing any beer with good cheese.  It’s clear from the pages that cheese is her main passion, given so much detail she shares on different cheeses and the cheese making process.  But that shouldn’t detract from all the good advice she gives on virtually every available style of beer and how to pair them with cheese.   I also like the fact she gives equal attention to sessional beers styles such as Bitters as she does to the stronger (and arguably wine-like) Belgian Ale or Barley Wine styles.   Writing about beer effortlessly, with a very matter of fact treatment, her writing is a refreshing contrast to other works that treat beer as the “new wine” or as some hot new thing.     There’s an enjoyment of beer that’s palpable from each page.

One of Ed Anderson’s fine images from
“Beer & Cheese”.

The book is organized by various beer styles.  Each style is introduced in Fletcher’s own words, followed by a discussion on pairing each style with cheese, and concluding with Fletcher’s cheese pairing recommendations.  A useful cheese pairing table can be found at the end.  As a cheese ignoramus, I found this to be a useful guide to navigate through the sometimes baffling world of cheese.

Photographer Ed Anderson delivers vibrant photos throughout the book, bringing the subject matter alive.

“Cheese & Beer” is now hitting the bookstore shelves, and Janet Fletcher is embarking on a book signing tour.    I suspect this book will resonate more with wine lovers looking for an entry point to explore great beer, than with beer drinkers looking for a way to discover fine cheese.  But craft beer aficionados looking to further their appreciation of beer will find no better book.

(Andrews McMeel Publishing provided a copy of “Cheese & Beer” for this review.)



Beer and Cheese at Firehouse Grill and Brewery

They call it San Francisco Beer Week, but we do drink craft beer down here in the South Bay. So Linda and I really appreciated last Wednesday night’s Beer and Cheese pairing at Firehouse Grill and Brewery in Sunnyvale held as part of San Francisco Beer Week. Firehouse Brewing, Milk Pail and South Bay Craft Beer Activist and Blogger Peter Estaniel got together to bring this all together.

The format was pretty simple. Upstairs at the brewpub, six tables were set up with 2-3 different cheeses and beers placed at each table. You simply pick up a flute glass, and start walking around, and popping cheeses into your mouth and washing them down with the different beers, chatting with everyone there, until you get tired of doing that. Needless to say, it took most people the entire evening to complete this mission.

There was an interesting and varied mix of beers to try, with plenty of Belgian Ales, whether stately, sour, or funky, four or five selections from FireHouse, a couple of hop monsters, and a barley wine thrown in for good measure. But the real star of the evening was the cheese.

And did they have cheese. Cheese with funny looking fern-thingies on top. Stinky cheese. Runny cheese. Firm cheese. Crumbly cheese. Cheese infused with truffles. Cheese with spices mixed in. Cheese studded with wine grapes. Cheese with barnyard hay on top. I couldn’t correctly pronounce the names of most of the cheeses, but that didn’t stop me from trying them all. It’s a good thing I have a few fat-burning long distance runs in my training schedule over the next few days.

My favorite cheese, hands down, was the smooth, slightly sweet, and caramelly Gjetost (pronounced: yay-toast). I could have this for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. I also enjoyed the Horseradish Havarti which had crunchy mustard seeds mixed into it. I could talk about all the cheeses, but really don’t know all that much about cheese, let alone a good way to describe how they taste. And while ignorance hardly stops most people from writing on a topic, if you really want to know what some of the cheeses were like, head on over to this post at Peter’s blog.

As for the beer, my favorites were a couple of the Firehouse brews. I had previously enjoyed their rich and refined One Tun Imperial Stout, which has a great bitter chocolate vibe, but it seemed especially good that evening. And I also appreciated the Bill Brand Imperial Red, where lots of hefty, toasty malt holds its own against hefty amounts of hops, resulting in a lively, strong yet balanced Imperial Red. As for Linda, her favorites were the Belgian Ales, which evoked carefree weeks of self-discovery spent many years ago in Belgium.

I leave you with this lasting haunting and surrealistic image of that memorable evening. There are people, who do not share my artistic vision, that will simplistically claim this shot is blurry and badly out of focus.

New Year’s Eve Wine and Beer Pairing at Wine Affairs

You can spend New Year’s Eve at Wine Affairs pairing some excellent beers with tasty food, or can instead pair the tasty food with a somewhat one-dimensional beverage. Either way, looks like a good time will be had by all. Here are the details as they rolled into my e-mail a few days ago.

Ring in the New Year at Wine Affairs
Join us for a four-course dinner with optional wine or beer pairing

New this year – two seatings
6:00pm and 8:00pm
Live music begins at 9:00pm performed by Kristina Sablan with Darren


Baked Ricotta and Goat Cheese with Toast
Wine Pairing: 2008 Pierre Andre, St Veran, Burgundy, France
Beer Pairing: Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, Germany

Crab Salad in Endive Leaves
Wine Pairing: NV Zonin, Prosecco NL,Vino Spumante di qualità, Italy
Beer Pairing: Schneider Aventinus Doppelbock, Germany

Catalan Bean and Sausage Stew with Mint
Wine Pairing: 2006 Frescobaldi, Remole, Toscana, Italy
Beer Pairing: Duchesse De Bourgogne, Verhaeghe, Belgium

New York Style Cheese Cake
Wine Pairing: 2008 Marcarini, Moscato D’Asti, Italy
Beer Pairing: Smoked Beer – Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Maerzen, Germany

Price: Dinner only – $55.00 per person
With Wine Pairing add $25.00 per person; With Beer Pairing add $20 per
Wine Club members: 10% discount applied

Tax and gratuity not included

Call now for reservations. Space is limited. 408-977-0111

Brewed For Thought Presents Jack and Tony’s Barrel-Aged Beer Dinner

Wanted to let everyone know about Jack and Tony’s Barrel-aged Beer Dinner. You can read more details at Brewed for Thought , but here’s a brief summary below:

Jack and Tony’s Barrel-Aged Beer Dinner
October 15th @ 7pm ($60 per person – Reservations recommended)

Blackened tiger prawns with cajun remoulade – Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale
Mushroom stuffed chile relleno with smoky tomato coulis – Deschutes Brewing Mirror Mirror
Roast pork loin with sun-dried tomatoes and white cannelini bean stew – Russian River Brewing Consecration
Chocolate three ways: stout float, mini pot de creme and bourbon soaked chocolate cake – Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
For reservations, please contact Jack and Tony’s at (707) 526-4347.

Belgian Beer Pairing at BJ’s Brewhouse

This coming Tuesday, June 23rd, BJ’s Brewhouse in Cupertino will be hosting a Belgian Beer Dinner starting at 7:00 pm. BJ’s in Cupertino is located at 10690 De Anza Boulevard, close to Apple’s headquarters. Cost is $30.

BJ’s Brewhouse is a decent sized chain of beer-themed restaurants usually located in malls or large retail locations. I’ve been to a couple locations, and like most mall and big box retail establishments, the place gives off a corporate feeling and just don’t have that neighborhood vibe like a good local brewpub. But thankfully, this doesn’t carry over to the beer, which is solid. For example, I’m a fan of their Piranha Pale Ale, which has a snappy, hoppy bite to it. It isn’t the timid, safe, and afraid to offend type of brew you might expect coming from a business with roots in shopping malls. I like to support local businesses and brewers rather than the big chain stores, but BJ’s is doing a great job bringing good beer to the masses, so have to applaud them.

Here’s what they have on the menu:

Brugse Zot (Brouwerij de Halve Maan)

Course 1
BJs Nit Wit with Thai Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

Course 2
Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale (Brouwerij Van Steenberge) with Sesame Chicken Salad

Palete Cleanser
Petrus Aged Pale (Brouwerij Bavik)

Course 3
Popperings Hommel (Brouwerij Van Eecke) with Southwestern Pizza

Course 4
Gulden Drak (Brouwerij van Steenberge) with Old-Fashioned Pot Roast

Course 5
Troubadour Obscura (Brouwerij de Musketiers) with White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Pizookie.

Peter Estaniel: Better Beer Blogging Biker

Peter Estaniel made good impression with me when I first met him, since he was handing me a beer. He was serving up some of his homebrew to start off a beer and dessert pairing event he was hosting at Wine Affairs that Linda and I attended. Peter writes the Better Beer Blog, his effort to “raise the status of beer” and I was looking forward to what he had in store for us. Peter looked a little uncomfortable in front of roughly thirty people attending that night explaining what he had in store for us. Beer and dessert are not obvious pairings, and Peter raised the degree of difficulty for himself by serving up unlikely pairings like pineapple flan with the aggressively bitter Green Flash West Coast IPA. It was pretty impressive that with all the risks he took that night, every beer and dessert pairing worked quite well.

One pairing that didn’t work out that night was the couple sharing a table with us who were quietly feuding all night. Linda and I never quite figured out what the problem was, but it appeared that it was early in the couple’s relationship, and things were burning up on the launch pad. They tried gamely to explain their points of view on things, but the “when you do X, I feel Y” statements didn’t seem to be getting the points across. I considered providing this young couple helpful pointers on how to more effectively argue in public learned from my divorce, but Linda firmly quashed this idea, and politely suggested I pay attention to Peter instead. As intrigued as I was with beer and dessert pairings, with this tense psychological drama playing out right in front of me, I didn’t think a discussion of the harmonizing elements of a wheat beer paired with fruit filled crepe’s would hold my interest. But the fact that Peter held most of my attention that night is a credit to his considerable skills and enthusiasm as a beer ambassador.

Four months later, there’s a smaller tasting event at Wine Affairs and have a chance to strike up a conversation with him. I reach for an organic Hefeweizen, and Peter quickly rattles off the flavor profile of this beer and how it contrasts with another Hefeweizen on the tasting list before I even realize what he just said. The whole evening, I’m struggling to find words to describe each beer, and Peter quickly comes up with a succinct and accessible description. There are plenty of people with a suspicious talent of describing any beer, even warm Budweiser, with eleven different flavor components of odd fruits and spices, but thankfully, Peter isn’t one of them. But if you read his Better Beer Blog or have met him at a beer event, you probably know all this.

What you may not know is that Peter recently started biking. He’ll ride routes around his neighborhood each day, and aims to find a way to bike to his job about thirty miles away. For Peter, biking is “…a disconnect. I don’t feel my legs on fire, I don’t feel my lungs straining or the dryness in my mouth and throat. It’s like the world goes quiet and I can hear all the little things going on around me, like the wind rustling through the trees, the cows mooing and my wheels on the pavement.” Interesting for a guy who is pretty plugged in, he enjoys an outlet to unplug.

Peter cites a lot of good memories growing up with family and friends growing up associated with bike riding. In high school, he would race the school bus to see if he could beat it to school. I find a lot of people’s choice of recreation is often shaped by early childhood memories burned into our brains that we carry around for the rest of our lives, and it looks like Peter may be another example of that.

Almost as soon as Peter told me he was starting biking, he told me he hated running. I’ve met plenty of people who hate running, and usually it’s because it’s something like it hurts their knees, or they find the activity boring and tedious. Peter gave me a reason I’ve never heard before. He doesn’t like running because when he runs, he doesn’t think he is running fast enough. That actually makes sense. You do not attend an exhaustive schedule of beer events, become a certified beer judge, post articles almost daily on a blog, and regularly homebrew by leisurely going from point A to point B.

Does Peter find biking to be like homebrewing or beer judging? Not really. For Peter, homebrewing “..while very peaceful and relaxing, doesn’t give me that disconnect. I am very much in the moment because if you don’t pay attention to certain things, you’ll miss key things in the process” while beer judging is “…a very cerebral endeavor, it’s mentally tiring at times.”