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I love pairing beer with dessert. Although many people would drink beer with any other dish, they'd be surprised if you brought out beer with after-dinner sweets. But the flavors inherent in beer—caramel, grain, chocolate, fruit, and even baking spices&mdashmake it a wonderful partner for whatever post-meal treat you can devise.
This Caramelized Orange Cheesecake brings together a number of different textures and complex flavors, which makes it both a joy and a challenge to pair. There's the toasty brown sugar of the crust supporting the creamy orange chiffon and light lactic sourness of the cheesecake. The topping is a study in contrast with the caramel-sweet and intensely fruity syrup playing off of the pithy bitterness of the candied orange peel. All of these elements have to be considered when searching for the right beer.
When pairing beer and cheesecake, you'll want to lean toward the sweeter side. A little bitterness goes a long way, but too much makes the beer seem harsh. Sweeter porters will work better than more intensely roasty stouts. Beers that may seem ideal when tasted alone, like citrusy saisons, take on an unpleasant bite when tasted with the cheesecake.
A sweeter Belgian tripel is a chorus-of-angels complement to this dish. Honeyed graham-cracker malt meets graham-cracker crust and sugar-syrup sweetness. Pillowy Belgian yeast complements the creamy cake, while effervescent carbonation washes it away. Fruity notes in the beer enhance the candied orange topping and just the right amount of bitterness pairs with the bitter pith.
For contrast, look to English porters and brown ales. They have a bit less roasted bitterness than stouts, but still enough to balance the dessert's sweetness and give a nice coffee kick. A base of toasty brown-sugar flavors speaks to the crust, while light bitterness stands up to the orange peel. The combination of English yeast strains and earthy English hops yields delicate orange-marmalade overtones that really set the pairing off.
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Michael's Beer Picks
Tripel Karmeliet: This is the OMG pairing to this recipe. Honey and graham cracker. Yeasty, cotton-candy sweetness. Citrusy overtones with an orange bent. Karmeliet is just like this desert in liquid form and the cheesecake is Karmeliet made solid. Try it.
Maredsous 10: This beer has a honeyed bread base, with layers of banana, tangerine, and orange on top. Full-bodied candi-sugar sweetness with a dry, crisp finish.
Allagash Tripel Reserve: This domestic Tripel has honey sweetness up front with a dry, bitter finish that gives way to long-lingering honey flavors. In between are bananas, oranges, and herbs.
English Porters and Brown Ales
Meantime London Porter: A perfect match. This beer is on the sweeter side, but it's balanced. Caramel with some roasted malt astringency in the finish. Light orange overtones from Fuggle hops and English yeast strains. Delightful with cheesecake.
Samuel Smith Taddy Porter: Toffee and caramel sweetness with notes of chocolate roast. Underlying dark fruits and a light hint of lactic sourness, which works with the dessert beautifully.
Surly Bender: Slightly higher bitterness makes it nice when biting a bit of candied orange. Smooth toasty malt. The cheesecake pulls out a gentle hint of oranges in the beer.
About the Author: Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is the lead educator and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts beer tastings for private parties and corporate events. His beer musings can be read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, his own Perfect Pint Blog, The Hop Press at Ratebeer.com, the City Pages Hot Dish Blog, and in respected national beer magazines.