After spending most of American Craft Beer Week safely hidden under my rock, it was finally time to emerge on Thursday for the Beer and Cheese Tasting at Rock Bottom Downtown. While I’ve never been inclined to picture myself among the more notorious “wine and cheese crowd”, we eagerly checked our sweater vests at the door and surrendered to the allure of gourmet beer and cheese. This event featured seven pairings displaying the talents of Sous Chef Ricky Cassidy and Brewmaster Jerry Sutherlin. Healthy servings of each sample made the $25 price tag a great value.
Course 1: The first course featured fresh Ricotta, local honeycomb, and black pepper paired with Rock Bottom White Ale. The Ricotta was made in-house by Ricky and combined pleasantly with the honeycomb while the black pepper cut the sweetness with a kick to the back of the palette. The White Ale (Belgian Wit) was an appropriate pairing choice as the slightly sour character helped to further offset the sweetness.
Course 2: The second course included smokey blue cheese blended with ice cream and apple and fennel baklava. This was paired with Jerry’s GoatToppler Maibock spring seasonal. Everything in this course had a hard time keeping up with the intense flavor of the blue cheese, so the rosemary spice in the baklava provided the most interesting pairing with the GoatToppler. The darker color and slightly nutty, chocolate flavor of the Maibock was a bit out of character for the style, but sometimes you just have to classify beer as “good”. And when my wife really likes a Maibock, that’s some fine work.
Course 3: The third course was actually a trio of goat cheeses paired with hoppy beers including Rock Bottom IPA, Catcher in the Rye, and the recently tapped Hop Bomb Imperial IPA. The standout beer was a tough call between Catcher in the Rye and Hop Bomb, but the standout pairing was definitely Catcher in the Rye with Humboldt Fog cheese. Humboldt Fog is a mold-ripened cheese with a coating of edible vegetable ash that qualifies as your classic “smells like hell, tastes like heaven” variety. The addition of smoked salt gave the cheese a smoky, pungent flavor that paired well with the spicy rye character of the beer.
Course 4: The fourth course was Red Dragon cheddar and Andouille Sausage paired with the Old Curmudgeon winter seasonal. The Red Dragon is made with Welsh brown ale and mustard seeds with the mustard providing a distinct spicy character. Combined with salty and smoky notes from the sausage, the addition of an apple garnish provided some tart sweetness for balance. This tied with the Humboldt Fog as our favorite cheese of the night. The Old Curmudgeon is best described as a Red IPA. With a bit of age, the aroma was still deceptively hoppy while the flavor had evolved more to a dominant malt character. We thought the Rock Bottom IPA offered the best pairing for this cheese.
Course 5: The final course was Cahills Porter Irish Cheddar with cocoa toasted hazelnuts paired with Rock Bottom Stout. The cheddar curds are veined with Cahills Porter to give the cheese a distinctly unique appearance, but the porter adds surprisingly little to the flavor. The stout had the roasty character of a classic Irish Dry but also uses oatmeal to add a creamy mouthfeel prior to the finish. The cocoa toasted hazelnuts were a great pairing with the stout and overshadowed the cheese in this course.
We had an absolute blast at this event with a great deal of quality food and beer for the price. Thanks to Ricky and Jerry for putting their creative efforts into such a unique event – I’m now lobbying for one of these a month! In the meantime, you can attend an event at Rock Bottom Downtown in the near future to check it out for yourself. The Summer Seafood Feast is coming up on June 5th and we’re told there will be a Brewer’s Dinner on June 21st. Check out their website or call 317-681-8180 for more details.