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.