I was introduced to pairing beer with chocolate several years ago. To some, this might sound like an unusual combination. However, we’re not talking about the familiar golden lagers that you enjoy at the stadium—but all-malt craft beers, whose rich malt base provide the body and mouthfeel that goes well with chocolate. Looking into this a little more, I found that chocolate is produced through the fermentation of cacao beans—making it similar to beer in a way. I did my own personal research, with a sampling of Russell Stover chocolates with different beers—quite an indulgence that can be taken a little too far! However, coming upon Valentine’s Day, I might suggest that you explore a beer-chocolate adventure with your sweetheart!
You will find that beer makes an easier and better pairing with chocolates than wine does; an article in the February issue of The Oprah Magazine pointed this out—that “wine and chocolate don’t always click: A sweet bite of one can make a sip of the other taste bite, and tannins in wine can drown out chocolate’s nuances.” The most obvious beer to match with chocolate is stout; the dark beer with an abundance of roasted malt goes well with dark chocolate—much like coffee does. However, hoppy beers also combine nicely with chocolates. I can still recall one of the best pairings I experienced was with Boulevard’s Double Wide IPA with a caramel-chocolate from Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates (at 18th & McGee). Brown ales are also nice with chocolate—last week I enjoyed a precious bottle of a Belgian brown ale (oddly named "Rigor Mortis") produced by the Canadian brewery Dieu du Ciel! The description on the bottle told me there would be flavors of chocolate and caramel—so I decided I should try it with the caramel brownies that were still warm from my oven. Again, a warning that such richness is best taken in small doses!
Beyond pairing, there are beers that include real chocolate in their ingredients; a search on beeradvocate.com indicates there are over 700 such beers produced worldwide. Stopping by Gomer’s (Lee’s Summit) last week, I chose some chocolate beers: From England, I selected Young’s “Luxury Double Chocolate Stout.” This beer is highly rated, and I look forward to savoring it. From US breweries, I purchased Ommegang’s 2007 Chocolate Indulgence, Southern Tier’s Imperial Choklat Stout (both made with Belgian chocolate), and Great Divide’s Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti (made with cocoa nibs). I also bought a Missouri brew, O’Fallon’s Cherry Chocolate Beer—said to taste like a cherry Tootsie Pop. These chocolate beers should really stand on their own—but might also accompany a dessert such as crème Brule or a raspberry mousse.
Last October, I homebrewed a stout—and added coffee and chocolate to part of it when I bottled. Having enjoyed a chocolate martini once, I was impressed at the ability of vodka to extract the chocolate flavor; this is how I flavored my beer—with a half-cup of vodka in 2.5 gallons of my stout. I selected the richest chocolate I could find—a bar of Patric chocolate with nibs (produced in Columbia, Missouri). Unfortunately, no more bottles remain—but I have my supply of commercial chocolate beers to share. Patric Chocolate is known as one of the country’s best chocolatiers, along with another Missouri chocolate maker—Askinosie Chocolate (in Springfield). The highly regarded Dogfish Head Brewery (in Delaware) produces a beer called “Theobroma” with Askinosie nibs; I’m thinking I will try using these nibs the next time I brew a stout.
As an admitted chocolate fan, I had the extreme pleasure of a tour of Christopher Elbow Chocolates at two different times and locations. Now, the storefront and production site are on McGee, just south of 18th Street. There is also a store in San Francisco that sells the chocolates made here in KC. If you would like to impress your honey with something very special, make the trip to Christopher Elbow and then find an Imperial stout—rather than wine—to offer with the beautiful chocolates. Boulevard is expected introduce a new Imperial stout, in time for Valentine’s Day—check with your local liquor store.