At the 39th annual Winter Fancy Food Show, held at San Francisco’s Moscone Center last month, more than 1,300 companies from around the world highlighted an incredible diversity of food and beverage products from artisanal cheeses and charcuterie to microwavable prepared meals.
Of course, I went in search of beer-infused and beer-related products, and I found that beer appeared in two significant segments of the specialty-food products at the show: cheese and candy.
Beer and cheese share an affinity as products that are both fermented, in addition to tasting great together.
Two cheesemakers highlighted the relationship between cheese and beer in different ways. Cypress Grove Chevre, a goat-cheese producer from Arcata, served cheese samples with two different beers from North Coast Brewing Co. in Mendocino and a cider from Ace Cider in Sebastopol. The pairings brought out the complex flavors of both products. Cypress Grove Marketing Director Jason Baxter said they initially planned to recommend specific beers with specific cheeses but decided to let people make their own combinations because each beer brought out different characteristics in each cheese. My personal favorite pairing was the Sgt. Pepper cheese, a slightly tangy goat cheese with spicy chili threads, with the smooth roastiness of the North Coast Old No. 38 Stout.
Rogue Creamery, based in Central Point, Ore., took things a step further. As Francis Plowman, whose business card identifies him as the “Cheese Narrator” for Rogue, said, “The next step in the cheese world beyond beer and cheese pairing is to put it right in the vat.” Since 2004, Rogue has incorporated beer directly into the cheesemaking process, and it currently offers seven different beer cheeses. Four of the cheeses feature beer or ingredients from Rogue Ales, which is not formally connected to Rogue Creamery despite the Rogue name. Several cheeses incorporate porters or stouts (including Rogue Chocolate Stout, Caldera Mogli Porter and Hopworks Survival Stout), each with different flavor balances but highlighting the distinct roast and chocolate notes of these styles. The Hopyard Cheese is a salty, smooth, buttery, medium-sharp cheddar with an herbal bitter finish from hops pressed into the cheese.
Beer also made an appearance in several candy products, some more successful than others. One highly touted product debut at the Fancy Food Show was Jelly Belly’s “Draft Beer”-flavored jelly beans. The golden beans, with an iridescent “foam” finish, actually look like beer in a glass. However, while the chemically-produced flavor of beer is unmistakable, I have to confess to not really enjoying this candy. I found the beans to taste like a slightly stale mass-produced cheap beer – the possibilities of craft beer flavor are endless, but Jelly Belly went for the lowest common denominator.
Annette’s Chocolates from Napa served two versions of Beer Brittle – regular and “Firey” with spicy peppers. While the brittles were certainly tasty, the flavor contribution of the “local amber ale” was quite subtle. Beercandy Inc., featured in my December column on gift ideas, distributed thousands of samples of its Hopdrops, Beercaramels and Beertaffy. While Beercandy has been producing its beer-infused caramels since 2009, other producers have joined in. Chicago’s Vosges Haut-Chocolat, known for its bacon and chocolate bars, also had a Smoke & Stout Caramel Bar on exhibit, featuring Rogue Chocolate Stout beer and alderwood-smoked salt with burnt sugar caramel and 70 percent cacao dark chocolate.
Derek Wolfgram is chief communications officer for the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club in Los Altos Hills, which welcomes both new and experienced beer enthusiasts. For more information, visit sudzers.org.