Best Friends: Beer and Chocolate

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Photo ©Arina P. Habich_Shutterstock

by Ginger Johnson

The renaissance and boom of the modern beer industry has harkened in a whole new wave of thinking about beverage and food together. Pairing beer and chocolate is a terrifically delicious jumping off point for flavor lovers.

Take for instance the Oregon Chocolate Festival, which takes place every March in Ashland, Oregon. Year over year the festival invites talented chocolatiers and purveyors of delectable confections for the many guests who attend. There are always tasty beverages to accompany the sweets, and, as of five years ago, they began offering beer and chocolate tastings as well (full disclosure: conducted by yours truly). Yes, beer and chocolate tastings were a perfect new idea to enhance this very well-attended event.

Some seasoned beer enthusiasts have long enjoyed chocolate with beer already. One reason why these two go well together is that many beers offer flavor characteristics that distinctly complement chocolates. For one thing, the roasted level of malted barley in beer is a happy flavor marriage with chocolate. Another aspect is matching complementary ingredients found in both the beer and the chocolate to find a likely fit.

Find a chocolate with spices and herbs (like Dagoba’s Lavender Blueberry) and pair it with a lavender beer, perhaps in a saison or farmhouse style. A luscious milkshake made all the richer with vanilla ice cream and a robust or imperial porter is unbelievably delectable. The combinations are endless, so the best first step is simply to start tasting.

In successful pairings, one of the main goals to accomplish delicious harmony is to match intensities of the beverage and food you plan to pair. Having partners of equal strength is key. Said another way, you don’t want one to overwhelm the other.

An open mind is the best tool for tasting. I’d recommend starting with what sounds intriguing to your palate. Listen to your own senses and taste buds and don’t let someone else tell you that you do or don’t taste something. To each our own senses.

Tasting beer and chocolate together is a fun pursuit made even better with friends. Host a beer and chocolate party; invite guests to bring their own chocolate—or beer—and you provide the other. Seek out a pairing event at a local brewery, brewpub or retailer. There are also some excellent books to help guide you in your adventures. Beer Pairings is one of those books. It’s an enlightening and easy-to-read book for your gustatory library, recently published by Julia Herz (Brewers Association) and Gwen Conley (The Lost Abbey).

With the holidays coming up, beer and chocolate also make divine and perhaps unexpected host gifts. Wrapping a fresh bottle or can of beer with a few bars of enticing chocolate would be a welcome gift for any recipient. (I’d steer clear of filled beer growlers: they need special care and attention and have a very short life span.)

Whatever you do, start partnering the world’s second oldest beverage (beer) with a confection that started as a drink (chocolate) for a winning combination. It’s fun, delicious and brings us all one-step closer to bliss. Think of it as taste traveling in the comfort of your own home.