I’m going to let everyone in on a little secret. This is probably the best beer and food pairing out there. Hands down. There might be others like it, but not too many, and certainly not many you can get together here in New Brunswick.
Barleywine and Blue Cheese. That’s it. Ten dollars and your mind is blown.
I chose Picaroons’ Winter Warmer for a couple reasons. Firstly, it’s the only semi-barleywine you can get here in this fine province (with the rare exception of Fuller’s Vintage, which may come in once a year for a couple weeks). Secondly, it’s actually pretty good this year (it varies year to year), with lots of malt sweetness and a decent hop bitterness to keep the sweetness from going overboard. Not to mention that it’s a very flavourful beer, something you’ll need up against a funky blue.
For the cheese I picked up a Stilton from Sobey’s, though the Castella is about half the price and just a little bit less funky, so probably better for the money if you’re just trying this out. Check the Boyce Farmer’s Market too; there’s lots of cheese being sold there, as anyone who’s tried to get down that aisle will tell you. Blue cheese is super flavourful and farmy-tasting; I can’t help but think I’m at King’s Landing every time I try it. It’s a bit dry, and lingers in your mouth forever, so if you’re not used to it, you may want to have the barleywine in hand. The funkiness of the cheese is just the perfect counterpoint to the sweetness in the beer, and the hops and carbonation cut through the fat in the cheese so that it doesn’t weigh down on your palate.
I really can’t stress enough how good this pairing is, and how easy it is to do yourself. No cooking at all! There’s certainly other excellent pairings out there, and I’ll get to them, but this is, in my opinion, both the simplest and most satisfying.