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Ask a Cicerone: How to Pair Beer and Chocolate
Editor's Note: Ask a what? A Certified Cicerone®. That is, a beer expert who has passed a particular certification exam administered by the Craft Beer Institute. Curious about beer certifications? Read more here.
If you love beer and you love chocolate, your Valentine's Day is going to be a good one. Especially now that you're armed with the advice we're sharing today: expert tips on how to find the best beers to serve with chocolate treats, whether they're simple bars, spiced-up truffles, or chocolates filled with nuts or caramel.
We asked a dozen Certified Cicerones for their beer advice for Valentine's Day. Here's what they had to say.
"Milk chocolate tends to pair better with traditionally chocolatey beers (porter, stout, etc.), whereas dark chocolate pairs better with beers of high intensity that may not be as obvious (dubbel, Belgian strong dark ale, barley wine). When chocolates are accompanied by other flavors, look for matching flavors in beers; caramel with English barley wine, nuts with English brown ale."—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)
"Many people will commonly brush off pairing chocolate with IPAs and hoppy beers in general believing that their defining flavors inherently clash with each other, but I think certain examples that diminish the bitterness and play up some floral accents can work well with, say, chocolate flavored with lemon verbena or yuzu, as they possess overt citrus characteristics which dovetail nicely into the beer."—James Tai (Pinch)
"You can't go wrong with chocolate and a rich imperial stout, but another great pairing is with a sour beer, like a Flemish red or brown, to balance the sweetness of the chocolate with a sour, dark cherry bite. I would love a Russian River Supplication sour brown ale aged in Pinot Noir oak barrels with cherries, wild yeasts and bacteria with my dark chocolate this Valentine's Day. I would also enjoy a DuClaw Retribution Imperial Stout aged in bourbon oak barrels, as well as a Duck Rabbit Barleywine with salted caramel chocolate."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)
"I dig dry, roasty, bitter chocolate. The first rule of pairing is to match intensities, the second is to find flavor harmonies and contrasts. That's why I prefer a rich barrel aged beer, preferably a barleywine, for pairing with bitter chocolate. A barleywine's sweet caramel maltiness smooths out that dry chocolate, the light carbonation refreshes the palate, and the vanillins and toasted coconut flavors that are the common results of oak aging match perfectly. Often, when taking a bite of chocolate then a sip of beer, you can't tell where one starts and the other ends, it can be transcendent. My picks are Cockeyed Cooper by Uinta Brewing Company or Sucaba by Firestone Walker."—Chris Cohen (San Francisco Homebrewers Guild)
"Pairing beer with dessert is difficult. Because desserts are inherently sweet, they often knock all of the sweetness out of a beer, causing an otherwise balanced beer to taste bitter, thin, or astringent. While pairing something rich and roasty (think milk stouts or Russian Imperial stouts) with chocolate can make for a knockout pairing, if the beer lacks enough residual sugar, the chocolate can make the roast taste harsh and ashy. My personal go to is generally a sweeter fruit lambic, such as Lindemans Framboise. While the beer is a bit sweet on its own, pairing it with chocolate wipes out the sweetness and shows off the beer's considerable acidity, which isn't initially apparent. Plus, who doesn't like chocolate with raspberry sauce?"—Pat Fahey (The Cicerone Certification Program)
"Perhaps the most obvious choice for a beer pairing with chocolate is Russian Imperial Stout. It's a perfect desert beer and will go well with a box of bonbons, dipped strawberries or a chocolate torte. I like Great Divide Yeti, Founders Imperial Stout, and Bells Expedition Stout along with many others. However, this beer style is massive and aggressive and can overwhelm unsuspecting palates. Alas, it is not for everyone. For a lighter match, try a fruit infused Lambic such as Kriek (Cherry) or Framboise (Raspberry). While some purists won't opt for a sweet flavored Lambic, rather only sour ones with the fruit fermented in the brewing process, I say go for it. I refuse to apologize for the guilty pleasure of Lindeman's Framboise pairing magically with flourless chocolate cake."—Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)
"For Valentine's Day, there are several styles that pair beautifully with chocolate—fruity lambics, smoky rauchbiers, roasty porters, and the list could go on. Ballast Point's Victory at Sea is an imperial coffee vanilla porter that not only goes great with dessert, you could substitute it for one. It's bold and full bodied with hints of burnt caramel and iced espresso and is surprisingly easy to drink. For chocolates filled with caramel or nuts, I love drinking beer that's aged in bourbon barrels. The flavors from the barrel actually mimic the caramel, toffee and vanilla flavors you'd get from the candy and the sweetness level is typically ideal. Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is a widely available example—it's big at over 8.5% ABV, but dangerously smooth and reminds me of a cream soda."—Anne Becerra (The Ginger Man)
"Chocolates with more complexity, say with the additions of caramel and/or nuts, would be well paired with higher intensity beers such as Imperial stouts (personal favorites are North Coast's Old Rasputin and Oskar Blue's Ten Fidy) and especially barrel aged versions for even more decadence (Firestone Walker Parabola, 50/50 Eclipse). Alternatively you could skip the chocolates and surprise your spouse with a hard to find bottle of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Backyard Rye Stout. This beer tastes like a delicious liquid concoction of chocolate covered berries that have been soaked in whiskey and at 12.7% ABV is a perfect bottle to share with that special someone."——Tyler Morton (Taste of Tops)
"I like a solid porter like Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald for any chocolate with nuts. Other beer styles good for chocolates are some fruit beers and surprisingly, a number of dark malt based chile beers like Dogfish Head Theobroma. And while some like it hot, on Valentine's Day I would avoid the spice and pour something with a bit more elegance. New Glarus Raspberry Tart in a champagne flute certainly fits the bill while Brewery Ommegang's Three Philosophers offers a rich sophistication of its own."—Daniel Parker (Stout's Pub)
"A pretty pink Framboise or Kriek is still the best complement to a piece of chocolate that the beer world has. For a specific example of such a beer I'd have to recommend 'Honestly Ale' from Craftsman in Pasadena. It is brewed with tart cherries from Oregon. It is quite sour, seductively aromatic and unique among American sour ales in the purity of fruit it retains."—Sayre Piotrkowski (Hog's Apothecary)
"My all-time favorite beer and chocolate pairing: spicy dark chocolate bark with heavy duty IPAs. If you like spice as much as I do, this is a perfect fire to set on your tongue. The burn in the chocolate turns into flame when combined with the hoppy bite and sparkly carbonation of an IPA like Ballast Point's Sculpin. Not into the heat? Calm the burn with a rich malty Quad or a smoky and smooth milk stout."—Becki Kregoski (Bites 'n Brews)
"I'm probably in the minority of beer enthusiasts in that I don't think beer and chocolate work all that well together. It's not that I think it never works, but for me it always seems to be beer specific and never style specific, and I think it's difficult to say that even imperial stout goes well with chocolate all the time. I think the pairing works best when the beer is matched with a plain, high quality piece of chocolate with nothing added to it. Things like caramel or fruit fillings can mess with the flavor of the beer too much. There are a couple of beers that I think work very well with high quality chocolate. Rochefort 8, in my opinion, is the best across the board with milk or dark chocolates; and as far as imperial stouts, something big and intense, like Bell's Expedition can be very good."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)
Add Your Tips!
Do you have experience pairing beer and chocolate? What are your favorite combinations?