So here we have it, Saturday night, a busy pub and all preparations complete. Ticket sales had forecast that we were expecting 26 customers with some possible late sales. Quite a boost from the last attempt. What was slightly concerning was that we had only just enough cheese for around 30 servings (at a push) so late surges of ticket sales would have made things tight. The principles were simple, the more people turn up the less cheese and beer they get, but in the end due to cancellations we ended up just a couple short of 26 people, meaning everyone got a more than decent serving of cheese and beer.
Thankfully my audience was good-natured. Plenty of old-school experienced beer drinkers, couples, cheese enthusiasts and an interesting chap from Hadrian & Border brewery called Chris Brown who I got to chat to at great length about the North East brewing scene. As a change I decided that this time I wouldn't be standing in front of everyone lecturing through each pairing. Instead I made some table cards/menus explaining everything, a much more relaxed approach.
So from the start, here were the proceedings;
1. Van Eecke Watau Wit with Rosary Goat's Cheese
Belgian wheat beer meets nice soft fluffy goat's cheese. Yep, the exact same opening pair I used last year. It's a subtle refreshing combination that would have worked better if I'd managed to get the beer temperature just that bit colder. Even so it was still well recived.
2. Hadrian and Border Farne Island (on cask) with Northumberland Original
To some extent you have to keep it local. After trying this combination out with the bottled version I was apprehensive, though I was convinced a cask conditioned beer would lend more to this and I was right. What wasn't expected was the great number of people who thought it was the best pairing of the night. That's more than you can ask from a 4% session bitter.
3. Daleside Crackshot with Berkswell Ewe’s
Was this my swansong to my old company? You could say so, and from my mental counts I would say a good 40%-50% of everyone thought this was the best stand alone beer, and a good pairing. Originally I had these two down as substitutes so I'm glad I made the right choice.
4. Worthingtons White Shield with Green's of Glastonbury Farmhouse Cheddar
Again straight from last year's washout. Except last year the people who were there seemed to be all over this combination, not so much this time.
5. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen with Ribblesdale Smoked ewe's
This one sure turned some heads with plenty of comments like "this is the weirdest beer I have ever tasted" and "it smells like kippers". As I say it's one of those odd-ball style hybrid type beers you don't come across so often. What makes it even more odd is that it's German. The cheese tastes a bit similar to smoked Wensleydale, with that same crumbly consistency. As expected many people didn't know what to make of this one, some liked it, others didn't.
6. Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout with Colton Bassett Stilton and Walnuts
By this point I was in my element. Talking to the clientele more or less endlessly about beer, whilst lapping up copious quantities of Imperial Stout with mighty strong blue cheese. Sadly not everyone was convinced by the clash of this one's balancing pungent intensities. Some liked the beer alone, others the cheese alone whereas the people who thought this pairing scored top seemed to be the hard core beer enthusiasts.
As some might have guessed I used Stilton for the finale of the last year's Beer-Cheese night attempt. But remembering how much financial suffering was caused by the price of Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale I found a decent, cheaper substitute in Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout. For me I would say the Old Forgorn has the edge when paired with Stilton but one of the those things I had to accept is that financially I wouldn't be able to put out all my dream beer-cheese combinations and keep ticket prices affordable.
Another thing you have to accept is that not everyone will like everything you serve up. But like I was explaining to one couple, part of the nature of craft beer and cheese is diversity. None are designed with the intention of appealing to absolutely everyone. But in the end everyone seemed to have a good time and many stopped to chat till long after the event was expected to finish. As a bonus we also got some pictures taken for the local papers.