Beer and food pairings are all the rage now. Non-beer drinkers are starting to realize that people are moving beyond wine when it comes to constructing elaborate pairings, while the seasoned craft beer drinker might consider reverting to wine if they read another article like “Beers to Pair with Your Flag Day Meal” or “20 Pumpkin Beers to Drink with Halloween Candy.” But Valentine’s Day is a day that makes sense to work beer into the equation, since it traditionally revolves around wine and chocolate. Beer can easily be factored in. Both beer and chocolate share an ancient history and both share many of the same flavors. Whether you’re serving beer and chocolate side-by-side, brewing chocolate into beer, or cooking beer into chocolate, the two complement each other perfectly.
The key components of pairing are complement, contrast, and cleanse. Pairings work when you find flavors that complement each other; i.e. a sweet dessert will most naturally go with a sweet beer. Pairings also work when you contrast flavors and can make for more exciting pairings, like a bitter chocolate and a sweet fruit. The last component is how the beer cleanses the palate. Though this might not work best with chocolate pairings, it’s still good to know that beers like pilsners and IPAs work very well for palate cleansing, helping to cut through rich, fatty foods.
What’s interesting about beer and chocolate is that they are both examples of the balance between sweet and bitter. In beer, hops are used to balance out the malty sweetness, and in chocolate, the bitter cocoa is sweetened by the sugar.
When doing chocolate pairings, people seem to naturally reach for darker beers like stouts and porters, but this doesn’t always have to be the case. Experiment with sours, hefeweizens, rauchbiers, chili beers, and Belgians. Richer and maltier beers indeed seem to pair the best with chocolate; beers like porters, stouts, barleywines, and barrel-aged beers. Also, beers with higher alcohol content will stand up to rich flavors. Think about what you like best about the dessert you’re tasting, and try to match that up with a beer.
Dark chocolate goes great with the fruity spiciness of a Belgian Dubbel. Caramel and nut-based desserts match well with the nuttiness of a brown ale. And don’t forget to try a fruit lambic paired with chocolate.
When it comes to picking out a beer, there are a lot of different options. Some beers get their chocolate flavor from the additional of actual chocolate or cocoa, but in the case of a lot of beers, there’s no chocolate added, with all chocolate notes coming from roasted malts or chocolate malt (a reference to its color).
Here are some of our favorite dessert beers: