Brown ale

The Beer Lover’s Table: A Mixed Cheese Plate and The Kernel India Brown Ale

January is a remarkably bad time for self-punishment, though we always convince ourselves that this darkest and dreariest of months is when we’ll finally get leaner, stronger, better. Spoiler: we won’t. We’re weary. We’re half-hibernating on the sofa, aware of the void in our wallets where money should be. The last thing we need, at this point, is to cut out carbs. Or cheese.

A cheese plate is, in fact, an extremely good January meal, because it requires little-to-no effort (beyond vague curatorial sensibilities), and is also absolutely comforting - perhaps best enjoyed while wrapped in a fleece blanket.

The idea that beer is a natural pairing partner for cheese - better, even, than wine - is by now well-established; given that beer lacks, in most cases, harsh tannins and over-the-top acidity, it shows a particular kinship for curds. There are numerous beer styles that could be classed as broadly “cheese-friendly”, from stouts and saisons to pale ales and bitters. If you’re looking to save money, though, or want to limit your drinking to a single beer, a hoppy brown ale may be the best all-rounder for everything on your cheese plate.

The Kernel’s India Brown Ale is a particularly worthy candidate. This beer isn’t a one-note malt bomb: its first impression, in fact, is its vibrant aroma, fruitful with hops. This most recent iteration of the beer was brewed with Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic hops, meaning you might detect pineapple on the nose, or perhaps mango. It pours with a generous, aerated head that takes long minutes to diminish, and which resembles proving bread dough. On the palate it has some malty profundity, and tastes even a little bit like Scandinavian rye bread, but closes out with a rumbling bitterness.

It’s a multi-faceted creature, this beer: at once roasty, subtly sweet, brightly aromatic, and resoundingly bitter. It transforms a little bit with every mouthful of cheese, its various attributes at turns receding or coming to the fore.

Alongside aged Gouda, for instance - pocked with crunchy tyrosine crystals, rich like butterscotch - it harmonises sweetly. When paired with earthy, sharp Isle of Mull Cheddar, or nutty Mimolette, it offers rusticity, a bit of bite. Blue cheese and stout are famously well-matched, and while this brown ale doesn’t quite share the richness or body of a stout, it’s still dark enough to pair affably with my wedge of Roquefort. You could also do well serving it with Alpine-style cheeses like Gruyere or Comté, or employing it like a saber to cut through the sticky pungency of a washed-rind cheese à la Stinking Bishop or Époisses.

The point is: this beer is so agreeable that it hardly matters which cheeses you pick to go with it. Find whatever catches your eye. Get some crackers, maybe, or some jam or honey, but there is no loss of dignity in eating cheese without a vehicle or accoutrements. Hunker down until all of this (gestures vaguely at the outside world) passes by.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is published by Dog’n’Bone Books in March 2019. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.

#HBBAdvent Beer 17: Wild Beer Rooting Around - Autumn (Somerset)

Wild Beer says: Rooting Around - Autumn seeks to harness the flavour of Autumn with the use of a fig tree. Toasty, roasted and nutty malt flavours perfectly capture the darker nights and crisp chill in the air. Fig fruits work perfectly with this malty backbone however toasted fig leaves are the star ingredient here. They impart a lightly toasted coconut character which marries with the fig fruits and contrasts the tannic bite of the fig wood.

We say: If you, by some odd chance, happen to have Tom Waits’ Hard Ground poetry book, this is the time to get it out. The combination of poems of dismay and Michael O’Brian’s desolate photographs pair well with this easy-drinking brown ale. Having arrived home completely drenched by the December rain, the bleak portraits of often overlooked Americans put my situation in perspective. The message in the poems about the hard ground many struggling Americans have to journey, like this beer, doesn’t have to be shocking to be delightful.

Although it almost seems absurd to draw an analogy between a beer and the dreary photographs and poems in Hard Ground, the brown ale style can easily be overlooked. In a time where the craze for hop-bombs and chocolate-pie-stouts appears neverending, there is often no place for a light brown ale like this. Nevertheless, we have selected you a fitting autumn edition brown ale with figs, and it’s a damn tasty one as well. - Joris

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 22: Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar, 5.6% (US)

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Each night, we'll post a blog about the day's hand-picked beer in our Big Beery Advent Calendar - why we love the brewery, why we've chosen the beer, why we think you'll love it too. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter.

Rogue says: "A nutty twist to a traditional European Brown Ale. Dark brown in color with a hazelnut aroma, a rich nutty flavor and a smooth malty finish."

We say: Christmas in a glass! Beer does not get more festive than this. Proper special pudding beer.

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 8: Howling Hops Running Beer Brown Ale, 4% (East London)

Each night at 8pm, we'll post a blog about the day's hand-picked beer in our Big Beery Advent Calendar - why we love the brewery, why we've chosen the beer, why we think you'll love it too. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter.

Howling Hops says: "Brown Ale with Citra, Chinook and Centennial" 

We say: Howling Hops are one of the best of the new breed of London breweries around right now, making a terrific range of beers at their great-looking brewery and tank bar over in Hackney Wick. We currently stock four of their beers but as soon as we have room on shelf, we’ll stock more as we’ve been impressed with pretty much everything we’ve tried so far. This brown ale hopped with Citra, Chinook and Centennial has something rather delicate about it, while not skimping on any flavour. Brown ales make for terrific matches for food and the strong malt base makes them an especially good partner for meat. However this is such a tasty, subtle beer, you could probably match it with anything.