Expecting a beer, we talked at length about blue cheese.
“As opposed to something like Brie, blue cheese matches the strong flavor of an IPA and so it enhances the taste for both,” Amy Newell-Large says.
Part brewer, part bartender and part teacher at Niwot’s Powder Keg Brewing Company, Newell-Large taught a monthly class (with rotating topics) the previous night at the brewery, pairing IPAs with the aforementioned cheese, carrot cake and an Indian curry for about 35 patrons.
So how do you get from beer to blue cheese, I asked. Well, there are three ways to pair beer with food, Newell- Large says: same, complementary or opposite.
Take cheese to start. Fresh blue cheese has a sharp, rank essence, much like the nostrilflaring dankness of a strong IPA.
Pairing these two, Newell-Large says, opens up the flavor of both. Milder cheeses, like Brie, will get washed out in hoppy beer — in fact, they’d be better with a Scotch or Brown Ale, whose malty, baseline richness would elevate the flavors of a milder cheese. That’s a complement like a Whopper candy.
Then there are opposites. Some folks like the spice-on-spice hybrid of an IPA and a curry dish. Though the capsaicin released in spicy foods (which makes your tongue and lips burn) is neutralized with alcohol, many IPAs actually increase both the spicy heat and the taste of spices in dishes like curry. For many, an IPA paired with a dish like French onion soup or an apple cobbler (dryer IPAs are ideal for sweet desserts, Newell-Large says) would be better, both neutralizing the gumption of the IPA and elevating the subtler notes of the onion or the apple.
Learning about beer flavor isn’t limited to the monthly “Niwot Drinking Buddy” classes, however. Powder Keg’s Haystack Hopback is a class in a glass.
The Haystack is a medium-bodied American Pale Ale with hops grown and harvested at a farm across the street. With strong flavors of pine, sage and grapefruit, you wonder how these flavors got in the beer when rinds, fruit and herbs weren’t added in brewing.
The answer is in the hops’ breed and freshness. The Haystack is made with Chinook and Cascade hops. Chinook hops provide a smoky, herbal flavor (sage), and are particularly flavorful when grown and brewed at high altitudes, Newell- Large says. Cascade hops will add moderate bitterness, flowery aroma and acidity, which all come through as grapefruit. Add them together and a subtle pine flavor is created from the total bitterness and herbal content.
Powder Keg highlights also include a rich oatmeal stoat, several saisons and a wonderful German Helles-Style lager.
Right at the edge of Second Avenue and the railway, with big glass windows showing the amber waves and purple mountains’ majesty, whopping yellow Edison lights over the bar and brick walls and a TV so highly defined that it makes you care about baseball, the ambiance at Powder Keg is right for Niwot, and a good atmosphere to enjoy — and learn about — craft beer.
And if you’re up for more arbitrary learning, Tuesday nights are for “Nerd Talks,” with upcoming topics like “The motion of disks sliding and spinning across a horizontal plane” and “The history of the telescope.”