Written for the Burlington Free Press by Jeff Baker
Since Monday is Halloween, it feels apropos to talk about chocolate. Chocolate and beer pairing, that is.
Chocolate pairing has been on my mind for many years now. In the early days of my career, I had the opportunity to lead a wine and chocolate pairing seminar with my former colleague Spence Nelson for a graduating class of M.I.T. For successful pairings, we had to focus on matching the sweetness in the wines with the sugar level of the chocolates and, although delicious, it felt like we were wedged into a creative corner. I wondered if chocolate could find a better mate.
And then I met Jeff Wharton and Devon Regan, founders of DrinkCraftBeer.com. They hosted a chocolate and beer pairing exhibit at the wine shop where I worked and it opened my eyes to a whole new level of pairing complexity. Unlike wine and chocolate pairing, beer and chocolate pairings play off of mutual flavors shared by both categories. Roasty barley malt echoes the roastiness of cacao, while fruity yeast and hop aromas can complement the natural fruitiness of some single-origin chocolates.
For this column, I wanted to focus on the darker side of chocolate and beer pairing. I worked exclusively on pairing beers with dark chocolates made by Lake Champlain Chocolates & Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker (both of on Pine Street in Burlington).
Harpoon (Vermont and Massachusetts) “Leviathan IPA” — Typically I shy away from pairing hoppy beers with chocolates, as the bitterness in the beer can compound with the bitterness in the chocolate. But this robust double IPA has enough malty sweetness in the center to play nicely with Lake Champlain Chocolates “Organic Spicy Aztec” bar. This dark chocolate bar is infused with cayenne pepper and cinnamon and studded with pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The citrusy hops in the beer slide in nicely next to this Mexican-inspired confection, while the malt provides a cooling foil against the spicy heat.
Lindemans (Belgium) “Kriek” — This sweetened Lambic is dosed with bright and juicy cherries, making it a perfect sweet-and-tart dessert beer. To tone down the overall sweetness and to play up the cherry notes, try it with Blue Bandana “Tanzania Kokoa Kamili,” a 75 percent dark chocolate. Blue Bandana is made right in Burlington and is a “bean to bar” operation, meaning Lake Champlain Chocolates sources the cocoa beans at the place of origin, then roasts and processes the beans into the final chocolate in house. I find these bars to be exceptionally fruity, although no fruit is added. This Tanzanian bar shows off flavors of plum, cherry and toasted nuts making it a great compliment to this cherry Lambic.
Foolproof (Rhode Island) “Peanut Butter Raincloud” — I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, it’s not as odd as it sounds. What starts out as “Raincloud,” a robust porter with roasty notes of dark chocolate and coffee is then infused with dehydrated peanut butter powder, resulting in a medium-bodied velvety-smooth brew with subtle nutty notes. And what goes better with peanut butter than chocolate, right? Try it with Lake Champlain Chocolates “Dark Chocolate Sea Salt” caramels. Salty, sweet, nutty, awesome.
Dogfish Head (Deleware) “Olde School” — This barleywine ale is brewed with dates and figs, which results in a rich and viscous brew of 15 percent alcohol that is excellent for cellaring. With a couple years of age on it, the sweetness starts to drop out and the fruitiness comes forward. The beer is perfect with Blue Bandana “82% Madagascar” bar, which is a bit creamier than I expected and shows a slightly higher acidity than other dark chocolate bars. Flavors of raisins, cranberries and lemon mix with notes of earthy leather and Turbinado sugar, making it a great mate for this barleywine.
Rogue (Oregon) “Double Chocolate Stout”– Remember the “death by chocolate” trend from the ’90s? This is it reincarnated in beer form. Featured earlier this year by Men’s Journal as one of “The 11 Best Chocolate Beers,” Double Chocolate Stout is Rogue’s standard Chocolate Stout “turned up to 11.” Infused with Dutch chocolate, this is a lush, decadent beer. So I thought we’d keep the death by chocolate theme going and pair it with Lake Champlain Chocolates “Chocolate Caramel Five Star Bar.” This dense dark chocolate bar has a chocolate-infused caramel center. And if that’s not enough chocolate for you, the center is studded with cacao nibs.
New Holland (Michigan) “Dragon’s Milk Reserve: Raspberry Lemon” — This beer starts out as an imperial stout and then is aged in bourbon barrels for three months on Michigan raspberries and lemon zest. The added fruit brightens up the brew and makes it feel more spritely on the palate, despite clocking in at 11 percent alcohol by volume. I find it pairs nicely with Blue Bandana “Reserva Zorzal,” a 75 percent dark chocolate from the Dominican Republic. The chocolate on its own exhibits notes of fudge, amber honey and coffee and when paired with this bright and juicy stout, notes of rich pipe tobacco, English black tea and stone fruits emerge.
Southern Tier (New York) “Choklat” — Want to skip the chocolate pairing and just drink your daily dose of chocolate? This beer delivers when your sweet tooth speaks up. A massive 10 percent alcohol imperial stout, Choklat is black as night and so rich and viscous that it almost begs to be drizzled over vanilla ice cream.
So on Monday night when you’re munching away on some chocolate bars, crack open a beer and see if the two work well together. If you find a good pairing, send a tweet my way!
Jeff S. Baker II is the Curator of the Curriculum for Farrell Distributing. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @aPhilosophyOf. Jeff co-hosts the “It’s the Beer Talking” podcast found on iTunes and Soundcloud. More info at www.burlingtonfreepress.com/news/podcasts