Tag Archives: Pilsner

Beer and cheese matching: a seminar with Francis Percival and Melissa Monosoff at TexSom

Francis and Melissa

Francis and Melissa

I was quite excited by the prospect of this seminar. It was a session focusing on cheese and beer pairing, led by Francis Percival (who, together with his cheesebuying wife Bronwen has penned an upcoming book on cheese called Reinventing the Wheel ) and Melissa Monsoff (a master sommelier with beer expertise).

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Francis began the seminar by describing how he recently took a scything class. Scything, an old-school way of cutting grass, was still in use in the UK back in the 1960s. He showed a picture of a field in the Yorkshire Dales in 1962, where the grass had been scythed for hay production. ‘Beer and cheese are both basically grass,’ he said. ‘We are looking at how these products access different parts of the grass.’

For cheese, ruminants break down cellulose in grass for energy. For beer, it’s all based on endosperm in grass seeds, which provides the sugar source for alcohol production. He pointed out that there are pronounced resonances between the worlds of cheese and beer making, which are both based on microbiology. ‘They are exercises in practical microbial ecology, like wine,’ he pointed out.

The microbes come to play early on in cheese making. Ruminants can access energy from cellulose, but we can’t. They derive their energy from an act of fermentation: they depend on microbial energy to break down cellulose into volatile fatty acids.

Cheesemaking is analogous to winemaking. In winemaking you are synchronising fermentation and extraction; whereas with cheese making you are synchronising fermentation and moisture removal. A litre of milk will give around 100 g of cheese. This conversion of something fragile and perishable into something much lighter and more robust was very important in the pre-industrial era.

Milk, of course, is made for young ruminants. Milk coagulates when it enters the acidity of the stomach and turns into curds. Whey is released, which contains milk sugars which is energy for the young animal. The solid curd remains and is digested more slowly.

Cheesemaking hijacks this metabolism of young ruminants, and it is the rennet, the enzyme present in the stomachs of juvenile ruminants, that is added to milk to begin the cheesemaking process. Then, lactic acid bacteria digest the milk sugars and produce lactic acid, a process called acidification. This is then followed by drainage, where much of the liquid is removed. Acidification and drainage are the two fundamental processes of cheese making

The cheese industry is bad at communicating how and why different cheeses are different from each other. Instead of talking about hard and soft cheese, or the animal origin, it’s better to talk about how the cheese is made. There are four fundamental types, on a 2 by 2 matrix consisting of high acid to low acid, and low moisture to high moisture. This classification is made at the moment of moulding, when the curds go into the container that will give the cheese its shape

  • High moisture gives a soft cheese. If you have high acidity, then your cheese will be crumbly. Goats cheese from the Loire would be high acid/high moisture.
  • Low acid/high moisture will be be ‘elastic taste’ cheeses.
  • Low moisture and low acid gives alpine cheeses such as comte and beaufourt. The curds taste sweet and milky but they are also dry.
  • High acid fully fermented curds and low moisture makes the cheese tend towards hard and crumbly – these are the classic British territorial cheeses such as cheddar.
  • From the dawn of microbiology cheese has been understood as a practical exercise in microbial ecology. Now, some are using molecular tools to look at this ecology in detail.

Ben Wolfe and Rachel Dutton got funding from NIH to look at cheese rinds for a model system to understand real world microbial interactions. The cheese rind is a good model system because it is a reproducible succession of microbes. At the genus level they found that the microbes found on the rind are dependent on the type of cheese made rather than where the cheese is from. Now they are doing more research at the species level and it has become a little more complex and interesting.

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The cheese rind is important and you want the right bacteria to colonize it – this is why the rind is washed. Then there’s a succession of communities that grow on the rind – from Staphylococcus to yeast to actinobacteria and to mould. This process occurs because the rind dries out and also loses acidity.

Melissa explained how she sets about matching beer and cheese. ‘In assessing [beer] aroma I’m looking for the main ingredients and what resonates the most,’ she says. ‘I’m trying to find commonality with cheese and beer aromas. In the palate, how it feels in the mouth is important. Then I think about the brewing ingredients on the palate.’ She pointed out that the water used in brewing is really important for beer quality, and it’s an element that has to be considered in pairing.

In particular, salty and bitter flavours are key. Salty cuts bitter: the saltiness of the cheese cuts the bitterness of the beer and enhances the sweetness. Cheese and beer often work so well together for this reason.

The beers

The beers

The matching process:

  1. Deconstruct: pick out the important aspects of the cheese: taste, smell, texture
  2. Break down the beer into base ingredients
  3. Matching intensity is important
  4. Work with the balance: some cheeses overtake the flavour of the beer. Look for balance, for the two to complement each other, see a nice contrast and look for similar aromas (earthy, barnyard, herbal, citrus, fermentation, etc)
  5. Taking it to the next level: go beyond matchy/matchy, go beyond the classics and think about things like seasons

What does the cheese need? Does it need freshness, hops, fruit, sour/tart, earthy, malt/toast/caramel/ sweetness?

On a cheese plate there are often other things apart from cheese, so why not use beer instead to go with the cheese?

Cheese 1
Willoughby washed by Shacksbury Cider
Made by Jasper Hill, Vermont, USA
Pasteurized cow’s milk, own herd, animal rennet

Cheese 2
Willoughby washed in brine

Both are lovely cheeses but the cider-washed cheese has more bite and complexity. It’s soft and complex.

Matched with Shacksbury Craft Cider from Vermont (6.5%)
Tangy and intense with lovely acidity. Appley, broad and really complex. There are nine different kinds of apples here, including some sourced from the UK. Quite a dry, tangy, complex style.

We also tried the cheeses with Orval Trappist Ale (6.9%) from Belgium.
This is very earthy and savoury with some herbal notes. It is earthy hoppy with some Brettanomyces. There’s a contrast here between the sweetness of the cheese and the bitter notes of the beer.

Cheese 3
Innes Log
This cheese is made with a continuous whey starter. It is made by Joe Bennett, Staffordshire from raw goat’s milk.
Really tangy and intense with lovely complexity and acidity. Very powerful flavours and quite lovely with amazing intensity. The process produces a lot of sulphurous aromas: cabbage and truffle.

This is paired with Pilsner Urquell (4.9%)
It makes the beer taste sweeter, and the grassiness of the cheese and high acidity work well the subtly herbal hop characters of the pilsner. It’s a surprising match.

Cheese 4
Camambert de Normandie made by Laiterie Fromagiere du Val d’Ay. This cheesemaker pools raw milk from 60 farms and then they keep the milk overnight. They run PCR for four pathogens on site. If the milk is clean they will make Camembert with it. The other Normandy appellations allow pasteurized milk cheese, so if there are any of these pathogens, the cheese it is declassified, the milk is pasteurized and they make the others. This happens about a third of the time.

Modern Camembert only exists because you can inoculate with a cocktail of yeasts and moulds. Uninoculated it looks quite different. In Normandy there are only two remaining farmhouse producers.

Matched with Sam Smth Nut Brown Ale (6.5%)
Nice match between the nut and chocolate notes of the beer, with some sweet caramel. This works with the creaminess. I don’t like the beer much, but it works with the cheese.

Also Fullers ESB (5.9%)
There’s a bit of hop bitterness. Rich, malty and a bit tangy with some hoppy bitterness. A really good match with the sweetness of the beer coming out in contrast to the creamy, tangy cheese.

Francis pointed out that it is possible to point to things in the cheese that are a consequence of the farming decisions that have been made. Not all grazing is created equal. As long as the cheese is made sensitively you can taste the difference between cheese from animals grown on a biodiverse wild flower meadow compared with a moderately high yielding grazing field composed of just ryegrass and clover.

Cheese 5
Saint-Nectaire from the Guerin family from raw cow’s milk in the Auvergne. It’s the dry Riesling of cheese: it is not tricked out. It is a good cheese for giving you a sense of the pasture. The flavour is really balanced with some creaminess and lovely texture.
There is a research group looking at cheese in the Auvergne, and they are interested in terpenes. There are plants in diverse pastures that the animals like eating with resinous terpenes, and then you find them in the milk. You can’t find them in the cheese though. But the cheese from milk of animals grazing these pastures are quantifiably different. Many of these compounds in the milk have selective antimicrobial properties that then alter the microbial ecology of the cheese. Terpenes are in the hops of beer: they are aromatic bittering agents.

The remaining cheeses Francis put into a category named ‘British territorial cheeses’. ‘These are session cheeses,’ he explained. ‘These are substantial and significant. They are also cheeses where delicacy is a virtue.’ Fortunately, he points out, we are living in the era of celebrating delicacy, nuance and balance, rather than power.

These cheeses are an endangered species. Raw milk farmhouse cheesemakers are few and far between now. There were 388 farmhouse Cheddar producers in 1939, now there are just 3. Wensleydale has gone down from 176 to 0. Cheshire is down from 405 to 1.

Cheese 6
Saint James, made by Nicola and Martin Gott in Cumbria. Very smooth, fine grained and spicy with lovely texture. Really fine and expressive. Creamy with a fine spiciness. It’s a raw sheeps milk cheese with a washed rind. Very seductive.

In terms of beer pairing this cheese needs something intense, sweet and well carbonated, but nothing too heavy. ‘When in doubt go Belgian,’ quips Melissa. The beer is the Chimay Premiere, 7% alcohol. The brewing water is free of minerals to create richness and softness. It’s sweet, toffeed and intense with a very rich texture and some spice from the carbonation. This works well: the sweetness of the beer is lessened and the bitter hops balance the sweetness of texture of the cheese. The Fullers ESB, a bit drier, doesn’t work so well, although there is some nice nut and toffee that is quite good with the sweetness of the cheese.

Cheese 7
Appleby’s Cheshire, made by Gary Gray and the Appleby family from raw cow’s milk in Shropshire. It’s hard and has high acid, with a dry, slightly crumbly structure and some spiciness on the finish. Very full flavoured with lovely intensity of flavour. Tangy and intense. The pairing here is the Sam Smiths Nut Brown. The dryness of the beer works well, but the cheese dominates the beer a bit with its intense flavour. The cider is probably a better match, although this time the cider risks dominating.

Cheese 8
Kirkham’s Lancashire, a raw cow’s milk cheese made by Graham Kirkham in Lancashire. It’s creamy, crumbly and delicious, and quite buttery but with a fruity tang. So complex. The beer pairing is a Kirsch Gose (4.7%) which is tangy, salty and fruity with some cherry and lime notes. Great acidity. The fruitiness and acidity of the beer complement the cheese well. The Chimay works pretty well, with the bold flavours of the Chimay cancelled out a bit and softened by the strong elements of the cheese. They pair well, but in different ways.

Kirkham inoculates with a very low starter culture. He has a 24 hour acidification, and keeps it, and blends a 24 and 48 mix. Acidification normally takes 8 h.

Cheese 9
Hafod made by Rob Howard in Ceredigion from raw cow’s milk. This is really smooth and intense with a strong grassy character and lovely intensity. There’s some spicy horseradish on the finish. The beer that Melissa chose was the very fresh, tangy Helles from Community Brewing in Dallas, Texas. It’s made with German malts and hops, and the bitter hops work well with the strong grassy notes, and the freshness counters the spicy horseradish finish on the cheese. It’s a good match.

This Hafod is a hard cheese that feels soft because of the fat chemistry. If you are grazing rather than being fed grain-based diets you get lower levels of fats. The curd colour is different. The Hafod is undyed, but still a bright yellow: this is a result of the grazing. The milk is sterile in the upper part of the udder, but microbes get into the milk. Farmers are interested in how you address the teet. There is a decline in microbial populations in raw milk – this can result in the loss of gastronomic culture.

If you need to sell fluid milk you need as few microbes as possible. There are antimicrobials in the milking parlour. In Hafod, they use best practice, which is cleaning the udder with wood wool. It’s cheap, sterile and biodegradable.

Cheese 10
Stichelton is a Stilton (it’s illegal to call it that because you need to make stilton from pasteurized milk) made with raw milk. It’s a brilliant cheese.

The match: North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.
The rich saltiness of the cheese goes with the big, bitter flavours of the beer. The alcohol also adds richness (9%) with lots of hops and malt, and it goes well with the potent, spicy tangy Stichelton flavours.

The other match is the JW Lees Harvest Ale 2009, which is 11.5% alcohol, a barley wine. This is very sweet indeed with real intensity and some subtle herby notes alongside the liquid toffee and fudge. It sort of works but I think the Stout is best.

So that was it: a brilliant seminar with some amazing cheeses and thoughtful beer matches that worked pretty well. I quite fancy getting hold of some serious cheese and experimenting with some interesting beers.

Aldi’s Oktoberfest beers: five from Schwaben Bräu, Germany

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To celebrate Oktoberfest, Aldi are launching five new beers in store from German brewery Schwaben Bräu. They are each priced at a very reasonable £1.79 for 500 ml, and they will be available from September 15th. It’s a large brewery based in Stuttgart (website is here).

Schwaben Bräu Volkfestbier
5.5% alcohol
Yellow/gold in colour. Malty and broady with herbs and toast and toffee notes. Has a hint of sweetness and nice smooth, broad flavours with a bit of tanginess. Finishes a bit spicy. Like a full flavoured lager. 6.5/100

Schwabern Bräu Das Naturtrübe
5% alcohol
Unfiltered Pilsner. Fresh, complex and tangy with a sweet herbal edge to the lively citrus, pear and pith on the palate. This is concentrated, spicy, lively and refreshing with an attractive spiciness. 7/10

Schwaben Bräu Helle
5% alcohol
Lively, tangy, bright and citrussy with a refreshing, zippy sort of personality. Lovely hoppy bitterness counters the fruity notes. Nice weight and focus here with good balance. 7.5/10

Schwaben Bräu Das Weizen Here Hell
5% alcohol
Bright and textured with herbs, coriander and spices. This has a lovely density to it: it’s mouthfilling, with a lovely spicy yeastiness adding extra dimensions to the flavour. Finishes with a tangy, citrussy bite. So delicious, well balanced and complex. 8/10

Schwaben Bräu Schwarze 
4.9% alcohol
Brown colour. Herby, tangy and tarry, with some treacle notes and a bit of spiciness. Malty and tangy with a very spicy citrus peel edge to it. 6/10

 

Beer, the lineage of the Pilsner: a seminar and tasting with Melissa Monosoff

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This Texsom seminar, presented by Melissa Monosoff, was an interesting exploration of the invention of the Pilsner, and its spread across the globe. It’s now the most imitated, most popular beer in the world. For example, Bud Light and Budweiser alone sold 11 billion dollars worth of beer last year. How did we get here, from a small town making a specific style of beer?

She began by asking what beer was like before the Pilsner, and the first beer we tasted was a clean version of what people were drinking in the mid 1800s and earlier. The beers were malt focused, with a malty, toasty nose. They were cloudy and dark. There wasn’t a lot of knowledge on how yeast worked, and no electricity or refrigeration.

Hofbrauhaus Munchen Dunkel, Munchen, Germany
Brown colour. Malty and sweet with a fresh tangy citrussy edge. Bright with a bit of bitterness on the finish. Interesting mix of sweetness and richness and freshness. 7/10

So, to the Pilsner. In the late 1830s the people of Pilsen were upset about the quality of their beer. It wasn’t very good. Back in those days every town had its brewery: it was very regional. If their beer went bad people were really upset. But no one really knew why it was bad because at that time they didn’t understand yeast and spoilage: they had no understanding of microbes.

The solution? Pilsen decided to build a new brewery. They also recruited Bavarian brewer Josef Groll and sent him abroad to research brewing. He came back with some new ideas, including some ideas about malt he’d learned while in England. When these were implemented, the result that a new style of beer that was to take the world by storm. Pilsner Urquell, the original Pilsner, was first brewed in 1842.

People had never seen a beer like this before.

Pilsner Urquell The Original Pilsner, Plzen, Czech Republic
Malty and broad with nice texture and depth. Fresh but with a rich nutty, malty character. 7/10

What is special about Pilsner? First of all, the malt: a very specific Moravian barley. The hops are distinctive, too: Saaz, with a specific flavour, high in aromatics but low in bitterness. The water: soft sandstone, with few ions in the water. This placates the hops and makes them seem softer and rounder.

Pilsner brewers were originally ale brewers, and they began to learn about lager brewing. They didn’t understand yeast at the time. They knew there was something going on, but it wasn’t specific. The lager yeast was cleaner than anything they had before.

Underneath the town they dug out 9 km of underground cellars to keep their barrels in. These cool cellars were part of the production process, because they allowed the specific bottom fermentation used to make lager, rather than the ale top fermentation.

But it was the kilning of the malt, without direct heat, that was really revolutionary. Back then the grains were kilned in direct fire heat, so some were burned. These dark, burned grains don’t work, and the underdone grains don’t work either. Indirect heat created a consistent pale malt that no one had seen before. Add this to the local hops, and it produced a beer that people went mad for.

The development of the railways (enabling the easy movement of beer) and the availability of Bohemian glass also contributed to the rise of pilsner. Previously people had drunk beer out of opaque steins and now with the Bohemian glass, suddenly people could see what they were drinking. And the development of refrigeration, allowing people to enjoy their beer cold, also helped.

But the town of Pilsen didn’t have any intellectual property rights with Pilsner, and others soon began making it too.

The German reaction to pilsner was that their breweries tried to make their own version. We tried one: the Bitberger Premium.

Bitburger Premium Beer, Eifel, Germany
4.4.% alcohol. Herby, hoppy, fresh and bright. Nice citrus. Tangy with nice acidity. Lively and with some grip. 7/10

The next element of the German reaction to Pilsner was the Helles from Munich. In Munich, the younger generation recognized the need for their breweries to be commercially viable. Spaten was the first to try making a light-coloured beer. The Munich water is not soft, and it accentuates the hops, and it took until 1894 to make the Helles style. Helles means bright, and this was the first bright beer made in Munich.

Spaten Premium Lager, Munich, Germany
Fruity and malty with some sweetness on the palate. Nice nutty, yeasty character with some attractive toffee notes as well as lovely sweet fruity character. Refreshing and generous. 6.5/10

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Belgium had to respond to Pilsner too, and begin making lighter beers. The Duvel is made with Saaz hops and lighter malts, but it has personality. It is an ale: ales produce stronger aromas. It’s the recipe of the Pilsner with the twist of the Belgian yeast, which is a very specific strain.

Duvel Golden Ale, Belgium
Citrussy and intense with a hint of coriander and lovely vivid spiciness. It’s textured, yeasty and complex with a lovely vivid spiciness. Just delicious, fresh and pure. 8/10

How did the pilsner come to the USA? From the 1840s until 1900 a million people emigrated to the USA from Germany and Czechoslovakia. They brought their brewing techniques and yeasts. But it became expensive bringing ingredients over, and they realized they needed to start using American ingredients, such as barley and corn.

The reason corn became an ingredient is that the first barley-only beers they tried to make just didn’t taste good: the barley here is six row, rather than two. This has more protein content and doesn’t work so well. And they didn’t like the local hops. So they used corn to tone down the harshness of the malt and the American hops. This was actually a more expensive ingredient than barley back then. It’s more recently that corn and rice have been used as a cheaper sugar source to make more neutral, cheaper lagers.

The late 19th century really was a golden age of brewing in the USA.

Full Sail Brewing Company Session Premium Lager, Hood River, Oregon
Very interesting lemon, peach and tangerine fruitiness. Fresh with a bit of hoppiness. So fruity and pure with lovely precision. Nice tanginess, with real personality. 8/10

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If the late 19th century was the golden age, then the dark ages were 1933-1971. Prohibition had removed most of the small brewers, and the scene became dominated by the big breweries. The USA went from regionality and specificity to commercial and national level scale. They brewed with more corn and more rice. The industry decided to target women, because most of the men were off at war. So they brewed nice light beers for women. People drank whatever the big breweries were making. It had become commoditized.

The revival began in the late 1960s when the Anchor Brewing Company was founded. In 1971 they produced their Anchor Steam beer.

When prohibition started there were 4000 breweries in the USA; in 1970 there were just 50. Now we are back to 3800.

So, the craft beer movement began, and the last thing that they wanted to make was a lager. They wanted lots of flavour. It has taken a long time for craft lagers to emerge, but now they are starting to become popular. The original craft brewers went for intense IPAs. Now we are seeing a reversal: people want something more refreshing and less hoppy.

Currently, in 2016, the sales of the big companies are dropping, so they are consolidating and buying smaller breweries. There’s the emergence of brands that look like craft. Over the last year there were 25 transactions where large brewers brought a small craft brewery.

We finished by trying thee craft PIls.

Victory Brewing Company Prima Pils, Downington, Pennsylvania
Lively complex and malty. Crisp with a herby, weedy hoppy edge to the bright citrus and pear fruit. Concentrated, complex and full flavoured with a lovely hoppiness and a bit of bitterness. 7.5/10

Real Ale Brewing Company Hans Pils, Blanco, Texas
Crisp and fresh with lovely refreshing citrussy notes, and also a tangy, spicy hoppiness. Taut and complex with nice weight. Intense and complex with nice precision of flavour. 7.5/10

Firestone Walker PIVO Hoppy Pils, Central Coast, California
So hoppy and detailed with nice herby, weedy hoppiness. Citrussy and bright with a grippy edge. Broad, complex, delicious and very hoppy. So distinctive. 8/10

 

 

Renaissance Paradox Pilsner, class from New Zealand

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Last time I was in New Zealand I had a lot of beer fun. They’ve got some really good breweries, including the Marlborough-based Renaissance. They started off in 2005 when Californian ex-pat brewers Andy Deuchars and Brian Thiel leased the Grove Mill in Blenheim. Interestingly, another of the top Kiwi breweries, 8 Wired, was started by ex-assistant brewer at Renaissance, Soren Eriksen. This beer, which I had at the New Zealand stand at Prowein a couple of days ago, really impressed me.

Renaissance Paradox Pilsner
4% alcohol
Full yellow colour, with lovely bright refreshing citrussy fruit and a well judged hoppy bite. There’s a bit of grip here and some nice spiciness. It’s fresh and very drinkable, but it also has nice complexity and detail. 8.5/10

Windsor & Eton Brewery Republika Pilsner Lager

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Now this is good. It’s a pilsner-style lager with a distinct Czech influence: the malt, hops and yeast are all Czech, and it was originally brewed as a collaboration between Windsor & Eton brewery and Tomas Mikulica of Pivovarsky Dvur. After fermentation the beer was stored at very low temperature for 6 weeks, a process known as ‘lagering’. The result is fabulous.

Windsor & Eton Brewery Republika Pilsner Lager
4.8% alcohol
Saaz hops and Czech yeast. Lovely aromatic nose is fresh, hoppy and citrussy, with some floral notes. Complex palate is very fresh and tangy with grapefruit notes. Proper lager. 8