J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2007 and Cheese

I like cheese. I like beer. Beer and cheese go together incredibly well, however it all depends (obviously) on what type of beer you’re drinking and what type of cheese you’re eating. I really enjoy stating the obvious.

As one of those strange, foreign, New Zealand blokes, I absolutely love it that this country offers such a diversity. Not only in beer, but in the amount of both British and European cheeses that you can easily pick up. Even from a supermarket!


As part of my preparation for the British Guild of Beer Writers Barley Wine Seminar this year, I’ve been given the task of matching our Thornbridge Alliance Barley Wine with a cheese. So I thought a bit of practice might help me to make this most interesting of choices. Take one beer, add four cheeses. Masticate, enjoy, type.

The Harvest Ale pours a nice orange-brown and shows really poor head retention, the head disappears  in about 20 seconds and I made sure my glass was extra-clean! The first sip floods the mouth with toffee, a little marmite, some deep, rich orange notes, more juice than peel, and a hint of dried fig. It’s smooth on the swallow and the alcohol warms, it doesn’t burn.

Maximum shutter speed just to catch the head!!

Maximum shutter speed just to catch the head!!

First up is a Somerset Brie. Nice and ripe, unctuous and creamy with a little firmness in the rind that lets you feel like you can chew it instead of slurp it. Then there’s that tiny hint of ammonia. I love this in Brie. The riper the better and as I have just realised, this ripeness allows it to hold up well to the complexity of the Harvest Ale. The creaminess fills the mouth and is cleansed out by the alcoholic nature of the beer. I taste the cheese afterwards and get a little lingering fresh fig coming through from the beer this time.

Next up I go foreign with a Chevre Blanc. It’s bright, white rind slightly mushroomy with a more dense thick section of cheese leading into the delicious crumbly, creamy intense white interior. It gives me wonderful notes of fungus and damp forest floor on an Autumn day crossed with a wonderful, light lemon balm twist, bordering on fragrant lemon dishwashing liquid. Upon smelling deeply, there is almost a suggestion of tap water heavily dosed with chlorine. The first sip of beer yields something completely different. For the first time tonight I get a bit of bitterness coming through from the beer. It also highlights a slightly green note in the beer. Something sappy and unripe. I try again. The bitterness is there instantly and then the lemon and earth of the cheese follows. Nowhere near as good as the brie…

A Cropwell Bishop Stilton follows. Off white with the beautiful green-blue lacing we know all too well. I taste a piece and it takes me instantly to my Aunty and Uncle’s farm in Okato in New Zealand. It has a bit of barnyard funk to it. A little silage, a bit of cow-shit, but all fresh and green and digested grass. Not the intense smell I get from some farms in the UK with their barns and animals kept indoors at certain times of the year. I also get a bitterness. Although creamy, this bitterness coats the roof of my mouth and makes me feel like I need to drink something. I do. The beer floods my mouth. Sweetness, malty, salty marmite with some higher alcohol fruitiness coming through. It alleviates the weird bitterness that came from the cheese, but this returns soon after I swallow.

Finally I taste an Applewood Smoked Cheddar. Will the smoke work with the beer? The cheese smells and tastes wonderful. Soft, sweet smoke with some acidity and a great rich creaminess that makes Cheddar such a brilliant cheese. Sometimes I find a lot of yellow fruit characters, particularly pineapple in mature cheddar. Not this one. The smoke is dominant but not overpowering. The sip of beer causes the smoke to disappear. The smoothness hits the acidity and the contrast results in flavour fusion. It even allows a punch of acetaldehyde, that nice green apple flavour to pop out in the beer. Maybe it’s just the name of the cheese though. The Derren Brown effect or something…

Obviously a brewer took this photo. Definitely neither a chef with brilliant plating skills or a photographer of any ability...

Obviously a brewer took this photo. Definitely neither a chef with brilliant plating skills or a photographer of any ability...

My conclusion. I came into this expecting the Stilton to shine through as the winner. It’s often referred to as the ultimate companion to a Barley Wine. I was pleasantly surprised and think either the Brie or the Chevre Blanc walks away the winner. Must do this more often!

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