Wine and cheese is such a classic combination that it is almost always the go-to food and drink combination when entertaining. But in many countries, beer and cheese is just as popular. Considering the much larger variety of flavours available with beer this makes a lot of sense. In this article, I am going to discover what beer goes with cheese.
Cheeses that are light on flavour such as cheddar will combine well with stronger tasting beers such as IPAs. Cheeses that are powerfully flavoured will suit more subtle tasting beers such as stouts or pale ales. Combining beers and cheeses from the same country is also very effective.
Pairing foods and drinks together is often a subjective thing, and is often overly-complicated. That is certainly the case with wine. I will try and avoid doing this with beer, though please forgive any pretension on my part. I really can’t help it!
In all honesty, most beers will go well with most cheeses. You really don’t want to get too caught up in finding the perfect pairing.
Certain cheeses may benefit from certain beers, and certain beers may not suit cheese at all (IPAs and blue cheese may not work as they are both such strong flavours). But if you have a big block of edam and a beer, it probably won’t matter if that beer is a stout, a pale ale, or a porter.
Of course, it is possible to find a particular beer that many people believe improves the taste of each cheese. That is what I am attempting with this article. Is it going to be a proper scientific experiment? No!
There are way too many variables, and my approach is already biased by what I think I know. I can only buy so many beers, and with the current state of supermarkets (thanks Covid-19) my choice of cheeses is pretty low. But even a non-scientific article can be of use.
I can’t talk about every cheese. I can’t talk about every beer. But I can give a general guide, and I will!
For this article, I have bought a selection of cheeses. I have split them into three categories (with help from this article on cheese types):
There are many other categories, but not all of them go well with beer. Hard cheeses such as parmesan are obviously out of the question. As are cheeses such as mozzarella, feta, and mascarpone.
I would have liked some more French cheeses, but the shop didn’t have any. I would have preferred stilton to Danish blue, but there wasn’t any, I would also have liked some Camembert, but the Mrs hates it.
One of my favourite memories is being in France on holiday with my family, we’d get some good French cheeses, some nice bread, some charcuterie, cornichons and small bottles of French lager. Kronenbourg 1666 or Pelforth blonde. Brie was always going to be on that table.
For me, a French lager is always going to go well with brie. However, I accept that this is mostly due to nostalgia. There is some logic there. If you are pairing your brie with salty foods such as deli meat, pickles/cornichons etc then a nice cold lager will actually go very well with it.
Because brie is often quite a mild-tasting cheese (though this depends on how mature the cheese is). It can go well with stronger tasting beers. A Belgian abbey beer such as Affligem would complement the cheese well.
I also find that English pale ales go really well with brie. Both the cheese and the beers are mildly flavoured and don’t overpower or influence the taste of each other. A great combination. As I’m writing this I’m drinking an oatmeal stout that I just had with some brie. The combination was really good. The stout worked as a sort of pallet cleanser, great if you have a selection of different beers.
Verdict: Due to brie being such a mild-tasting cheese, it can pretty much go with any beer. My favourite combination was with Old Speckled Hen, an English bitter (style of pale ale). The beer has a great taste, which goes really well with almost any cheese. Expect to see it mentioned a lot in this article!
I absolutely love blue cheese, particularly stilton. But Roquefort is excellent too, as is Danish Blue. While researching this article, I’ve seen a lot of people recommending IPAs to go with blue cheese. Personally, I don’t find this to be the case. But taste is subjective.
My take on it is that blue cheese is very strong tasting and that while IPAs are also strong tasting, their hoppy bitterness may be overpowered by a block of blue cheese. My go-to beer for blue cheeses is either going to be an English bitter (Old Speckled Hen), a Belgian Ale (darker ones in particular), or even a stout or porter.
I wouldn’t go with a lager myself, as I think it would be the same issue as the IPA. Perhaps a dark lager (dunkel)?
Verdict: Blue cheeses are powerful, and that can take away the subtle tastes of some beers. While IPAs are often paired with blue cheese, I personally would avoid this combo. A pale ale, a Belgian ale, or a stout would work wonders.
Apologies if my patriotism affects this answer. Cheddar is the best cheese around, so underrated. You get mild and mature cheddar, and both are amazing. Mild cheddar is perfect for cooking, cheese on toast, Welsh rarebit, melted cheese on burgers etc. While mature cheddar is perfect as a snack. The ploughman’s lunch is based around this wonderful cheese.
What is so great about cheddar is that it really goes with any beer you fancy. I’ve tried it with several pale ales for this article, as well as a stout, a porter, and a Belgian beer. It would also complement IPAs and lagers. If there is a beer that doesn’t go with cheddar, then you may have the wrong beer!
Verdict: Any beer should do. I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t go well with cheddar. Maybe an English ale or stout to go with the English cheese? Or a pint of Guinness? Ireland also makes excellent cheddar cheese.
As with cheddar, edam is the cheese that will go with pretty much any beer. The mild taste and wonderful texture will accompany wheat beers, IPAs, pale ales, Belgian beers, lagers, stouts, porters, and whatever other beer you can think of. As edam is a Dutch cheese, you could consider a dutch beer. Either one of their famous lagers (Grolsch, Amstel, Heinekin etc) or you could try one of their Trappist ales. Le Trappe is a great choice.
Verdict: An IPA would be a good choice, go for one that is as hoppy as you want. The subtle taste of edam will not overpower or be overpowered by it. Alternatively, you could go for a Dutch trappist beer such as Le Trappe.
Until recently, I had never tried Monterey Jack cheese (other than melted on a burger). But due to a lack of cheese selection, I bought some. It may not be the most exciting cheese out there, but I really enjoyed it. While the texture is different, the taste (or lack thereof) reminded me of edam and mild cheddar. I’ve heard that you can get a spicy version of Monterey Jack, which apparently complements IPAs well.
As I’ve said earlier in this article, I disagree that stronger tasting cheeses go well with IPAs. So I’m not sure about spicy Monterey Jack as an accompaniment to an IPA. But regular? Sure, why not. This is the type of cheese that goes with any beer.
Verdict: That beer that you are holding? Perfect for Monterey Jack!
Despite being a different colour, and having a different name. Red Leicester is basically cheddar. Sure, there are subtle differences. But when it comes to accompanying beer, there is absolutely no difference in how you would approach it. Any beer. You can have any beer with red Leicester and still enjoy both. A German wheat beer would be great, as would an IPA. You could have traditional English real ales, or go for a stout or porter.
Verdict: As with cheddar, edam, and Monterey Jack, red Leicester cheese is able to go well with any beer. That is one of its benefits as a cheese, and why it is so often used in cheese platters.
Now that we have looked at the different types of cheese (or at least the types of cheese that I have recently eaten) I thought it would be a good idea to look at the different beers out there. That way if you already have the beer, you can decide what cheese to buy.
As with the cheeses, I won’t go into every single style of beer available. I’ll just cover the main ones, and try to keep this article down to less than 20,000 words!
Wheat beers are made from wheat (at least 50%) rather than barley, rye, or other ingredients. There are wheat beers made in many counties, but the two most popular styles are German and Belgian. There are several styles of German wheat beer too, but again, I’m keeping things simple. Examples of German wheat beers would include Franziskaner Weissbier, Schneider Weisse, Erdinger Weisse, and Maisel’s Weisse. Examples of Belgian wheat beers would be Hoegaarden.
Spicy cheeses will go really well with wheat beer. Monterey Jack with peppers, chilli cheese, and even some blue cheeses and camemberts would work. The reason? Wheat beers are excellent pallet cleansers, and unlike many beers, they are unaffected by spice or strong tastes. This is why I recommend them for spicy curries too!
A dark beer that uses top-fermentation. Stout is actually a form of porter. But now is much more popular than porter. There are several forms of stouts out there, you’ve got milk stouts which are usually sweeter. Then there are dry stouts (such as Guinness), oatmeal stouts, oyster stouts, and imperial stouts. There are also chocolate or coffee stouts, but these are more often descriptions than an actual type of stout. The most famous example of a stout is Guinness, but you also have Mackeson stout, Murphey’s stout, Youngs’ stout, and Fuller’s Black Cab Stout.
Stouts can go well with most cheeses but are particularly good with blue cheese and similarly strong-tasting cheese. As with wheat beers, they are excellent at cleansing the pallet. So, if you are eating a variety of different cheeses a stout may be a good choice.
To be honest, the distinction between a porter and a stout is so difficult to explain, that it is almost not worth bothering. Historically, stout is just the name for a strong porter. But today, you can find porters that are much stronger than stouts. The only difference between the two is that stouts use unmalted barley while porters use malted barley. But even that distinction isn’t always true! There are many good porters out there though, so I thought I should mention them. Tiny Rebel Stay Puft is one of my favourite beers of all time, and is a porter.
As I mentioned above, the distinction between stouts and porters is confusing and increasingly blurred. The obvious answer to what cheeses go with porters is … the same ones that go with stouts.
The majority of beers in the world are variations of lager, mostly pilsners. You can get pale lagers (often pilsners), dark lagers such as dunkel, and you have amber lagers such as the type you would expect at Oktoberfest. Corona is the most popular lager in the world, but there are many other examples. Stella Artois, Pilsner Urquell, Amstel, Zubr.
Unlike stout, lagers are quite light in taste and can, therefore, be overwhelmed by strong-tasting cheese. Mild cheeses such as cheddar, red Leicester, edam etc are perfect partners for a lager.
When I talk about IPAs in this context, I am talking about American-style IPAs. English IPAs are closer to real ale than American IPAs, so I would put them in that category. IPAs are beers that use a lot more hops and are using American hops such as Citra, Cascade, or Simcoe. Examples of IPAs would be Goose Island IPA, Punk IPA by Brewdog, and Lagunitas Brewing Company’s IPA.
As with lagers, I tend to pair IPAs with milder tasting cheeses (cheddar, edam, Monterey Jack, red Leicester). In direct defiance of the popular wisdom. That does not mean that I am correct, it is just my opinion. By all means, try IPAs with stronger tasting cheeses and let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Most English beer is a form of ale, either brown ale, pale ale, golden ale, or English IPA (darker colour than American IPAs, not as strong, and using English hops). Ale is a beer that is fermented using warm fermentation. A lot of Americans talk about ale being “warm” but actually ale is usually served at just below room temperature. Golden ale is served cold. A famous brown ale is Newcastle Brown, pale ale is often referred to as “bitter”. Old Speckled Hen is a pale ale. Many Belgian beers are technically ales, but as they are so different from English ale, I am categorising them separately.
Most English ales are either strong tasting or (as with stouts) they have the ability to cleanse your palate. This means that they will go well with the stronger cheeses out there. If you fancy a theme, then pairing them with English cheeses will work a treat. Cheddar, stilton, (Cornish) brie, red Leicester, or Gloucester cheese would work really well.
Whenever I try and categorise beer, I always put all Belgian beers into one category. Which is kind of insane, as there are at least 20 different styles of Belgian beer. The Belgian lager Jupiler is absolutely nothing like Hoegaarden or Orval. However, when I talk about Belgian beer, I am usually talking about Belgian Trappist beers, abbey beers, or blonde/golden ales. These beers are similar enough to be grouped together. Examples of Belgian beers include Orval, Affligem, Hapkin, Leffe, Chimay, Duvel (I could go on and on).
As with English ales, Belgian ales and blondes are ideal for stronger cheese. As with English ales and English cheeses, Belgian beer will obviously go well with Belgian cheeses. It would also go well with French cheese and Dutch cheese.
Over the last week or so, I’ve been eating cheese and drinking a variety of beers. For science!
It’s been pretty cool. I’ve already mentioned the cheeses I bought in this article, but why not mention them again? Cheddar, red Leicester, edam, Monterey Jack, Danish Blue, and brie. Each night I’ve had a selection of these cheeses (plus some Wensleydale that got added halfway through) with a different beer. These beers were:
I’d love to be able to say that certain beers suited certain cheeses better. But the truth is that I absolutely loved every single beer and every single cheese. The first three lent themselves a little bit more to the cheese. But that could well be because the cheeses were mostly English. The stout and the Affligem Dubbel may not have combined quite as well with the cheese, but they did an excellent job of cleansing the palate between cheeses. They also tasted amazing.
Finding the right beer to go with your cheese is a great feeling. It involves a tiny bit of work on your end, and the results can often be spectacular. Most of us have a memory of finding that magical combination. For me it was France in 2003, loads of French cheese, small bottles of French lager, six nations on the television. For you it may be something similar. Beer and cheese were made to be together, and even the most badly thought out combination can still work!
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.