I was once asked a question from a friend about whether you can pair beer with chocolate like you do wine. The response was, “Of course.”
With Valentine’s Day approaching, and as boxes of chocolate start getting thrown around willy-nilly, it is important that everyone understands that you do not automatically have to have chocolate in one hand and wine in the other. With the versatility of beer styles that have a flavor range from caramel to coffee and cardamom to ginger, there is always a way to complement or contrast any chocolate on the market and probably save a few dollars over a bottle of wine that may not do the job as well.
Now, I do understand that for the vast majority of people, beer is defined as an American Lager like Bud, Coors or Miller. Consume one of these with a truffle or a fine dark chocolate and the result would be quite short of a flavor epiphany. But if you feel bold enough to venture into the world of Belgian Krieks or Strong Ales, Pale Ales or Stouts, or Doppelbocks and Rauchbiers, you will find that they allow you to cover a range of chocolate and spice flavors that, I believe, wine has a hard time matching.
I recently took on the burden of a beer and chocolate tasting as a means of further investigation. I chose 4 beers and 4 chocolates. I purchased everything at Benz Beverage Depot in Cedar Rapids, but I am pretty sure all beers and chocolates are available at your local Hy-Vee, New Pioneer Coop, or specialty store. Here’s a brief rundown of the results.
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout with Vosges Naga Bar
The Naga bar has Sweet Indian Curry, coconut, and milk chocolate. These were all really amazing flavors to have with this beer. The clove and cardamom were accentuated by the savory aspects of the stout, while the beer’s coffee flavors and mellow sweetness highlighted the toast of the coconut. An interesting pairing because it matches an English beer with a traditional English pub food; curry.
Celebrator Doppelbock with Lake Champlain Dark Spicy Aztec Chocolate
The rich maltiness of the doppelbock helps put out the fire of this chocolate. This is one of the spiciest chocolates I have ever had, but when followed by a sip of Celebrator, the cinnamon and nuttiness of the pepita take the lead and the pepper heat is extinguished. A great combination that shows the versatility of beer pairings. It’s very tough to put spicy foods with wines, but beers can take on the task and succeed quite well.
Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye and Scharffen Berger Extra Rich Milk Chocolate
Hops can work with chocolate as long as there is enough of a malty backbone to highlight the caramel sweetness of the chocolate. Very dark chocolate may not pair well with hoppy beers. I love this beer and found it really accentuates the caramel flavors on both sides. This chocolate is so rich that is needs something to cut it and Ruthless Rye does that. Following a bite of chocolate with a sip of this hoppy beer with its rye spiciness makes for a great experience.
Liefman’s Kriek with Chocolove Chilies and Cherries in Dark Chocolate
Another chocolate with chilies, but I felt there was more emphasis on the cherry and dark chocolate. Kriek is the word for “cherry” in Flemish, and the beer is brewed and aged with cherries, so this seemed like a natural pairing as the flavors complemented each other. The beer a deep, hazy pink hue, and its slight oaky flavor goes great with dark chocolate. An intense melding of flavors and the champagne-like carbonation of the beer helps clear away the density of the chocolate.