Milk & Cookies…Champagne & Caviar…Coffee & Dessert…Milkshake & Fries… each of these pairs are known for being absolutely delightful when enjoyed together. (If you haven’t tried a milkshake with fries, man are you missing out!) In the world of pairings, there are two items not normally associated as being compliments to each other: beer & chocolate. Red wine or coffee usually takes all the credit for pairing well with chocolate, but the diverse nature of beer creates a whole new world of flavors to pair with a multitude of chocolates.
Craftbeer.com writer Bryce Eddings describes the relationship in his article “Beer Loves Chocolate” by saying, “Beer and chocolate are the perfect partnership. It is a truth that brewers have known for centuries. Whether beer is served with a chocolate dessert or the chocolate is brewed right into the beer, the two work incredibly well together.”
I was able to experience the harmonious flavors of beer and chocolate at Iron Hill North Wales’ Beer & Chocolate event this past Tuesday, March 20th. Head Brewer Vince DesRosiers teamed up with local Chocolatiers Dorothy (Didi) & Claude Mercier of Didi’s Chocolates in Bucks County, PA. Didi uses 100% natural Belgian chocolate and all natural fillings. I sure was in for an evening of indulgence.
For the first pairing, Didi started us with her Triple Cappuccino, a chocolate inspired by a dessert she has made as a Fine Dining Pastry Chef. Chocolatier and Pastry Chef? Claude, you are a lucky man. This chocolate combines 3 layers of mild cappuccino, chocolate and caramel ganache. Brewer Vince paired this chocolate with his English Stout, which was served on nitrogen to give it a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. The English Stout was made with chocolate and roasted malts which brought out the caramel sweetness of the ganache layers while complimenting the coffee flavor of the cappuccino.
The second pairing caught my eye from the first site of the menu. I am a HUGE coconut and chocolate fan, so this was right up my alley. Vince paired his Coffee Porter, aka Afternoon Delight (available in 750ml bottles), with Didi’s Coconut Crush – a chocolate made with 100% all natural coconut and handmade marshmallow frappe with chocolate ganache. Afternoon Delight is made with ground coffee that is cold steeped to allow for a strong coffee flavor without getting the bitterness from the beans. The oil in the made-from-scratch coconut filling coated the tongue to minimize the strong coffee flavor of the beer. Delicious!
Not all chocolates must be paired with a dark, roasty brew, even though they usually lend the best flavors to pair with the cocoa and other flavors often found in chocolates. The third chocolate, a kahlua spiked chocolate ganache with cocoa nibs and soft chocolate nougat, was paired with one of my favorite Iron Hill house beers – Vienna Red Lager. This was an unexpected pairing, but the caramel sweetness in Vienna combined with its carbonation broke up the strong cocoa flavor of the chocolate without overtaking it on the palette.
Nutty flavors and chocolate go together like peanut butter and jelly. The fourth pairing, Hazelnut Gianduja and Pig Iron Porter, was a great example of the blend-ability of these 2 flavors. Gianduja refers to the Italian process of combining chocolate and hazelnut. The layered white chocolate and milk chocolate hazelnut praline of the chocolate brought out the slight almond character found in the Pig Iron Porter. The Porter took on this nutty characteristic that transformed the beer. I was surprised by how complex the Porter became after taking a bite of the chocolate.
By the fifth pairing you’d think we would be at our chocolate limit, but the pacing of the courses providing enough time in between for the sweetness to dissolve from the tongue. Didi brought Almond Divinity, a chocolate made of soft vanilla nougat, toasted almonds and amaretto spiked dark chocolate ganache that Vince paired with his Abbey Dubbel. This was one pairing Vince expressed his excitement for, “I love this pairing. It stayed with me after we were done the tasting.” The fruit character of the Dubbel brought another dimension to the 61% bittersweet dark chocolate used by Didi.
The finale of this six course pairing included Iron Hill’s most award-winning beer, Russian Imperial Stout, paired with Didi’s Triple Caramel. Layered chocolate, cappuccino and buttery vanilla caramel with a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon brought thoughts of Christmas treats to mind. This was the only pairing where the roasted character of the beer was stronger than that of the chocolate. Russian Imperial’s strong roasty characteristic did not overpower the chocolate though; this delightful chocolate could stand up on its own!
Brewer Vince surprised us at the end of the pairings with a special Sorachi Ace-hopped version of his Winston’s Wee Heavy; a Scottish Ale named in honor of Vince’s rescue dog Winston. The Sorachi Ace hops brought a lemony-coconut quality to the brew making it a bit more complex.
Beer and chocolate may not seem to be the likeliest of pairings, but one you must try. A fun and delicious experience, pairing beer and chocolate opens a new world of flavors for your taste buds to enjoy! For info on upcoming events (and beer & chocolate pairings!) at Iron Hill check out the Fresh Events section above or become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @IronHillBrewery to catch the latest news and events from around the Hill.