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A frightfully good pairing: beer and candy

  • October 2, 2013 - 12:30 PM

Americans love Halloween. We go all out with spooky decorations, creepy costumes and outrageously themed parties. And, of course, there is all that candy.

But how often have you paired beer with that candy? It’s frightfully good. Beer and candy pairing stations — for adults only! — will add a little something extra to your Hallow’s Eve bash.

The trick is finding the right beer for each treat. Halloween candy is so monstrously sugary that the old pairing adage of keeping the beverage a degree sweeter than the dessert is nearly impossible. The best-tasting results come from beers that offer a bit of complementary sweetness set off by a roasty or sour contrast.

Here are some shocking pairings to spring on your unsuspecting guests.

Candy corn: It’s not Halloween without candy corn. The tri-colored treat gets its buttery taste from a flavoring chemical called diacetyl. This makes it a perfect match with English extra special bitters, which often have subtle notes of buttery diacetyl. The smooth, toffee malt is just right with the flavor of the candy. Grassy hops and firm bitterness provide just enough balance to cut through the sugar.

The original extra special bitter is Fuller’s ESB from London brewer Fuller, Smith & Turner. Light, orange marmalade-like fermentation flavors give this pairing a little fruity kick. Or try Minnesota Special Bitter (MSB) from Minnetonka-based Badger Hill Brewing for a locally brewed rendition of the style.

Peanut butter cups: This is another classic Halloween candy that pairs incredibly well with beer. The basis for the pairing is right there in the marketing for the most iconic brand: Chocolate and peanut butter are two great flavors that taste great together.

Start with a chocolaty sweet stout like Brau Brother’s Moo Joos, a rich and creamy oatmeal milk stout that balances caramel sweetness with dark chocolate and gentle roasted-malt bitterness. Go bigger and bolder with an imperial stout such as Surly Darkness. This sought-after seasonal is full-bodied and sweet with deep chocolate and roasted flavors that won’t let go. It’s scheduled for release the last week of October. Be ready to jump on it, though. Surly Darkness flies out of stores almost as quickly as it’s wheeled in. If you miss out on it, try the Abyss from Deschutes Brewing Co. or Brooklyn Brewing’s Black Chocolate Stout.

A really interesting pairing to the classic peanut butter cup is a sweetened fruit lambic. Sweet-tart and loaded with raspberry flavor, Lindemans Framboise is the perfect pick. It brings a refreshing contrast to the salty sweet candy, like eating a PB&J on chocolate bread.

Candy bars: Stick with porters and stout with most bars. For example, Summit’s Great Northern Porter is great with Snickers. The beer’s bitter roast cuts the sugar even as the nutty candy’s sweetness pulls out caramel in the beer. The salty nuts pop out on top. It’s a beautiful thing.

Porter works again with Milky Way bars. Fuller’s London Porter has notes of chocolate, caramel and vanilla to match every layer of the candy bar. Add some figgy intrigue to the pairing by choosing an export-style stout like Lion Stout from Sri Lanka. The roasted malt character is lighter, but rich tones of dried dark fruits are a splendid complement to the caramel and nougat.

Another good option is English-style barleywine. Hop bitterness cuts through the sweet, but is mild enough to avoid becoming harsh. Rich, caramel malt does a delightful danse macabre with the creamy nougat. Try Anchor Old Foghorn or Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot.

Tyranena’s Rocky’s Revenge bourbon barrel-aged brown ale is great with a wafer bar like Kit Kat. Barrel aging adds nice vanilla overtones that tie in beautifully to the vanilla flavoring of the crispy wafer center.

Sour candy: People either love or hate the sour candies, but these puckering sweets are stupendous with Flemish red ales. But warn your guests, the combination hits with palate-twisting intensity. First comes a wave of jaw-locking sourness. Once that subsides, your mouth is flooded by a tsunami of juicy fruit. To turn up the tart, go with Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge. The sweeter Du­chesse de Bourgogne will tone it down for a smoother ride.

Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at

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