The first time I wrote about craft beer culture was nearly a decade ago, and it was about craft beer and cheese. The guy who billed himself as the “Beer Trekker” was having a beer and cheese pairing in the area and, because it was beer, I did a newspaper story on it for the Bayside Gazette. I recalled only being vaguely aware of Craft Beer. There were still rumors that a brew pub might open in Salisbury, but other than Dogfish Head, craft beer wasn’t an Eastern Shore thing. Still, the cheese aspect of it appealed to me, so I called up the Beer Trekker and did an interview.

I won’t comment upon the newspaper’s relationship to the Internet except to say that the archives don’t go back that far, but my takeaway from the conversation was that cheese paired better with beer than it did wine. While that isn’t 100 percent true (it’s an apples and oranges kind of thing) the conversation more than anything else, hipped me to the notion of craft beer a having a taste experience aspect. As craft beer exploded, I came to believe that the notion of pairing beers and cheese was a part of everyone’s life as it was mine. Although I never had too refined a palate I developed a deep appreciation for the flavor combinations and the possibilities they held.

When I came on as part of the Shore Craft Beer team and we were discussing themes for a talk and tasting event a cheese pairing seemed almost too on the nose, but as I asked around, apparently not a lot of people remembered my beer trekker story from 2007. Moreover, many of the brewers were real excited about the prospect. The folks at the Clarion Fountainebleau tend to be up for anything upscale and awesome and, just like that, the event was on. By the time we were ready to go we had nine breweries signed up.

What made the event a success from my perspective, besides the turnout, was that a number of restaurateurs and staffers from some of the better places in the area really enjoyed the event. As food pros, many of them knew how well craft beer and cheese could pair, but I don’t know how many understood how excited everyone else was about the possibilities. A lot of the brewers met a lot of the people who buy or might buy their beer and were able to give them one more selling option.

Beyond even that, many of the “civilians” who attended left with a brand new appreciation for the breadth and depth of beer flavors. To be honest, if you’ve read this far down a beer blog, you probably already are a convert, but a lot of people saw another way to think about craft beer. Think of it this way: By now, everyone of age who is drinking craft beer already has a reason. These talk and tastings are aimed at giving people who aren’t interested a new in to the craft beer culture, which is an important way to keep beer vibrant in the region.

People enjoying beer
Lots of industry professionals stayed on after the official event to mingle with the brewers and re-sample some of their favorite beers.

On to the (beer and cheese) show

I want to talk about all of the breweries and I’ll do it in order, but first let’s talk about the order.

In case for some reason you skipped to the fourth paragraph, I don’t have a really sensitive palate. I know some precepts and tenets of tasting. I can pick out concrete flavors but my real skill is talking about the whys of craft beer more than the whats or hows. I had tasted all of the beers that were to be presented and even some of the cheeses but I reverted to the most basic thing I knew: Taste by color.

In general terms, if you go from light to dark beers, you’ll be OK as long as we’re talking about basic, predictable beers. To their credit there were so many subtleties in most of these beers that we were almost too fortunate. Still, I got a little razzing for my order choices but the beers cheeses and presentations all were stellar on their own, which deflected too many people from noticing the order.

Click on each of the beer pairings to read my account, or just click next.

3rd Wave Sandstorm Belgian Tripel with Apricot Stilton

Evo Crystal Row American Strong Ale with Gouda

Tall Tales Paul Bunyan Strong Ale with Roquefort

Assawoman Angry Clown Brown Ale with Maytag Blue Cheese

Dogfish Head Brewing Indian Brown Ale with Smoked Gouda

Mispillion River Brewing Space Otter with Red Dragon cheese

Fin City Capitano’s Winter Stout with Smoked Cheddar

Fordham and Dominion Morning Glory Espresso Stout with Stilton

Ocean City Brewing Company Nuckin Futz with Baked Brie covered with maple syrup and candied walnuts

Tony Russo
Author: Tony Russo

Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies and dailies before joining the team that produces OceanCity.com and ShoreCraftBeer.com among other destination websites. In addition to having documented everything from zoning changes to art movements on the Delmarva Peninsula, Tony has written two books on beer for the History Press. Eastern Shore Beer was published in 2014 and Delaware Beer in 2016. He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their two dogs comfortable.

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