The crowd at EJ Phair’s Ale House Belgian beer, cheese tasting.
I don’t think I’d been in a bar on Thanksgiving eve since my single days. But the promise of a Belgian beer and cheese tasting at EJ Phair Alehouse brought me out.
Wow! This very sweet pub on Todos Santos Square in downtown Concord was jumping. Since J.J. Phair opened the pub in 2005, replacing an endless line of cookie cutter chain eateries, it’s become the place in this part of Contra Costa County to find good beer. The Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts, a big Coco homebrew club meets here and I often find club members almost any time I drop by.
Wednesday night, I found Mike McDole, with his adult sons, sampling the beer. Mike won the Sam Adams Longshot Contest last year and his double IPA, a takeoff on Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, will be distributed nationwide this winter, Read about it here.
EJ Phair, the craft brewery, is located in a warehouse at 975 Detroit Ave. about a mile away, so the beer at the pub’s always well-stocked with fresh beer. They also have a long list of guest beers on tap and have just added Belgians, as well.
The “beer du jour” this month is Barrel-Aged Shorty’s Revenge, a 7.75 percent English-style amber ale. J.J. said the regular Shorty’s was aged four months in a Heaven Hill bourbon barrel. When they tasted it, they realized there was too much wood, too much bourbon in the beer. So they began tasting it with different amounts of regular Shorty’s added.
They wound up with a 50/50 blend and that’s what’s being served at the pub this month. It has a mild bourbon nose. The tasted is dry with just a faint bit of sweetness with vanilla and bourbon in the finish. It’s an excellent wood-aged beer and worth a trip to Concord to try it.
At the pub, they’ve created a small, semi-private dining room behind the back bar, where they hold beer dinners and Wednesday night, the cheese and beer pairing. The price was $20 and the little dining room was full. EJ Phair chef Brian Hampton chose the cheese, J.J. picked the beer.
The first pairing was Grimbergen Blonde** from Brasserie d’l’Union and Piave Vecchio, an Italian cow”s milk cheese with with mild, herbal sweetness. The beer, a so-so blonde disappeared in this excellent cheese.
Next was Affligem Dubbel*** from Affligem and Morbier, a semi-soft, French cow’s milk cheese. This was an excellent pairing. The beer tasted sweet; the cheese was soft and tart. The tartness of the cheese and the sweetness of the dark dubbel made it a taste delight,
The third pairing, Chimay Blue*** from the Trappist brewery and Chimay Grand Cru cheese, also from the monastery. It’s a perfect pairing. The beer is malty with a sharp finish and the cheese, a soft, yellow cheese, simply melts in the mouth. I would love to try Chimay cheese with the brewery’s new keg-conditioned Cinq Cents. The cheese, by the way, can be found at any good cheese store in the Bay Area. Check out my list here.
It was an interesting pairing. Tasted one after the other, the cheese seemed almost tart and the usually way-sour Duchesse tasted mellow, with only a slight sourness. I’ll try this one again.