While it still might sound crazy to some people, by now most serious beer drinkers know that beer and chocolate go together like Cupid drawing his bow. And what better time to celebrate their bittersweet affinities than on Valentine’s Day?
For me, it all started with Pete’s Wicked Ale, a once famous but now defunct American brown ale that debuted in the mid-1980s, among the first wave of the American craft brewing revolution. At the time, I never stopped to think about why it tasted so good together. But for a brief period, I made a habit of drinking a Pete’s with a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar.
Years later, I met Pete’s Wicked founder Pete Slosberg at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, just as he was launching another company, Cocoa Pete’s Chocolate Adventures.
Though Slosberg was pushing his new line of gourmet chocolate bars, he got excited when I told him my Pete’s and Hershey’s story. And he went on to teach me a thing or two about beer and chocolate pairing, leading me through a tasting that blew my mind — especially when he brought out a bubbly German-style hefeweizen as a foil for one of his malty cocoa creations. If sense memory serves, altogether it was a bit like a chocolate-covered banana.
Once I instinctively thought darker beer was what chocolate wanted. But I found out that beyond porters and stouts, there’s a whole wide world of beer styles that can cozy up to the equally diverse flavor profiles of chocolate.
And, of course, brewers and chocolatiers are creating so many more flavor combinations, nowadays, that the pairing possibilities, good or bad, are almost endless. How about Burnt Hickory The Didjits blood orange IPA with bitter orange chocolate truffles?
When it comes to pairing beer and chocolate, it’s easiest to think about the elements of bitter and sweet and how they play together. Chocolate has cacao and sugar. Beer has hops and malt. When each is well-balanced, you’ll find the easiest, if not the most exciting matches.
There’s always dark chocolate and chocolate stout. Elementary and maybe even boring. But what about a Belgian fruit beer like a kriek or framboise? Playing tart cherries or raspberries against the bitter essence of chocolate is a classic balancing act. And just out, Boulevard’s new Chocolate Ale with Raspberry ties fruit flavor to a lingering chocolate presence in a way that invites further pairing experiments.
Here’s a Valentine’s Day idea: Grab a box of assorted chocolates and several styles of beer and start tasting. I’m guessing the roasted hazelnut praline will be simply sublime with the brown ale. But just maybe the kiwi fruit truffle or ginger caramel will be a revelation with the tropical-leaning IPA.