CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every now and then I am asked to plan or to conduct beer tastings for private parties. I do this to spread the good word of craft beer and usually to earn a few bucks for a charity of my choice; it's a win-win!
I recently was asked back to a private party held by a professional firm in Charleston. I worked with the same folks last summer, and I guess they liked the beer and cheese tasting. This year we decided to select craft beers to pair with desserts.
You don't have to invite me to your party to pull this kind of thing off. All it takes is a little research (like reading this article, for example), a little motivation and a good selection of craft beer.
Let's start with a beer and cheese pairing. This is easy because there is so much written and published on the Internet about this wonderful (newly?) discovered fact -- craft beer and cheese actually pair better than wine and cheese!
Charleston is fortunate to have specialty retailers like The Wine Shop at the Capitol Market that have both craft beer and craft cheese, along with a knowledgeable staff to help you with some pairings. Kroger at Ashton Place can be a good choice for cheese and beer, especially for those in the know or who have done their homework and have pre-selected the pairings.
If you already have a few favorite cheeses, you could drop me a note at my blog and I can give you some suggestions for beers to pair with them. Don't go overboard on the first attempt; keep it to a maximum of four pairings and keep in mind there are often beers on the menu that will pair well with more than one cheese.
For a guaranteed "sweet time," go for a beer and dessert pairing. Sure, some of your elite wine-snob friends might wince at the idea, but any intellectually honest foodie will come around to enjoy their beer and dessert when paired correctly.
A good first try is to stick with the sure things like dark, malty beers (doppelbocks or bold amber lagers) with relatively rich chocolate desserts. The key word is "relatively." Don't pair the light amber Negra Modelo lager with a "Death by Chocolate" cake or you will lose the lager completely.
Try pairing Sam Adams Double-Bock with some nice Holl's caramel or raisin-filled truffles; dark or milk chocolate will work very well. On the flip side you can really mix it up by using a raspberry-ale like Lindemans Framboise or Harpoon's Raspberry UFO with chocolate-filled truffles or raspberry cheesecake.
One of my favorite things to do (especially to see the look on the faces of those wine snobs) is to serve a "beer float." At the party I mentioned above, we floated some Ellen's vanilla ice cream on top of Rogue's Mocha Porter. Boy, was it good! You could be adventurous and try other ice cream flavors that will complement or contrast with the mild mocha and coffee flavors of the beer.
For more on the craft of beer, see Rich Ireland's "Beers to You" blog at thegazz.com.