How would you pair a chocolate dessert with a beer?

three beers matched with cupcakes
a pile of chocolate malt
Chocolate malt

Let us think for a moment about how to pair a chocolate dessert with a beer – or for that matter, any chocolate anything with a beer, though there aren’t so many savory chocolate dishes as there are sweet ones.  I will confess to having checked with The Brewmaster’s Table and The Oxford Companion to Beer while preparing this post, so I’ve had Garrett Oliver’s voice in my head while I’m thinking about it (his FB page is here).  That’s ok, I’m used to voices in my head….(kidding, just kidding).

I have to talk for just a moment about chocolate malt, as it’s going to come up in this conversation.  Malt is barley that’s been soaked in water just ’till it germinates, then is dried, and usually at least lightly roasted in a kiln.  Barley malt at this point is like coffee in that the degree of roast makes a huge difference in the flavor and characteristics the grain has to offer.  Chocolate malt is kilned at a higher temperature than, say pale ale malt, but (a lot) less than carbonized black malt.  Yes, chocolate malt is so named because its flavor reminds one of dark chocolate.  It is not the same, though, so if a brewer really wants cocoa flavor, they are going to include cacao nibs in their beer.

Confused about malt?  Have you ever had a malted milk ball?  Ovaltine?  Grape nuts cereal? You probably know the flavor and didn’t realize it’s the same stuff they use in beer.  Grape nuts is kind of fun – no grapes involved, it’s made from barley malt and yeast.  It was my favorite backpacking cereal because it’s about impossible to crush into a powder in your pack.  Hydrate a little milk powder, and you have a very homey breakfast.  I had no idea I was essentially eating dry beer.

I love this quotation:

“Death by chocolate is a common form of wine extermination.”

– Joanna Simon, British beer writer, quoted on p. 139 of The Brewmaster’s Table.

Dessert wines fail because they are sweet, on top of a sweet dessert.  It overwhelms your taste buds.  Sweet wines, it seems to me, would be best served with cheese – I’ve not yet met one I wanted to have for dessert all by itself, though I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.

Beers can cut across the sweetness, complementing flavor instead.  Stouts are popular choices with desserts, I think because their full-bodied nature goes well with the richness of a dessert, but they can be fairly dry themselves (even when they don’t give that impression).  I probably wouldn’t pair a stout with a sherbet or sorbet (sorbet is the one without dairy), they are too light not to be overtaken by a stout.  Stouts can even stand in for coffee, if you have the right people at your table.  Some folks absolutely have to have an end-of-meal coffee to feel complete.

I’m not talking about a whole pint – there, I feel that rant coming on, I may write about how pint glasses suck next – a half-pint, or better, a tulip glass of beer is plenty – particularly if you’ve been having a different beverage with each of several courses already!

The Brewmaster’s Table cites British porters with chocolate souffle and mousse, and light chocolate cakes (p. 139)  Porters are brewed with chocolate malt, so we’re evoking a kindred flavor with the beer that can otherwise be fairly dry, and medium-full in mouthfeel.  Their advice is that if the chocolate is very intense, you may want an Imperial stout – talk about pulling out all the stops – but if it’s subtle to medium in intensity, porter “will be the best choice”.

Fruit beers go really well with plainer-flavored desserts, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.  I can imagine a kriek lambic (cherry cherry cherry!) or raspberry ale (as long as the fruit flavor is pretty pronounced) with a chocolate sorbet (or with vanilla ice cream, or a plain cheesecake, but that’s off topic).

Pet peeve: pairing like with like.  A pumpkin ale with pumpkin cheesecake.  Raspberry lambic with raspberry sorbet.  a) it’s unimaginative and b) it’ll overload your tastebuds quickly.

So today’s question asked of our superstar panel is:

If you were tasked with pairing a chocolate dessert (or even a mole) with a beer, how would you go about pairing them?  What qualities in the two compliment each other? 

Let’s take a moment to remember just how stellar our panel is:

Dave Schoon – writes passionately about beer and food pairings at www.beerchow.com

 Jay Ducote – southern Louisiana chef, radio host and TV personality; blogs about Cajun and Creole buy generic nexium cuisine, international film festivals he attends, and other things at biteandbooze.com

Melissa Cole – international beer judge, beer expert, roving guest brewer, author of Let Me Tell You About Beer; blogs at letmetellyouaboutbeer.com.

Randy Clemens – formerly of Stone Brewing, now an editor at Los Angeles Magazine; author of The Sriracha Cookbook, The Veggie Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook, and The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.; blogs in a forthright manner at randyclemens.com.

And here’s what they had to say:

Dave Schoon

Beerchow's Dave Schoon
Beerchow’s Dave Schoon

Any high cocoa content chocolates go very well with Imperial Stouts. The bigger the stout the higher percentage cocoa you want to go. Just like a complex Russian Imperial Stout, a high-percentage chocolate will give you an amazing flavor profile like coffee, berries and caramel, thus complimentary to an RIS. Sweet chocolate and especially milk chocolate will go well with traditional sweeter and less bitter stouts. While running the gamut of chocolates you might find that Belgian Dark Strong Ale’s, barrel-aged beers, Barleywines and Porters will all find perfect mates in chocolate. Too much chocolate… is that possible? Yes… All in all chocolate beer and chocolate aren’t necessarily a good pairing… try to get the classic flavors to compliment your chocolate like coffee, roasty and caramelly.

Me: Of course, one of the possible answers is “Why would you ever do that??”. That’s pretty much what I said upon seeing chocolate in my pecan pie for the first time. Some things just don’t go together well, or aren’t necessary for the enjoyment of either. Is that true for chocolate and beer?

I agree, chocolate and pecan pie is gross. I look at the harmonious organics that go into this. Chocolatier’s and Brewmaster’s [sic] are sort of the same people. They both are these scientific-artist-types that use raw ingredients to create delectable, and in some instances, addictive concoctions. So essentially why wouldn’t you marry these two? Speaking to the tangible foods themselves, the two can be mutually exclusive and don’t need each other, but when put together they can bring you to a new level of culinary nirvana.

Me: So, the question is, what happens if you put beer and chocolate together?

Usually there’s some sort of foaming in the pan, but I don’t think that’s what you mean ( haha). Technically speaking what happens in brewing the Theobroma cacao seeds are turned into cocoa powder/nibs and provides the main flavor component to Dogfish Head’s Theobroma. Other great commercial beers with chocolate are Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock and Rogue’s Chocolate Stout. With regards to food, chocolate and beer give you nearly endless possibilities and may create some problems for you if you can’t organize all of your beer and food recipes.

 Jay Ducote

Biteandbooze's Jay Ducote
Biteandbooze’s Jay Ducote

Pairings are all about balancing flavors.  This can be accomplished by cutting, contrasting, and complimenting.  It you have a rich, creamy chocolate based dessert (or anything with milk chocolate), you could think about cutting it with something hoppy and citrusy.  Perhaps a North American west coast IPA could work, thought it’d be tricky.  I think you’d really want a west coast amber ale with a good hop balance and some caramel maltiness.  A darker German bock could also work.  Dark chocolate, on the other hand, provides a bitterness that is similar to beer.  You can balance that out with a sweeter beer like a milk stout or a fruit beer like Abita’s Purple Haze which is brewed with raspberries.

 

 

Melissa Cole

Letmetellyouaboutbeer's Melissa Cole
Letmetellyouaboutbeer’s Melissa Cole

…be careful not to go too sweet, milk chocolate with high residual sugar beers like barley wines can be cloying.

 

 

 

Randy Clemens

RandyClemens.com's own Randy Clemens (who else?)
RandyClemens.com’s own Randy Clemens (who else?)

Beer and chocolate can make for excellent bedfellows. Many of the flavors that can be found in each serve well as compliments or contrasts to the other. With darker beers, the deeper roast of the malt can often create flavors akin to coffee and some that make you swear there’s chocolate used in the brewing when in fact, it’s simply a flavor derived from the malt.

The beauty of chocolate and craft beer is that they both have undergone a renaissance of sorts, with artisans taking the lead and developing interesting flavor combinations that forgo any sort of “traditional rules.” Curry powder in chocolate? Why the hell not! Coconut in beer? Why yes, there are several breweries doing that quite well. So, while a bold, slightly bitter single-origin 85% cacao dark chocolate bar may pair nicely with a straightforward, malty doppelbock, I also like to look for complementary flavors from a cook’s perspective and showcase the imagination of the brewmaster and chocolatier.

 

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2 Comments

  1. I would disagree with you on why chocolate malt is named what it is. The name comes from the color of the malt, not the flavor, although it can give roasted coffee and cocoa flavor and aroma in a finished beer.

    • I can give you a number of sources that refer to flavor as the reason chocolate malt is called what it is, both of the Oliver books included. However, how much chocolate flavor ends up in the final product…I always thought it just referred to color, myself. I find it generally does give a roasty-toasty flavor far more reminiscent of food in the cocoa-to-coffee range than of grain (which I associate with a nutty quality), but that can be a pretty wide range of flavors.

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