Introduction –
Over the last number of years, we made a tradition of tasting some beer and cheese around Christmas time.  This Christmas past, we missed out on this – tasting a range of seasonal Christmas beers.  However, given that our country is in the process of turning upside down and inside out, I thought, why not turn our traditions on their head as well.  So, to-day is our first January Beer and Cheese tasting – a little bit of indulgence in the New Year for all of those who missed their Christmas party due to the weather, or for those who just feel that they should have an inexpensive treat for themselves in a month normally dedicated to abstinence.

We have two beers to taste to-day, and two cheeses to accompany them.  Our first beer is from Thwaites brewery in Lancashire.  Double Century is an amber ale brewed in celebration of Thwaites 200th anniversary (in 2007).  We have matched this beer with a cheese called ‘Smelly Apeth’ – a cheese with a most interesting story of its own that also hails from Lancashire in England.  Our second beer is a beer in the Belgian Trappiste style, but it is from the only Trappiste brewery outside of Belgium.  La Trappe Quadrupel comes from Holland, and it is paired with a Dutch Gouda cheese – Vincent (named after the famous Vincent Van Gogh).

Beer and Cheese –
When doing food and beer pairings, people often ask what rules you should follow.  With this, the first rule is that there are no rules – experimentation and trial will let you know what works and what doesn’t.  Interestingly, people don’t feel that they are qualified to do this experimentation.  However, if a taste combination works for an individual, and they recognise this, this is all the qualification that they need.  Likewise, if a taste combination doesn’t work for somebody, people may not have the vocabulary to articulate exactly why it doesn’t work.  In my experience, all the vocabulary that you really need for this is ‘That works!’ or ‘That doesn’t work!’

Some general guidelines that will help are as follows –

  1. Firstly, there is a natural combination between beer and cheese.  Cheese (particularly soft cheeses, but also hard cheeses) will often coat one’s mouth with flavour.  Beer is naturally acidic (beer has a pH between 3.9 and 4.3).  This acidity will act as a palate cleanser – in a way similar to the way a sorbet cleanses one’s palate.
  2. Secondly, some degree of flavour will give a foundation to a pairing.  Pairing lagers with cheese might not work as easily with flavourful craft cheeses, but will work very well with dishes that incorporate cheese (lager with pizza can work very well).  Beers with some degree of flavour will present the opportunity for complementary flavours to work with eachother.  However, they will also present the opportunity for flavours to clash – not a problem, just move on to the next experiment, and see if that works well.
  3. A third guideline that I have always used in the past is that fuller flavoured cheeses can work better with fuller flavoured beers.  However, our two pairings to-day seem to contradict this rule.  The logic of matching like with like is that one flavour does not over power the other.  If they are complementary flavours of the same strength, each will contribute (end even develop) the other.
  4. However, the exception that develops our third guideline further is that some complex flavours work will with a more subtle foundation.  Where one has a flavour (either cheese or beer) that is not extremely rich, this can act as a foundation to smooth out the flavour of a rich complement.  This is what we have with both of our pairings to-day – the more flavourful cheese is paired with the less flavourful beer, and vice versa.  What I find in these pairings is that the beers (and cheeses) by themselves provide one taste experience, and then the pairing develops and alters the taste experience of both beer and cheese.
  5. Our fifth guideline, which is really the Number One Rule is have fun and experiment.  Recently, I found myself tasting a range of beers (purely for research purposes).  When finished, I found myself with a range of open bottles, and conscious in these recessionary times not to be wasteful, I felt that it was only right to make sure that the remnants of the bottles were put to good use.  I have opened some cheeses as a snack, and found myself pairing cheeses and beers purely at random.  A Wensleydale cheese infused with cranberry somehow was matched at random with a fruity and nutty red ale, and the pairing was perfect.  However, if asked, it is not two foods that I would have put together.  Sometimes, the best pairings come about when you least expect them to.


First Pairing –

Beer     -  Double Century

Cheese       -  Smelly Apeth

Beer Style  -  Amber Ale

Cheese style    -  Soft Blue Cheese

Alcohol by Volume   -  5.2% a.b.v.

Place of Origin   -  Lancashire, England

Brewed by   -  Thwaites


Brewed in   -  Blackburn, England


Double Century is an amber ale (midway between golden ale and red ale), brewed in a classically traditional English style.  Brewed to commemorate the bi-centenary of the brewery (1807 – 2007), this beer was originally brewed as a seasonal, but kept on because of how well received it was.

The beer by itself hits all of the cues that one would associate with English ales.  Hopped with two classic English hops (Fuggles, and Goldings), the beer has a full hop character.  This hop character is also evident on the aroma, with whole flower hop character coming through, and the addition of a slightly more unusual hop – Bramling Cross – giving a slight orange character to the aroma, which follows through in the flavour.  The malt foundation of the beer supports the hop character, but a slight bitterness in the aftertaste (just at the back of the tongue) is a defining characteristic of how this beer finishes.

Double Century is a relatively easy to drink ale.  Although it is described as a strong ale on the bottle, in reality, it is strong relative to more traditional strengths for English ales.  Many English ales would be around the 4% a.b.v. mark (anything from 3% up to 4.5% would probably be the median, though some dip below 3%).  At 5.2%, this beer is above average for many English ales, but really in line with what most would consider normal for an international premium beer.  Given that this beer is not an overly strong beer, and given that it is relatively easy drinking, one might not expect that pairing it with a full flavoured soft blue cheese would be a fair pairing.  However, the pairing of Double Century with Smelly Apeth – a strong Lancashire Blue Cheese – works surprisingly well.

‘Smelly Apeth’ is a term of endearment that is used in Lancashire for a child that comes into a house after playing for the afternoon in the dirt in the garden.  ‘Aye up, ya Smelly Apeth’ would be the traditional greeting for such a child as they spread the goodness of the garden around the carpet, soft furnishings, and generally deliver delight to their mother in ways that only small boys can.

Having a name linked to Lancashire tradition and culture is particularly appropriate for this cheese, as it has a stronger association with a benchmark of culture for the region.  The cheesemaker in the case of this cheese is a man called Sean Wilson.  This is a name that people might not immediately be familiar with, but when he is identified by his alter ego – the male nurse Martin Platt, whom he played on Coronation Street, before leaving to pursue a new and distinctively different craft – the connection may become more evident.

Smelly Apeth has all of the rich character that one would expect from a blue cheese, combined with a rich foundation of sea salt throughout the flavour.  As a soft cheese, it can coat ones mouth, and this sea salt character lingers with the remnants of the finish of the cheese flavour in the mouth.  There is also a distinct nuttiness in the flavour of the cheese, hiding somewhat behind the salt flavour, but clearly present nonetheless.

An interesting thing happens with the combination of this cheese with the beer.  As one would expect, the beer does cleanse the palate to a certain extent, but, more interestingly, the soft cheese softens the bitter hop character of the beer – it smooths out the flavour of the beer, and gives the beer and cheese combination a more rounded finish.  Salt being a staple flavour of bar snacks, the saltiness of the cheese is washed out by the beer.  Nutty character is almost a house character with many of Thwaites beers, and the nuttiness of the cheese combines with the beer to leave a faint suggestion of nuttiness in the finish.

Overall, this pairing serves to round out the flavour of the beer, while the easy drinkability of the beer provides a foundation to soften the flavour of the blue cheese.


Second Pairing –

Beer     -  La Trappe Quadrupel (Stone Bottle)

Cheese       -  Vincent

Beer Style  -  Quadrupel Trappiste

Cheese style    -  Mature Gouda

Alcohol by Volume   -  10% a.b.v.

Place of Origin   -  Holland

Brewed by   -  La Trappe, Koningshoeven


Brewed in   -  Eindhoven Holland


The quadruple style of beer is probably the richest of the Trappiste styles of beers.  With above average strength (10% in the case of La Trappe), there is the opportunity for an abundance of flavour and complexity in any quadrupel style of beer.  Probably because I have paired Chimay Blue (one of the most famous beers in this style) with a range of blue cheeses (including English Stiltons, Cashel Blue and Bellingham Blue), and found the pairing delightful, my rule of thumb has always been that a quadrupel would best be paired with a blue cheese.  However, when playing around with pairings, we found that La Trappe Quadrupel was an exception to this general rule.

La Trappe Quadrupel, when tasted by itself, delivers an array of flavours.  Fruitiness, port character, organic flavours, and vinous (alcohol) character all come through on the palate.  La Trappe Quadrupel is a full flavoured beer, and the finish is quite long – a distinct, rich port character lingering on the palate after the beer has been swallowed.

Vincent is a medium intensity cheese, with a tangy, rich and refined character.  Although semi-hard, this cheese does leave a lingering coating on the palate after tasting.

The interesting thing about this pairing is how the medium intensity of the flavour of the cheese provides a foundation to smooth out the portiness of the character of the quadruple beer.  The cheese also seems to absorb an amount of vinous character of the beer – it somehow makes the beer taste less alcoholic.  Vincent is a cheese that would work well with an array of fruits – grapes, dates, plums etc.  The fruitiness of the quadruple, and flavour slightly more secondary to the rich portiness of the beer, acts as a direct complement to this cheese.