Siren and the Stilton Cheese Makers Association have teamed up to offer a menu of four paired beers and cheeses. It’s a good introduction to the art of pairing beer with food and makes for a fun evening. But at £25, experienced beer and cheese connoisseurs would do better to build their own pairing menus.
Some things were simply made to go together. Peanut butter and apple, for instance, or chips with malt vinegar. Green olives and white chocolate make a less obvious, yet delicious pairing. The greatest pairing of all, in purely objective terms, is beer and cheese.
Don’t give me that “but cheese goes with wine” rubbish. Wine is lovely, but the breadth of variety on offer just can’t compare with beers. And beer cleanses and refreshes the palate in a way most wines can’t manage. That’s the concept behind tonight’s paired tasting: Siren and their friends at the Stilton Cheese Makers Association have whipped together beers and cheeses that will complement, contrast, and generally delight our palates.
Our line-up for the evening is Santo, Siren’s hopped lager, followed by flagship Soundwave. That’s followed by Twin Flames, a seasonal red IPA, with 2018’s Champion Beer of Britain Broken Dream rounding things off.
Santo kicks things off. Bearded beer sherpa Matthew Lincoln tells the parched audience how the beer’s original recipe included blue corn; these days, it’s brewed with a more traditional malt bill of barley and wheat, supplemented by a liberal helping of Magnum, Amarillo, Mosaic, Simcoe, and Citra hops. As a lager, Santo is crisp and refreshing. Flowery orange blossom dominates the aroma, leading onto even more floral notes as it hits the palate.
The cheese pairing for this beer is Rutland Red, a rich, dark red Leicester. Supermarket red Leicester this ain’t. It’s sweet, jammy, fudgey even, nutty and satisfying. With a higher fat content than your standard supermarket prepackaged slices, this is a serious rich cheese. It’s why they’ve paired it with such a light and refreshing beer, explains Kim: a man who looks entirely too healthy and slim to have spent the last forty years making cheese.
Is it a match made in heaven? I’m not convinced. The richness of the cheese overwhelms the beer, even with those masses of hop additions. But since we have a beer in one hand and cheese in the other, things could certainly be a lot worse.
Not only is this beer part of Siren’s core range, says Matthew, it’s probably their most famous. Brewed using Siren’s house (Vermont) yeast, Soundwave is hoppy and a little funky with mango and resinous flavours.
The beer is just fine. The real star of the show, however, is the cheese pairing: a rich, creamy Blue Shropshire. While cheddar grows more intense as it ages, Kim tells us, blue cheese mellow as the mold breaks down the milk proteins that give the cheese’s harsher flavours. That leaves us with a soft, ever so slightly funky wedge of deliciousness. I’m hooked, and immediately make a note to acquire more Blue Shropshire.
While I’m intimately familiar with Siren’s other offerings this evening, Twin Flames is a bit of a mystery. I’m delighted, however, that it’s arrived in a 440ml can. Size isn’t everything, but with beer it generally doesn’t hurt.
Red IPA isn’t a style I come across very often, so I’m intrigued to pick up this one. Far from the spicy, rye-forward character I was expecting, Twins barrages me with intense red berry aromas and malty, caramel sweetness. The bitterness hangs back, but builds in strength until dominating the finish.
Alongside the flames, we have the best cheese pairing of the night so far. I’m normally wary of cheese with bits in – wensleydale with cranberries can take a hike, as far as I’m concerned – but in this instance, the pairing of scotch bonnet chilli with creamy cheddar works beautifully. The chilli is fruity, sweet and tart, and imparts a gentle warmth to every bite. The cheese, by contrast, is beautifully soft. While other cheesemakers add their fruit right from the start, Kim’s approach is to melt the best cheddar he can find and mix the chillies in as it sets.
It’s not just a pairing for the name, though putting the flames alongside scotch bonnets wasn’t the worst idea. The cheese rounds off some of Twin Flames’ harsher edges. On its own, the beer is a little too bitter on the finish. With a creamy, fatty cheese to go with it, the beer’s berry sweetness hangs on right until the end.
By process of elimination and good common sense, we reach the end of the tasting: Broken Dream breakfast stout. Dream is as it always is: dark and roasty, laced with coffee, chocolate, and smoke.
The remaining cheese is a relatively young stilton – powerful enough and funky enough to stand up to Dream’s intensity. It felt odd to mix such a savoury cheese with such a sweet, chocolately beer, however. I can’t help but feel a slightly more mature, mellower stilton might make a nicer pairing.
For £25 you get four beers and four portions of cheese delivered to your door, plus roughly an hour of commentary from the team at Siren and the Stilton Cheese Makers Association.
If I were to buy just those beers from the Siren website, they’d set me back £10.60 plus £5.99 postage. It’s harder to say what the cheeses might cost elsewhere as they’re available from different retailers, but a bit of searching suggests you could pick up a selection of similar size and varieties for around £7 or £8.
Does that mean this tasting set was poor value? I feel like it fits in the same kind of category as beer subscription boxes. It’s fantastic for those who are new to the world of beer or pairing beer with food and want help expanding their horizons. For those of us already deeply ensconced in the beer scene, however, you could very easily put together a better tasting selection for less.