Photo Courtesy of Sasha Davies

Photo Courtesy of Sasha Davies

Have you heard of Cyril’s? No? Cyril’s at Clay Pigeon Winery is a remarkable new southeast industrial Portland urban winery. Recently, I visited Cyril’s and tasted some pretty delicious cheese. Not paired with wine, but with beer. Yes, I wrote that. B-E-E-R. No wine in sight except for the wine fermenting in sight, but nothing in a glass. O.K? Don’t worry; I haven’t switched sides.

Cyril's
Photo Courtesy of Mike Conway
  Cyril's
Photo Courtesy of Mike Conway

My wife is the chef of this new urban eatery and winery (full disclosure), and we both were invited to a beer and cheese tasting promoting Janet Fletcher’s new book Cheese & Beer. Base Camp Brewing (Acclimator), Breakside Brewery (Indian Golden Ale), and The Commons Brewery (Urban Farmhouse Ale) were on hand pouring brews perfectly matched to three artisan cheeses.

I know what you are thinking: why was a winery pairing cheeses with beer and not wine? Well, Cyril’s is different. They have their own cheese counter stocked with a rotating selection of the finest international and domestic artisan cheeses; they make their own wine (2011 Pinot Noir will be available May 18); and they have an ever changing tap list including cider and kombucha. So, rather than only tasting artisan crafted cheese with just wine, owners Michael Claypool and Sasha Davies know their cheese stock—and extensive food menu—can be paired with wine and beer.

I don’t feel the need to go through what I thought of the different pairings of cheese and beer. Why? Each of us tastes things differently and there are so many types of beer. Suffice to say that cheese can bring out myriad of flavors, each pairing offering a uniquely different accent of hops, malt, yeast, and those hidden flavors in all beers. When tasting anything, though, it’s the experience that belongs to the taster and no one else. Davies and Claypool would certainly agree. However, what struck me as incredibly interesting was what Josh Grgas of The Commons Brewer said regarding his Farmhouse ale.

Grgas explained that beer was a very pragmatic beverage. Farmhouse ales in particular were developed several centuries ago for Belgian farm labor to drink through the hot summer days. It was safer to drink than water and kept the farmhands “energized.” This had me thinking. One, I could work 40 acres of land doubled over if I drank several pints of refreshing farmhouse ale throughout the day. And two, beer, it seems, has been historically a beverage for the working people. Rarely has beer been a drink associated with food pairings and developed and enjoyed by connoisseurs like wine.  Well, that is changing and Janet Fletcher and Cyril’s know it and are embracing it.

Wine is no longer the only beverage so well suited to pair with cheese or food for that matter. Beer is moving in and rightly so. Beer is complex, diverse, and full of all sorts of flavors. It’s made with more ingredients than wine so why shouldn’t it have even more complexity than wine? Beer is even a natural palette cleanser due to the carbonation. Fletcher, longtime cheese and food writer, offers up in her new book a description of 23 styles of beers paired with various cheeses all wrapped up in a nice little package waiting to be opened by the wine and beer enthusiasts alike. Sorry winos, you’re not the only drunkard on the block any more that enjoys a good drink with good cheese. Get to Cyril’s and try some cheese and beer…quickly.