Vegan Beer & Cheese Pairing

Vegan Beer & Cheese Pairing

Written by Oliver Coningham on 17 August 2016 in Food Pairing

For many years beer has enjoyed an intimate association with dairy. There is an innate compatibility between the two seemingly different products. At their most fundamental level, both begin in the ground; barley, wheat and other grains for beer, grass for cows. This kinship is furthered by the almost symbiotic relationship where spent brewing grains are sent to farmers to be used as feed for livestock.

The connection doesn't end there, with a number of breweries uniquely linked to the dairy industry. Either located on dairy farms themselves, as in the case of The Wild Beer Co at Westcombe Dairy in Somerset, or those that adopted sites previously occupied by dairies. In order to reduce start-up costs others are making use of ex-dairy equipment; large stainless steel tanks are reused as fermentation vessels.

In Episode 133 of The Beer O'Clock Show podcast, Stu McKinlay from New Zealand's Yeastie Boys notes: "For over 20 years New Zealand's brewing scene has been based around old dairy equipment. Almost every brewery you could walk around and think that used to be making cheese or that one there was holding milk". Agriculture makes up the largest sector of the country's tradable economy and as dairy farms increase in size, the smaller tanks are no longer required.

Nearly 10,000km away from these antipodean breweries, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was founded using equipment that was repurposed or custom built. The brewery was established in 1980 by Ken Grossman who spent many months travelling through rural dairy communities in both California and Oregon seeking scrap stainless steel tanks and furnishings to use for his brewery. Grossman even taught himself welding in order to adapt what he found for his needs.

In craft beer bars throughout the country you will see beer and cheese pairing events or the option of a cheeseboard to accompany your flight of beer. It's easy to see why; a food group that is nearly as diverse as beer itself, requiring minimal space to store and prepare. It fits comfortably with the idea of craft beer as another artisan product that is handmade, often in small quantities.

Vegans now have access to an exciting and varied range of dairy-free cheese. Most of which are available from the free-from section in supermarket chillers or independent health food shops. From delicious cream cheeses with spring onions or sweet chilli to a spectrum of cheddars ranging mild to smoked. The old adage "I'd love to go vegan, but I can't live without cheese" seems insignificant when faced with so many alternatives.

When will see start to see craft beer bars offer vegan cheese as part of their food selection?

Bute Island Foods began in 1988 with the creation of a Cheddar style soya-based cheese alternative created around a farmhouse kitchen table on the small island of Bute. Located off the West Coast of Scotland, Bute Island Foods have since moved into various different buildings, the most recent in 2013, which allowed them to increase their production capacity by 400%. Tesco stores across the country stock Sheese under their own-brand free-from range - including Smoked Soya and Strong Soya Cheddar Style Spread - in the chiller cabinets. In 2014 they were approached by Holland & Barrett who now also stock Sheese. Thanks to this, vegan cheese is now available in almost every major city and town across the United Kingdom. When will see start to see craft beer bars offer vegan cheese as part of their food selection?

The principles of matching beer and food - those of contrast, complement and cut - can easily be applied to vegan cheese. Seek to find a balance in the weight and intensity of the beer and vegan cheese pairing. Light pilsners paired with a vegan blue cheese or strong barleywines with a soft vegan cream cheese will not work. Find a beer where the flavours either complement or contrast those of the cheese. Some pairings work better when the flavours are similar, such as a delicate wheat beer with a soft cream cheese. Whereas other pairings are exceptional when the flavours contrast each other such as sweet with salt. Beer's carbonation also allows the bubbles to quickly move the mouth coating flavours away.

Creamy Sheese Original paired with Samuel Smith Organic Strawberry Fruit Beer (5.1%)

Fruit beers are much maligned, usually for being overly sweet and sickly. That's not the case here with a beer of considerable strength blended beautifully with pure organic strawberry juice. Fruit beers often sit alongside light and delicate cheeses like soft mascarpone.

The savoury flavours of Creamy Sheese Original are much stronger than its dairy counterpart, more akin to whipped cheddar. When served alone, this pairing increases both the body and texture of the beer. The berry sweetness comes through as a top note, sweetening the palate. The addition of ripe tomatoes and fragrant basil ascends this initial pairing. Reminiscent of a tomato, basil and cheese tart with the fruit beer acting as a sweet syrup drizzled above, almost balsamic like.

Creamy Sheese Original paired with Samuel Smith Organic Strawberry Fruit Beer

Creamy Sheese Original paired with Samuel Smith Organic Strawberry Fruit Beer

You could also try making a plain vegan cheesecake with Creamy Sheese Original and pairing it with the same fruit beer. Just avoid putting any fruit in the dessert and let the beer add this flavour instead.

Sheese White Cheddar Style paired with Fourpure Pils Lager (4.7%)

Lagers, not the bland yellow fizz, but those filled with clean, crisp flavours can be one of the finest beer styles available. Generally brewed with traditional German hops, they feature notes of honeysuckle, fresh lemon, earthy spices and cut grass. They pair well with light flavoured cheese, those that are soft in texture.

Sheese White Cheddar Style perfectly fits this description. It's mild in taste, but has an incredibly creamy texture that melts in the mouth and coats the tongue. There's a soft citrus nature to the flavour, finding a parallel with those in Fourpure's Pils Lager. The stronger carbonation of this golden elixir lifts the mouth-coating cheese, each tiny bubble carrying a piece away. You're left with the hints lemon and a bitterness that covers the back of the tongue.

Pilsners are an elegant match with spicy Mexican cuisine. They're made to go together with the spicy noble hops mirroring similar spices in the dish, the citrus notes like a squeeze of lime on top, while the bubbles scrub away any fattiness and pacifies the heat. Sheese White Cheddar Style, when grated, adds an authentic flavour and richness to a Mexican bean and TVP chili-non-carne. The pilsner lifts the cheese and creamy beans, again leaving the palate refreshed with delicate lemon. 

Sheese White Cheddar Style paired with Fourpure Pils Lager

Sheese White Cheddar Style paired with Fourpure Pils Lager

Sheese Greek Style paired with Moor Claudia (4.5%)

The release of Sheese Greek Style from Bute Island Foods was something of a revelation. Feta, along with halloumi, are perhaps the holy grail when it comes to vegan cheese. The former has been previously recreated with the inventive use of almonds while the latter still escapes most.

Sheese Greek Style shares a similar soft, almost crumbly texture with the dairy equivalent. It has the added benefit of melting too, perfect for creating a Greek pizza topping with olives and peppers. It's perhaps slightly less salty than traditional feta, but this dimension could be added by pairing it with the salinity and sourness of a Gose.

When paired with Claudia from Moor Beer Co, an American interpretation of the traditional Hefeweizen, it's a delicious and moreish combination. Claudia displays a perfumed aroma with plenty of stone fruits in the form of nectarines and apricots. The wheat lends itself to the full body and creamy mouthfeel. It's the ideal counterpoint to Sheese Greek Style adding a unique set of complimentary flavours.

For an even more flavoursome pairing, try making a vegan Greek salad with crunchy cucumber, olives and red onion. Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, suggests making an omelette with Granny Smith apples and feta cheese. A dish that could easily be veganised with chickpea flour and this dairy-free alternative.

Sheese Greek Style paired with Moor Claudia

Sheese Greek Style paired with Moor Claudia

Sheese Blue Style paired with BrewDog Mr. President (9.2%)

Sheese Blue Style is a vegan interpretation of a tangy and piquant blue cheese like Stilton. The appearance is different, missing the distinctive blue mould spores, which some recipes replicate using spirulina powder. The smell and taste of Sheese Blue Style is remarkable: strong, sharp and pungent.

There are many recipes that call for Stilton which you could easily replace with this vegan alternative, but that would adulterate the real pleasure of tasting this. Ideally it should be enjoyed on it's own with an equally strong beer that doesn't quake in its presence.

Rich and roasty Imperial Stouts - think Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout or Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout - full of vanilla, oak and dark dried fruits would beautifully balance the cheese. However, it's a strong Barleywine with toffee sweetness and fruity hops that finds harmony in this pairing.

BrewDog's Mr. President is thick and syrupy with a bitter finish. Golden syrup and caramel upfront leads to orange and grapefruit pith taste with stacks of resinous pine. Every mouthful similar to a rich fruit chutney, a classic pairing with this incredible blue-style vegan cheese. An experience to be truly savoured.

Sheese Blue Style paired with BrewDog Mr. President

Sheese Blue Style paired with BrewDog Mr. President

Disclaimer: After commenting on a Tweet from Bute Island Foods about the best vegan beer to pair with their vegan cheeses, they offered to send a selection of cheeses for me to enjoy and write about. They are products I would normally buy and do not feel their offer influenced my opinions of them.


Drink less. Drink better.