Beer and Cheese: A Starter Guide

With thousands of beers and cheeses in the world, creating a short guide to happy matches is not unlike herding cats. The moment you get a cheese nestled under a particular style of beer, it eludes capture and nuzzles up to another. Such is the amorphous quality of pairings; there are so many variables. Yet with the assistance of Jim Rollston, former wine director at Cyrus Restaurant in Healdsburg, we have compiled general recommendations guaranteed to flatter both brew and cheese.

Man pouring craft beer


Wheat: Bright, light on the palate, ideal with both young, high-acid white cheeses, from fresh chevre, burrata and farmers cheese to feta, mozzarella and mascarpone and with soft-ripened cheeses such as French Brie and Camembert.

Amber Ale: (including IPAs): When hops are dominant as they are in amber ales and especially IPAs, cheeses with grassy elements–aged chevres, for example–and Parmigiano-Reggiano engage beautifully. Ambers are also good choices with Monterey Jack, Teleme and Pecorino.

Brown Ale:  A creamy texture and the sweetness of the malt makes brown ales an engaging match with a broad range of cheese, especially mild and strong blue-veined cheeses, Cheddars and other cheeses with nut flavors, such as Comte, Emmental, Gruyere, Gouda, Havarti and Mimolette.

Stout: Full and rich with a broad sweetness on the palate, the best choices to pair with these beers are those with similar qualities, such as soft-ripened cheeses like Brie and Camembert, and mild blue-veined cheeses such as Maytag.

Lager: Smooth, soft and refreshing from cold fermentation and conditioning in a cold environment, lager is the most versatile when it comes to pairing with cheese. You will rarely encounter a conflict on the palate; that said, there will be less nuance and less potential for an extraordinary match unless you seek out hand-crafted artisan brews.

Fruit Beer: These traditional beers, primarily from Belgium, can serve a dual function on the palate, adding the refreshing effervescence that all carbonated beverages contribute along with a sweet fruity element similar to the chutneys and preserves that are traditionally served alongside blue-veined and Cheddar cheeses.

This guide first appeared in a feature story I wrote for Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2009. The photo of Brian Hunt was taken by John Burgess of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Moonlight Brewing, which Brian Hunt founded, is now part of Lagunitas Brewing Co., based in Petaluma.

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