It’s almost Valentine’s Day and whether you’re revelling in your choice to be single, lamenting your fate at being alone, or ironing your dancing pants and putting the finishing touches on your plans with that special someone, we beer lovers all have one thing in common this time of year: We’re being bombarded with clumsy and desperate attempts by marketers and beer writers alike to bring together the idea of beer and valentines in a transparent attempt to create some topical traffic and/or brand engagement. Because romance.
Some of these savvy communicators and influencers will recommend beers with red fruit in them since these beers have a red-tinged appearence appropriate to the heart-themed occasion (fun!) and some might do a round-up of local beers that have love in their name, hearts on their label, or involve a cheeky reference to sex (sexy!).
Of course, as is the case every year, far more of these fellow creative types are likely to produce a litany of phoned-in listicles explaining to us, once again, why this is a great time of year to pair some dark beer with some chocolate.
Aside from the fact that this pairing is lazy and cliched, I have always found it problematic. Mostly because of the fact that dark beers and chocolates don’t actually pair all that well. Yes, I said it. And I’ll add that everyone who attempts to shoehorn “dark beer” into some catchall category as a fitting accompaniment to valentine’s chocolate is either devoid of tastebuds or falls in the aforementioned categories of people required to file a beer-related column this week or people who need to deliver on impressive impressions or click-through rates.
First, yes, I’ll admit, I largely find all “candy and beer” pairings a little gross (a fact I’ve alluded to elsewhere). It seems like an unnecessary attempt to put two things together simply because you like them both. And as a man who is still working on a hot dog Cinnabon prototype, I can tell you this is often an excerise in futility.
But I have a particular disdain for the choclate and stout or even porter marriage. Yes, obviousy rich, complex beers with chocolate notes can be amazing. But when you eat chocolate with them, you tend to knock the chocolatey sweetness out of the beer and an otherwise excellent and balanced beer becomes astringent or overly-bitter. For this reason, I tend to hate the assumption that “like” always pairs with “like.” I don’t eat guava when I’m drinking a guava sour, for god’s sake. So why do lazy people always assume dark, chocolaty beer pairs with chocolate?
So, if you feel the need to pair beer and chocolate this Valentine’s Day, my advice to you is simple: Don’t.
But, if for some fucked up reason you really feel that you must have both beer and choclate at the same god damned time, why not get creative, ignore the newspaper columns and press releases offering unsolicited stout and chocolate pairings and, instead, try to find some interesting contrasts that might highlight the beer and the chocolate rather than fuck up both of them?
Here are three options that will hopefully inspire you to get a little more creative and tame your chocolate and beer cravings next week, regardless of whether or not you have a valentine to share them with.
Fruit lambics and dark chocolate
Because chocolate typically knocks the sweetness out of a beer, why not opt for an exceptionally sweet beer and a subtly sweet, almost bitter chocolate? A kriek or framboise lambic and a chunk of good dark chocolate make a good pairing. It’s not always easy to come by in Ontario, but if you can get your hands on Lindemans Kriek it’ll do nicely. The chocolate won’t overwhelm the sweetness of the flavoured lambic and will highlight the complex acidity of the beer. It’s like chocolate cake with fruit sauce. But with alcohol. Like a page from your degenerate dream journal.
A crisp pilsner and salted caramel chocolates.
Cloyingly sweet chocolates tend to coat the palate and give you that sort of heavy tongue feeling. Why not wash down fistfuls of sweet caramel-y chocolate with a refreshing and palate cleansing pilsner like Vim & Vigor from Tooth and Nail Brewery? If you can find salted caramel chocolates, you’ll also get all the satisfying salty refreshment you usually get when you’re inhaling pretzels with a cold beer. You really don’t easy very well, by the way. Try a fucking vegetable, would you?
Milk chocolate and bright, citrusy IPAs A key to pairing food (and presumably also chocolate) with beer is to always try to match intensities. If the chocolate you’re eating is intense but the beer is mild, you won’t gain anything from the pairing as one element will dominate. So try matching and contrasting sweet milk chocolate with your favourite intense, aromatic, bitter IPA. Something like Sawdust City’s Twin Pines Imperial IPA would pair well with a bar of pure milk chocolate. The creamy chocolate will again coat your palate, but the biting hop bitterness of Twin Pine will cut the sweetness and you’ll find that, with the chocolate dialling back the subtle-sweet malt backbone, the beer’s grassy, citrusy notes get a chance to pop even more. Just resist the urge to dunk the chocolate bar in the beer. Have some restraint.
What are your suggested beer and chocolate pairing ideas?