It was a weekend of sun, film, and unexpectedly delicious food and beer pairings. At this years’ Attack of the Big Beers, held at Copper Mountain Resort, festival-goers munched on grilled cheese sandwiches and sampled some big beers from eleven predominately local breweries, And let me tell you – these were not your average “let-me-make-something-real-fast” grilled cheeses. These sandwiches took the grilled cheese concept, went well past the idea of a “melt,” and delivered some of the most interesting renditions of this classic American snack we’ve ever seen.
If you’re an adult, and you’re spending the day out in the sun, what goes better with a gooey, cheesy sandwich than a cold sample of beer? Nothing. The answer is nothing. We’re going to break down our absolute favorite combinations at Attack of the Big Beers, even though everything we tried was absolutely fantastic. These are our picks:
1. Pork and Bourbon, Baby
- The Beer: Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout by Strange Craft Beer Company (Denver, CO)
- The Sandwich: Cherry-wood smoked pork belly & Wisconsin cheddar grilled cheese by Incline Grill (Copper Mountain)
- Why it Worked: Alright, so, imagine for a second that you’re camping. You’re sitting around the campfire, sharing a bottle of bourbon, while grilling over an open flame. Sounds like paradise, right? This sandwich was insanely good, only made better with the inclusion of Stange Craft’s bigtime bourbon-barrel stout. The sandwich is smoky and salty from the cheddar and pork belly, which contrasted the sweet, boozy notes in the dark and full-bodied beer. The stout had intense flavors; partially from the barrel-aging process, and partially from the massive amount of dark roasted grains present in the beer. I felt like this was important, as any lighter beers would most likely get drowned out by the sharpness of the white cheddar and the thick, buttery slices of challah that this sandwich came between.
2. Citrus and the Sea
- The Beer: Roadie Grapefruit Radler by Great Divide Brewing Company (Denver, CO)
- The Sandwich: The Admiral’s Grilled Cheese: lobster, blue crab, shrimp, and mascarpone provolone, by JJ’s Rocky Mountain Tavern (Copper Mountain)
- Why it Worked: When we left for Copper Mountain, we were expecting cool, cloudy weather. However, we were met by a hot mountain sun, and the Roadie was the perfect beer to cool off. It both smelled and tasted of delightfully sweet grapefruit, which complimented the sweetness in the lobster and crab in my sandwich perfectly. The beer finished with that distinct citrus bitterness, which worked to cut through all that sweetness and prevent it from feeling thick and sticky in your mouth. The beer was also light, crisp, and insanely refreshing, which was a nice counterpoint to how heavy the sandwich might have felt on its own. You know how you will generally squeeze a lemon over your seafood and then pair that meal with a white wine? The Roadie was able to fill both roles in a single glass, which made it the absolute perfect pair for this ridiculously tasty grilled cheese masterpiece.
3. East Asian Sensation
- The Beer: One More Frontier New England IPA by Outer Range Brewing Company (Frisco, CO)
- The Sandwich: Japanese grilled cheese with tomago, griddled ramen noodles, braised pork and cheddar by Storm King Lounge (Copper Mountain)
- Why it Worked: So, let me be clear: this sandwich didn’t taste like any grilled cheese I’ve ever had before, and cheese isn’t usually the first ingredient that comes to mind at a place known for its sushi. However, the sandwich by Storm King was absolutely delicious. The braised pork was earthy and smokey, but was instantly brightened up by the acidity in a layer of pickled beets. Finally, due to a generous portion of Gochujang, a spicy Korean pepper paste, the grilled cheese packed a fiery punch. From the spice, to the earthiness, to the acidity, this sandwich paired very well with the NEIPA by Outer Range Brewing. The beer had a citrusy, juicy hop content, which balanced out the strong flavors of the braised pork and complimented the acid content of the sandwich. Despite boasting an ABV of 7.3%, the beer had a delicate flavor and was clean enough to not kill my palate. I love a good citrus-forward beer, especially with Japanese or Korean food, so this beer and sandwich combo was absolutely on point for me.
4. Sweet and Spicy
- The Beer: Coco Cubed Curry Stout by The Bakers’ Brewery (Silverthorne, CO)
- The Sandwich: Manchego and white cheddar cheese with chorizo and quince spread by Endo’s Adrenaline Cafe (Copper Mountain)
- Why it Worked: Okay, first, let me tell you about this beer. It was insane – this was the first beer we tried at the festival, and we literally talked about it the entire day. It’s called the Coco Cubed because it’s made with cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, and toasted coconut. On top of that, the beer is packed with a bunch of different malts, some green curry powder, and some chilies – you know, for good measure. All this came together to make an absolutely beautiful beer. The sweet chocolatey flavors came out at the front of the beer, followed by a full mouth of roasty, toasty, malty flavors. You can get the slight spice from the chili and the curry at the finish – just enough to notice it, but not enough to ruin the beer (which is saying a lot coming from me, because I tend to hate chili in my booze). The sandwich featured a cut of quince spread, which was super sweet. Paired with the chocolate notes at the front of the Coco Cubed, you got something pretty close to chocolate covered fruit, and it was awesome. The super saltiness from the manchego and cheddar cheeses paired really nicely with the thick maltiness in the beer, and the spice at the end cut through that lingering sweet flavor left by the quince, which I really appreciated. I opted to leave the chorizo off of my sandwich, but I imagine it would have only added to this beautiful pairing, giving even more weight to the spice that cut through the sweetness in the fruit and the beer. You guys, this sandwich-beer pairing was basically all I ever want to eat again.