Wine and cheese is a foolproof pairing. Classes that focus on pairing the beverage with the beloved food are abundant, and most sommeliers will have an expert suggestion on which wine to pair with a cheese course. But beer is also a friend to many foods, which is why it’s strange that more people don’t talk about pairing cheese with beer.
So in the spirit of journalism — and an excuse to drink some delicious beverages with copious amounts of cheese — our editorial team set up a tasting of eight different cheeses, each paired with one wine and one beer. Our tasting panel sipped, chewed and commented their way to a verdict about which beverage ultimately came out on top so we could answer that age-old question, does wine or beer pair better with cheese?
Brie: (Le Petit Brie)
The wine: Champagne (Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee)
In the spirit of terroir, we chose a Champagne to pair with this brie, which also comes from France. Specifically, we went with Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee, a blend of 60% pinot noir, 25% chardonnay and 15% meunier with notes of walnut and brioche. We thought that the Champagne’s bubbles and brightness would equally cut through and complement the brie’s creaminess.
The beer: Fruited Berliner Weisse (SingleCut Kim Hibiscus Sour)
We chose to go with SingleCut’s Kim Hibiscus Sour, a fruited Berliner Weisse, for this one thinking that its lactic acid — responsible for its sour, tart flavor — would cut the richness of the brie. We also thought the fruitiness of the style, in this case thanks to the blackcurrants SingleCut brews their beer with, might call to mind some of the jams you so often see paired with brie on a cheese plate.
The winner: Wine (11-3)
Our panel thought that the wine offered “complementary flavors” and “cut the richness [of the brie] beautifully.” One comment even touted that it was the “perfect combo,” making this a reliable wine and cheese pairing for any gathering. While most people liked the beer solo, one comment explained that, “On its own it has a delicious fruity taste, but once paired with brie, it clashes in an unpleasant way.”
Gruyere: (Le Gruyère Switzerland AOP)
The wine: Pinot Grigio (Abbazia di Novacella Pinot Grigio)
Gruyere is a nutty, salty cheese with a delightful richness that isn’t too heavy. So we decided to pair it with a crisp pinot grigio, a lighter bodied wine that would add some brightness against the cheese but wouldn’t overwhelm it. For the tasting, we chose Abbazia di Novacella Pinot Grigio, which comes from one of the world’s oldest acting wineries, located in the Italian Dolomites.
The beer: Saison (Goose Island Sofie)
Given gruyere’s nuttiness and saltiness, something like a crisp, dry saison should complement it nicely while also bringing in a hint of citrus-y funkiness. Goose Island’s Sofie has fared well in some of our other tastings, so we thought it’d be the perfect saison for the job.
The winner: Beer (10 – 4)
The majority of our tasters feeling as though the wine was too mild to stand up to the gruyere. “Cheese overpowers the wine,” wrote one, while another noted that the wine’s “flavor starts to go away” and it “starts to taste too light.” But while the beer was the clear favorite — as one taster wrote, “the robustness of both complement each other” — folks still weren’t totally enthusiastic about the pairing. As another taster pointed out, it was “slightly better than the wine, but still fighting the cheese.”
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Chèvre (By Whole Foods)
The wine: Sauvignon Blanc (Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc)
Creamy, tangy chèvre kind of has two personalities: on one hand its earthy and tart, on the other it has a luxurious butteriness. So we picked a sauvignon blanc to pair with the goat cheese because we thought the wine’s citrusy notes would be a match for the chèvre’s tartness, and its tropical flavors would also shine through. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc offers just that — notes of peach and guava with a vibrant salinity that would offer a contrast to the cheese’s tangy richness.
The beer: Hefeweizen (Hofbrau Hefe Weizen)
A bright, tangy goat cheese like chèvre is perfectly suited for a German wheat beer like a hefeweizen. It’s a style that’s light enough to not overpower the cheese, but the hints of coriander and banana in it should hold their own against its flavors and balance it nicely.
The winner: Beer (11-3)
This was by far the most popular pairing of the tasting, receiving the most perfect 5/5 ratings. “No notes! Beautiful pairing,” raved one taster. “Honestly, incredible,” another wrote. “The beer equalizes the super strong cheese to the point where it finishes like bread and butter.” In fact, “bread and butter” was a pretty common note about this pairing, with several tasters likening it to a bagel and cream cheese. As for the wine, well, as one person wrote, “She’s getting overshadowed by this dope-ass cheese.”
Sharp Cheddar (Cabot Creamery Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese)
The wine: Viognier (Vanderbilt Reserve Viognier)
A cheese as intense as aged cheddar needs a wine that won’t fight its rich, creamy flavor. Viognier fits the bill, as it’s a full-bodied white wine with fruit notes that will complement the cheese, rather than compete with it. We’ve been obsessed with Virginia viogniers as of late, so we put the Cabot to the test with Vanderbilt Reserve Viognier, a partly barrel-aged bottle with notes of plantain, persimmon and key lime.
The beer: Stout (Founders Breakfast Stout)
The idea here was to lean in to the smokiness and richness of the cheddar and go for a malty, dark beer with a rich body. Founders Breakfast Stout is a classic, and its coffee notes, we figured, would offer just a hint of acidity to keep it from being overkill.
The winner Wine (14-0)
A unanimous decision here, as the stout was a bit too robust for the cheese. One taster said that the “strong flavor of beer kind of cancels out the cheese flavor,” and another went so far as to say that the pairing was “stodgy and dark…brunch gone wrong.” But it seems the wine brought out the best in the cheese, and vice versa. One taster said it was “the nicest pairing thus far — the wine on its own is okay, but the cheese tastes so good right after, so creamy,” while another thought the combo was “smooth as hell.”
Aged Gouda (Marieke Mature 6-9 Month Gouda)
The wine: Gamay (Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages)
We wanted to pair the beverages with a gouda that wasn’t too young or too old. For a mildly aged gouda like this, a wine made from lower-tannin gamay grapes seemed like a good match because its juicy, fruit-forward flavor wouldn’t be too dry or robust for the cheese. Perhaps the most famous gamay wine is Beaujolais, so we paired this cheese with Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages, an easy-drinking, medium-bodied wine that just happened to be featured in episode three of The Last of Us (which we didn’t know until after the wine was procured for this tasting).
The beer: Doppelbock (Ayinger Celebrator)
Gouda has a slight sweetness to it, so to play that up, we paired it with a malty doppelbock. Ayinger Celebrator has a rich caramel flavor to it that should, in theory, complement the gouda, but it also has a bit of a coffee aftertaste that we thought might prevent the sweet-sweet pairing from becoming too cloying.
The verdict: Wine (14-0)
This vote also unanimously went to wine, as our tasters called the pairing “perfect” and “really elegant.” Another taster wasn’t sure how the pairing would go but decided that, “somehow they work — don’t know where one ends and the other begins.” And another nodded to the pop culture sensation of the moment, saying, “Like The Last of Us, the Beaujolais and gouda found love in a hopeless place.” Our tasters liked the doppelbock but thought it “overpowered the cheese” and was “a little too acidic for this gouda.”
Manchego (El Trigal 6-Month Manchego)
The wine: Garnacha (Bodegas Vegamar Garnacha)
We wanted to pair a Spanish cheese with a Spanish wine, which is why we chose a fruity garnacha to pair with the nutty, creamy brie. Specifically, we poured Bodegas Vegamar Garnacha, an organic wine that was just tannic and acidic enough to pair with food, but with a berryful fruitiness that makes it lovely on its own as well.
The beer: Amber Ale (New Belgium Fat Tire)
In this case, we went in the opposite direction and decided to pair another beer that has sweet, malty notes with a salty, nutty cheese. An amber ale like New Belgium Fat Tire is a little crisper and lighter than a doppelbock like Ayinger Celebrator, and when combined with the manchego it should create sort of a pecan-like flavor.
The winner: Beer (6-4 with four ties)
This was one of our more hotly contested pairings. Beer ultimately was the victor, with one taster noting that the pairing was “hearty” and “tastes like pizza at the end of the night,” while another picked up on a “nutty flavor unlocked in this combo.” Others weren’t quite as sold on it, with one writing, “I like both of these separately, but not sure they go together.”
The wine: Amarone della Valpolicella (Pasqua Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG)
This Italian cheese is in a class all its own, so we wanted to pair it with an Italian wine that’s just as special. Parmigiano-Reggiano and Amarone della Valpolicella are often considered a classic pairing, as the wine’s complex fruit notes can stand up to the grainy, richly-flavored cheese. Pasqua Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG is an elegant, complex wine with chocolate, blackberries and cherries on the palate, plus a vanilla smoothness imparted from oak barrel aging.
The beer: Pilsner (Weihenstephaner Pilsner)
Parmesan is a sharp, salty cheese that demands a light, clean beer to cut through its bold flavors. You can’t go wrong with a German pilsner when you’re looking for refreshing crispness, and Weihenstephaner is one of the best.
The winner: Beer (14-0)
It may be true that, as one taster wrote, “Parmesan goes with anything,” but this pairing was another especially popular one. “Fantastic,” one taster declared. “Best beer pairing yet.” “Hello late nights. Hello carbo-load. Beer and pizza,” another wrote. “Pilsner and parm, a match made in heaven,” yet another declared, while one was so moved by the pairing he simply drew a heart next to it on his score sheet.
Blue Cheese (Point Reyes Original Blue)
The wine: Moscato d’Asti (Paolo Pizzorni Oroluce 2021 Moscato d’Asti)
Blue cheese is funky, salty and packed with umami, so we went the opposite when choosing a wine. We decided to pair it with moscato d’asti, a wine from Piedmont that gets its sweetness from the residual sugar in late-harvested grapes. Obviously, we wouldn’t choose just any sugar bomb off the shelf, so we went with Paolo Pizzorni Oroluce 2021 Moscato d’Asti, an organic wine with floral notes and just enough acidity to balance its sweet flavor.
The beer: IPA (Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA)
Blue cheese has a pungent, strong flavor that’ll overpower just about anything you pair it with, so it calls for a style of beer that can hold its own against it by being equally bold. Enter the IPA in all its bitter, hoppy glory. Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA is a classic example of the style, and it should cut the creaminess of the blue cheese without being overshadowed by it.
The winner: Beer (8-6)
Even though beer won this pairing, it was one of the most even matches, probably because we chose three of the most polarizing items possible. Most people either love or hate blue cheese, and the same goes for IPAs and dessert wines. But it seems like the beer’s robustness actually did a lot of favors for the pungent blue. One taster said, “The beer is awesome. It’s strong too, so it works,” while someone who typically dislikes blue cheese admitted it was an “amazing pairing on a cheese I don’t like.” Another sung its praises, saying “This is incredible. Strong cheese gets a lift from beer.” The wine wasn’t so lucky when it came to the comments. More than one editor thought the combo tasted like barf, with comments like “Uh oh, vomit in mouth. WTF lol. So gross, I’m disgusted,” while another did not appreciate the wine’s sweetness and said, “The wine tastes like grape juice. It’s nasty though. Not a good pairing.” A few others said they would never drink the wine on its own but that it paired well with the cheese.
The Overall Winner: Beer (5-3)
The traditionalists out there may be shocked to see that beer beat out wine, but it’s not so crazy when you think about all the cheesy foods like pizza or nachos that we traditionally pair with beer. They may not be as sophisticated as what you’d typically find on a cheese board, but as this tasting proves, there’s no reason an elegant craft beer can’t complement the fancy stuff. As Charles Duque, Managing Director (North America) of The French Dairy Board, told us recently, “The freshness of the beer, its carbonation and its complex flavor profiles make it an ideal accompaniment for a cheeseboard. And unlike wine, beer has a bigger range of flavor, which opens up a new world of unexpected, delicious pairings.” Amen to that.
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