Monday, February 2, 2009

New Snowdown event a tasty experience

"He said beer, she said wine," a competitive beer, wine and cheese pairing hosted by Ska Brewing Co. on Saturday, sold out easily.

Guidos Fine Foods co-owner Susan Devereaux chose five cheeses for the tasting. President Thibodeau of Ska picked a beer to pair with each cheese, while wine specialist Leah Deane of Republic National Distributing Company selected the wine pairings.

“I wanted to get some accessible beers,” President Thibodeau told the group. “But I got some crazy beers.”

Thirty attendees paid $15 each to sit upstairs at Ska HQ. The organizers could easily have charged more given the offerings.

Soggy Coaster started with a small-batch Belgian amber from the rotating tap downstairs. Ska has laudably encouraged its brewers to experiment with a low-yield pilot system. These brews end up on the tap – it’s the only one without a logo – on the far right side of the bar.

The Belgian amber is the latest of these. As President Thibodeau explained to me, it uses a recipe similar to Ska’s ESB with the addition of Belgian yeast. Yummy.

Now, on to the competition:

Round 1
The cheese: Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog
The wine: Comte LaFond Sancerre, Loire Valley, France 2005
The beer: Boulevard Smokestack Series Saison

The cheese was the best of the night, a rich, creamy, goat cheese with a ribbon of edible vegetable ash at the center.

Soggy Coaster enjoys wine but is not an oenophile. He can confidently report that the wine was red and tasted much like wine.

President Thibodeau made a fine choice with the saison (6.2 percent ABV, 30 IBUs), a difficult-to-find pick from the Kansas City, Missouri, brewery. A light Belgian style, saison is one of Soggy Coaster’s favorites. It’s a subtle style and the taste takes more time to develop than a small glass can allow. Nevertheless, it was my choice for sheer originality.

Soggy Coaster’s vote: beer. The winner: wine.

Round 2
The cheese: La Tournette “Fleur des Alpes” French Alps.
The wine: Campo Viejo Reserva Rioja, Spain 2004
The beer: La Fin du Monde

Soggy Coaster barely remembers the cheese or the wine from round 2 because La Fin du Monde is so freaking good. A triple-fermented golden ale, La Fin du Monde (“the end of the world”) is a full-bodied ale from Unibroue in Quebec, Canada. It’s smooth, rich and malty. This fine ale also carries a 9 percent alcohol punch.

La Fin du Monde was popular among Soggy Coaster’s tablemates and seemed to generate considerable excitement in the room.

Soggy Coaster’s vote: beer.

Round 3
The cheese: Old Amsterdam two-year aged Gouda Holland
The wine: Markus Molitor Spatlese Riesling Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany 2004
The beer: Ska Brewing Buster Nut Brown

This one was tougher. The gouda, a hard cheese, had a less overwhelming flavor than many of the others, which had the effect of pitting the beer head-to-head with the wine.

Soggy Coaster enjoyed the Riesling, a sweet wine with “high acid and good texture.” Tasty.

President Thibodeau chose his sole Ska selection here. Buster Nut Brown has a pleasant nutty sweetness and is as drinkable as any brown ale, which is itself an enjoyable and welcoming style.

The room gave this one to Thibodeau, partly because it was indeed a good pairing, and partly, probably, to honor the host. Fair ‘nuf.

Soggy Coaster’s vote: beer.

Round 4
The cheese: Locatelli Pecorino Romano, Sardinia, Italy
The wine: Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Sparkling Shiraz, Australia
The beer: Victory Hop Devil

Locatelli was easily the saltiest offering of the evening, and probably the saltiest food anywhere, ever. Basically, it was really salty.

The wine was a delight. This sparkling shiraz fought back against the cheese’s salt taste, leaving the diner with a sweet taste and bubbly sensation on the tongue.

President Thibodeau praised this beer, calling Victory Brewing Co., of Downington, Pa., one of the best craft breweries in the country. Surely, the man knows of which he speaks. Hop Devil, an IPA, was indeed “powerful and aromatic” as promised by the event’s cheat sheet. Soggy Coaster
found this IPA (6.7 percent ABV), to be impressively hoppy but within the bounds of reason.

Soggy Coaster had to give this one to Leah. The shiraz was really something special, sweetly scrubbing one’s tongue of the cheese taste, while the IPA, like most IPAs, more or less hit you over the head like a two-by-four.

An imperial stout might have also worked well here.

Round 5
The cheese: Amber Valley, Stilton, England
The wine: Sandeman Vau Vintage Port, Douro Valley, Portugal, 2000
The beer: Left Hand Oak-Aged Widdershins Barley Wine, 2007

Leah and President Thibodeau both made thoughtful selections to finish the evening. The sweetness of their choices nicely complemented the creamy cow’s milk cheese.

The barley wine by Left Hand Brewing, of Longmont, Colo., provided a pleasant ending.

Narrowly, Soggy Coaster cast his vote for the beer.


A very fine event. It certainly took significant planning to put all this together, and Soggy Coaster extends his thanks to President Thibodeau, Ms. Deane and Mrs. Devereaux. Hopefully, they’ll put it on again next year.

“He said beer, she said wine” reflected a dilemma couples repeatedly face: beer or wine? Some dishes (pasta, fish) lend themselves to wine, but given the astonishing breadth of modern brewing, a beer can be found to pair with just about anything.

The room gave President Thibodeau and his beers the 3-2 victory, so you can always tell your significant other to drink beer with cheese 60 percent of the time.

Another salient fact: all five beer selections came from North America, while exactly zero of the wine selections did.

Certainly, America produces wines equal to anything in France or Italy. And certainly, it has prominent wine-growing regions such as California’s Napa Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Yet the United States has quite probably become the best place anywhere to drink beer. Belgium and Germany have more brewing history and tradition, but nowhere else combines the sheer number and variety of craft breweries with an unquenchable desire to innovate.


  1. This sounds like an absolutely delightful event. I am sorry I could not be there, so I guess I'll have to take the same attitude as the Denver Broncos - "Wait 'till next year!"

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