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Pairings: Commonwealth on Queen
Beer pairings are super popular now (as beer begins to be considered more refined) and many great restaurants are offering full meals paired with a selection of local and national craft beers. Beer tastings are a course by course expedition of deliciousness. Well, Commonwealth on Queen (aka CoQ) and Craft Tastings recently redefined the concept of beer pairings with two simple words: grilled cheese.
Not that I need a special reason to drive into the city, but I wasn’t going to miss an excursion to downtown Lancaster for this.
The idea for a craft beer and gourmet grilled cheese pairing sprung from the mind of Greg Orth of Lancaster-based Craft Tastings. With his invitation I made my way to CoQ to learn what Craft Tastings was all about. Craft beer aficionados filed into the stylish, farm-to-fork café and were immediately welcomed with a selection of meats and cheeses and an ice-breaker glass of Sierra Nevada. Eventually, Greg — who hosts each event with his wife Jackie — asked all of us to find a seat. I went alone, but the communal atmosphere of the event would work wonderfully for a couple’s date or for a large group of friends. I settled in with my neighbors and anxiously awaited our “first course.”
Pairing One: Otto’s Apricot Wheat and The Conestoga Cheddar. In 2002, the tiny Otto’s Pub and Brewery opened in State College. Having experienced great growth Otto’s now bottles some offerings. Otto’s Apricot Wheat (4.7 ABV) is light and refreshing and paired magically with the simplicity of the sandwich: a local cheddar cheese on sesame wheat bread. As a bonus, this sandwich was served with a spoonful of plum jam.
Pairing Two: Iron Hill Rauchbier and The Smoke Stack. Iron Hill is well known in Eastern PA, but their Rauchbier is part of the brewery’s Bottled Reserves collection. The smoky German lager — think bacon, not campfire — weighs in at a paltry 3.8 ABV, perfect as a BYOB for a Sunday brunch. The CoQ crew paired this rich beer with a grilled ciabatta stuffed with thinly sliced Granny Smith apples and smoked black pepper cheddar. This is the sandwich for black pepper fans!
Pairing Three: Troegs Perpetual and The Blind Date. Probably the most commonplace craft brew on the list, Perpetual is a 7.5 ABV Imperial IPA that utilizes seven different hop verities throughout the brewing process. The hopiness of the beer accentuated the bleu cheese and dates in The Blind Date. Get it? Dates.
Pairing Four: Founder’s Breakfast Stout and The ‘Gasm. For the “desert” round of the evening, CoQ offered an insanely good sandwich: a goat cheese, Nutella, peanut butter, strawberry spread grilled cheese on a light and crispy broche. Hidden inside were bits of habanero-dusted candied walnuts. I’m starting to salivate just remembering it! It paired nicely with the popular, rich stout, which cooled the subtle heat from the nuts.
As it turned out, pairing number one was my overall favorite. The simplicity of the dish provided a lot of natural flavors and heightened the taste of the beer, and vice versa. CoQ’s next tag team with Craft Tastings is on July 17. Orth isn’t quite sure of the focus; he’s thinking “suds and sausage” or his popular beer and chocolate presentations. Keep Hop’in Around!
Michael C. Upton works as a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure, covering subjects ranging from funk punk to fine wine. He invites your comments and suggestions at facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.