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Chocolate and Beer Pairing Round 2

Some days my job is pretty sweet.  Venturing out of the shop to do another round of research about chocolate and beer pairing is precisely one of those days.  My retail manager, Joe, was a little disappointed the other day when he didn’t get invited to the first beer and chocolate pairing so knowing that he is a beer connoisseur I offered for him to join me.  The Thirsty Monk seemed like a good choice, not close enough to the shop to run back and grab more chocolates but with their large selection and offering of half pours, a great place to sample and pair.  If you have never been to the Thirsty Monk, I would highly recommend it.  Upstairs is an American Ale House with an impressive number of beers on tap.  You may have to flag down a bartender to get service but once you get there attention they are happy to make suggestions and offer samples before you commit.  Downstairs is a Belgian style pub, which is always a little quieter than upstairs and has a cool cave like atmosphere that is fabulous if you want to escape a hot summer day.

Starting with the lighter beers today we started with a pilsner.  There selection of pilsner’s was somewhat limited so we choose something local and readily available, Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils and paired it with the recommended dark chocolate with spice.  I was actually surprised at how many times the ‘experts’ recommended dark chocolate with spice for so many different styles of beer.  We do offer a few different spicy flavors so I attempted to pair a different one with each different beer.  I thought that the rich spiciness of our Ancient Pleasure truffle would be a nice compliment to the refreshing flavor of the pilsner.  The combination brought the spice in the Ancient Pleasures to the forefront in a very pleasing way.  I think Joe would have been happy to end the tasting here and just throw back a few more Pilsners and Ancient Pleasures but I reminded him we were still working.

The next beer on the list is a personal favorite, IPA.  The experts recommended an IPA with crisp hoppy bitterness and we decided to go with the bartender’s suggestion of the Green Flash Citra Session IPA, which fit the bill perfectly.  Again here the recommendation was a dark chocolate with spice or salt.  Unfortunately I forgot to bring a Sea Salt Caramel although I think that would have been a successful pairing so we tried our Chili Cocoa Nib Round with the IPA.  The Chili Cocoa Nib Round is a thin disc of dark chocolate accented with pasilla and ancho chilies and finely ground cocoa nibs.  This was delicious and one of my favorite pairings so far.  I was surprised at how much the beer really enhanced the flavor of our Chili Cocoa Nib Round.

Our final beer upstairs (we were sharing half pours so total beer consumption was pretty minimal) was a Stout.  Last week we had tasted an Imperial Stout but didn’t come up with a successful pairing so we wanted to revisit the stout category and I am glad we did.  Another successful pairing!  The experts suggested coffee with chocolate so we tried our Dark Chocolate Espresso Round and our Mocha Magic Truffle with a rich stout that had undertones of tobacco.  While I am normally a dark chocolate fan I found the sweetness of the milk chocolate in the Mocha Magic to pair very well with the bitterness of the Stout, the dark chocolate was much less successful.

Next we headed downstairs to tackle a few Belgian style ales.  Initially we were planning on trying a Dopplebock and another Lambic but were quickly steered to other flavors on the suggestion of a very excited bartender that seemed to know what he was talking about.  We discussed the chocolate flavors that were left in our box and he made a handful of suggestions.  First we tried the Merry Monks Belgian Triple with our Mountain Sunrise Ecstasy Elite Truffle.  The classic flavor of dark chocolate and orange in this truffle paired very nicely with this classic Belgian style ale.

Finally we tried the bartender’s suggestion of Nostradamus, a Belgian Strong Ale.  This paired very nicely with two of our pure dark chocolate truffles, Velvet Sin and After Midnight.  Perhaps the 9.5% alcohol content was starting to get to me because the only note I took down was that it was good… I guess you’ll just have to try it yourself.

My conclusions after more than a dozen chocolate and beer match ups?  Beer and chocolate pairing is an art that is defiantly worth exploring.  If you plan on embarking on a beer and chocolate tasting I would recommend taking a large variety of chocolate and finding a bartender that has the time and knowledge to make suggestions.  You can repay them like we did with your leftover chocolates (and a generous tip).  I’ve also created a handy chart that you can reference for some starting points but I encourage you to explore and find what works for you… and let us know what you discovered!

Style of Craft Beer/Characteristic Flavor Type of chocolate recommended Chocolate Fetish Product Pairing
IPA with crisp hoppy bitterness Dark with spice/salt Chili Cocoa Nib Round, Sea Salt Caramel
Pilsner Medium body dark chocolate Ecstasy Ancient Pleasures Truffle
Brown Ale Almonds + dark chocolate Almond Caramel Cup
Oatmeal Stout Milk chocolate with coffee Ecstasy Mocha Magic Truffle
Fruit Lambic with peach Dark chocolate + spice Crystallized Ginger in Dark Chocolate
Belgian Strong Ale Dark chocolate Ecstasy Velvet Sin TruffleEcstasy Elite After Midnight Truffle
Belgian Triple Dark chocolate + citrus Ecstasy Elite Mountain Sunrise Truffle

Pairing Chocolate and Beer in Beer City USA.

When creating a new website there are all kind of things one has to develop.  Some things you expect like new product pictures and descriptions.  Some are a bit unforeseen like what picture am I going to pair with the word Fetish in the dictionary? (We’re still working on that if you have ‘appropriate suggestions’)  Most things end up taking more time then you expect, some are easy, some are difficult, and some are downright fun.  Case in point writing the Beer and Chocolate pairing section.
The first step was to do some research to find out what the experts suggest.  I was surprised to find so much information out there about pairing beer and chocolate.  After compiling a list of about eight different beer styles and the experts suggested chocolate pairings I began to identify items in our product line that may work well for the pairings.  For instance the experts suggested that a dark chocolate with spice would pair well with a Peach Lambic.  Knowing that a Peach Lambic has a sweet fruity flavor I determined that a spicy chocolate like our Ancient Pleasures (dark chocolate + cayenne) would probably not pair well, but perhaps a piece of chocolate covered crystallized ginger would go well?
Finding the perfect beer and chocolate pairing at The Bier Garden.

Finding the perfect beer and chocolate pairing at The Bier Garden.

The next step was to grab a beer loving co-worker (and chocolate loving but that’s a given for anyone that works at The Chocolate Fetish) and head to the nearest bar.  We choose to begin at The Bier Garden for our first round of pairings.  The Bier garden is the closest bar to The Chocolate Fetish and they also offer a large selection of specialty beers so I knew we would have no problem finding all the different beer styles we were looking for.  The Bier Garden is also home to Jackson Zoeller who has been voted as the best bartender in Asheville for multiple years so I knew we would be able to pick his brain for lots of beer details.  The proximity to The Chocolate Fetish proved helpful, as I was able to run back when a flavor I hadn’t anticipated was needed.

It’s recommended that when paring chocolate and beer that you start with the lighter beers and work your way to the darker so we started with a Peach Lambic.  When I was in Belgium I actually had the pleasure of visiting a Lambic brewery where the brewing process uses wild yeast fermentation!  An interesting process that includes letting the beer sit in giant open vats in an historic building with slats for a roof that allow the wild yeasts in… but that’s a whole other blog post.  This pairing turned out to be pretty delightful.  I wouldn’t say that either product was really enhanced by the other but they did pair quite well.  The slight spiciness of the ginger complimented the sweetness of the Lambic and all the flavors worked well together.  A refreshing pairing that would be great at the end of a hot summer day.  My tasting partner said that when tasting the Lambic and ginger together it really reminded him of drinking a hard cider, but better.
Next on the list was a dopplebock with subtle spice notes.  The only thing the Bier garden had to offer here was a rather large bottle that we didn’t feel like taking on at the moment (I can’t let a good beer go to waste) so on the suggestion of one of the bartenders we tried a wheat beer that was listed as having subtle spice overtones of cinnamon and banana peel.  It was recommended to pair this with a sweet spiced chocolate so we tried it with our Chai Moon Truffle (White and milk chocolate with Chai Tea Spices, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, etc) and with our Diamond Griottine (dark chocolate with a French brandied cherry and white chocolate ganache).  After taking a couple of bites and sips I looked over at my co worker’s tasting notes to see “No! No! No!” written boldly next to this line.  Maybe they didn’t pair well because we substituted the wheat beer for the dopplebock, maybe it just wasn’t a good pairing, either way I wholeheartedly agree neither of these were successful.
Moving into beers with a bit more color next on the list was a brown ale.  We stuck with the classic and readily available Newcastle Nut Brown Ale here and the recommended pairing was almonds and dark chocolate.  Thankfully we had a little more success with this pairing.  Almond Caramel Cups are one of our lesser known products that are high on my personal favorites list.  A delicate dark chocolate surrounds a liquid caramel accented with lightly salted slivered almonds.  We both thought this paring was quite nice.  A little of the rich chocolaty flavor was lost when pairing with the brown ale but the saltiness of the almonds went quite well with the sweetness of the caramel and beer.  We both thought that when tasted together the chocolate really brought out the complexity of the beer.
The final beer for the evening (by the way we were sharing so total consumption was about two pints) was an Imperial Stout.  Here we went with a classic micro brew imperial, Old Rasputin.  This beer has a rich dark color – as dark as our dark chocolate – and a strong heavy flavor.  This is the kind of beer that connoisseurs love and that makes others swear off beer altogether.  The recommended pairing was Raspberries and dark chocolate so I had selected our America’s Best Raspberry Truffle to taste.  While doing my research I had read that when tasting beer and chocolate together to try taking a sip of the beer then the chocolate and then taste the chocolate first then the beer second.  In no other paring was the ability of the order in which one tasted to change the flavor more apparent!  When I started with the Old Rasputin and then tasted the truffle it was actually quite pleasant.  Somehow the raspberry flavors did compliment the rich dark earthiness of that beer, but when I did it the other way around, chocolate first then beer it was, well gross.  I would have left this pairing on our recommended pairing list but didn’t feel in good conscious that I could since it was so dependent on the order in which one tasted the chocolates.
I am planning on stealing another co-worker away early next week to taste the final four pairings on our list, which include an IPA, a pilsner, a raspberry Lambic, and an oatmeal stout so stay tuned for the continuation of our beer and chocolate pairings!.  We may consider trying a dooplebock as well since we missed it the first time.  If you have ever had a great chocolate and beer pairing we’d love to hear about your experience and suggestions!