This pairing is somewhat accidental. The two products, Hop Stoopid Ale from Lagunitas Brewing Co., and Original Blue Cheese, the farmstead cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., are made just 25 miles from one another in northern California.  When a bottle of the beer and a wedge of the cheese each found their own way into the fridge at the house I now share with an old friend, a little light went off in my head. I had planned to do some more pairings featuring big hoppy beers, and more with blue cheeses, so here we have both. This is also a testament to the availability of great beer and cheese in the U.S. – these two wonderful creations are readily available (at supermarkets no less) in Chicago, thousands of miles from their neighboring homes.

Original Blue is the flagship of Point Reyes, a lovely family-owned company that morphed from progressive dairy farm to farmstead cheesemaker in the year 2000.  Original Blue has won numerous awards including, early this year, a gold medal Sofi award from the National Association for Specialty Food Trade (NASFT).   Hop Stoopid is a remarkable double IPA from Lagunitas, which began brewing in 1993 and has become well-known from coast to coast for its assertive beers.  Hop Stoopid weighs in at 8% alcohol and a ridiculous-sounding 102 IBUs of hops, but somehow manages to offer a lovely, balanced drinking experience. The company gives some possible explanation by divulging on the label that hop oils and extracts are used (rather than whole hops) in order to impart a cleaner hop flavor.

So let’s see if they have come to dance.

First the beer: Hop Stoopid comes in a 22-oz. bottle with a label that departs drastically from Lagunitas’ label graphic theme. Ours pours with a brassy color, a slight haze, and good carbonation, with a steady stream of bubbles, and a lasting white head. It presents a huge, amazing aroma of piney, citrusy hops and brown sugar malt.

The first sip explodes with a ton of malt flavor—sweet caramel, bakery flavors, and juicy fruit gum. That sweetness is punctuated, but not overwhelmed by all that hopiness—fruity, citrus, American hop flavors, and earthy bitterness, with a dry bitter finish. There are no medicinal, or solvent flavors that often come with overly hopped beers. After a few sips we don’t feel like we need to go to the dentist, if you know what I mean. The mouthfeel is full, but not thick, and the dry-ish finish maintains that balance of malt and hops. Nothing unpleasant here.

The cheese: I picked up the wedge from an upscale Dominick’s grocery store in Chicago. Original Blue is folded in a foil label, and ours came wrapped in shrink plastic. Just noticed that our pre-cut, wedge was slightly damaged in the busy open case at the store. The “nose” of the wedge is shmushed, and in some places there seems to be some post-packaging mold. You would not get these slight defects from a cut-to-order specialty store. That said, 95% of our wedge is in perfect condition.  It displays an ivory paste with specks or flecks of blue green underneath, and some blue green pin marks down the face of the wedge. The curd formation is visible at the back of the wedge. The curds must have been cut to the size of a pea. The aroma is lactic and cheesy enough that if it were a beer, it would smell like old hops.  As a cheese, fresh cream mingles with the acrid piquancy of the penicillin mold. It smells like a blue. The flavor is a mix of cream, salt, and lemon chicken soup. It’s all caught up in a creamy, soft, texture, so delicate it melts in your mouth, and feels as if it would melt if you just breathed on it. That soft melting texture means that there is no thick coating left on the palate once the cheese is swallowed.

Beer and cheese: With a sip of Hop Stoopid after the bite of Original Blue, the flavors mingle nicely as the beer washes across the tongue. There is not much texture left from the cheese, but plenty of flavor. Those bright cheese flavors contrast with and accentuate the rich, malt flavor of the beer. Hoppy flavors jump in and complement the piquancy and lemony flavors of the cheese. The intensity is in nearly-perfect balance. Place the cheese and beer into the mouth together, and the already-moist cheese turns into liquid—a liquid with a bright, spicy flavors. The creaminess of the cheese and the complex malty flavors of the beer also dance nicely together. Like many blue cheeses, Original Blue has no rind. To add texture, we used a salty, sesame cracker and pecan halves. The pair stood up nicely to the accouterments, and the mingling flavors and textures were delicious.

All told, this is a wonderful, amazing pair.  We found no reason to give it any less than Five out of Five stars. As mentioned, the geographic proximity of these two was serendipitous. That’s nice, but it is likely that you could just as easily take a great blue cheese from say, Center Point, Ore., or Faribault, Minn., and pair it with a balanced big hoppy beer from say, Colorado, Munster, Ind., or even Florida, in order to come up with a winner.

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