Valentine's Day is close at hand. If your sweetheart is a lover of beer, you can spice up that box of chocolates by pairing it with some well-chosen suds.
Most people probably don't think of beer and chocolate as compatible partners. Indeed, the pale lagers that many think of as "beer" would make a miserable match for a truffle. But the coffee, chocolate, fruit and spice notes of many full-flavored craft beers are so well suited to chocolate that they almost seem made for each other.
As a general rule when pairing beer with chocolates, go malty. With few exceptions the sweet caramel and roasted flavors of malt are a better match than the bitter astringency of hops. Look for contrasting and complementary flavors: fruity beers with peanut butter cream or the chocolaty malt and mild roasty bitterness of a sweet stout with bittersweet chocolate. The wide-ranging flavors of both beer and bonbons extend endless pairing possibilities.
Mix and match the flavors
To whet your confectionery curiosity, I've paired selected beers with an assortment of luxurious truffles from St. Paul chocolatier Chocolat Celeste.
Rush River's Nevermore Chocolate Stout pairs perfectly with Celestial Sweetie, the chocolate maker's signature bittersweet ganache truffle, as cocoa and cocoa meld into one. Combine Celestial Sweetie with New Belgium's yeasty Abbey Dubbel and the result is chocolate-covered bananas. What could be better?
Celestial Sweetie's bittersweet creaminess gets a snappy, acidic contrast from Belgian sour ales. Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille, a traditional cherry lambic, is like a tart fruit sauce on chocolate cheesecake. An underlying musty funk brings out the cocoa's earthiness. Vichtenaar Flemish Ale combines with the chocolate to produce mysterious, winey, dark-fruit and floral flavors.
Other good options for this straight-up chocolate ganache truffle are Rogue Hazelnut Nectar and Lindemans Kreik or Framboise sweetened fruit lambics. You could also try a good coffee beer like Flat Earth's Black Helicopter Oatmeal Stout.
Celeste's Golden Cinnamon truffle pairs wondrously with Salvator Doppelbock. Cinnamon and caramel, spicy and sweet, the beer and chocolate offer each other perfect counterpoints.
The exotic spice and tea blend of the chai truffle allows an opportunity to break the malty-beer mandate. Hoppy India Pale Ale is made to pair with east-Asian spice and is a perfect match for this unique sweetmeat. The mash-up of spice, tea and grassy/citrus hops conjures the flavors of a cup of good Earl Grey. Make sure to pick an English style IPA like Meantime India Pale Ale or Summit IPA. American-style IPAs will be too citrusy and astringent.
Also good with the chai truffle is Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Brew from Kiuchi Brewery in Japan. The spicing in the truffle is actually fairly subtle. The malty ginger beer pulls it to the forefront. Likewise the chocolate's chai spice accentuates the beer's ginger zip.
For a bonbon-free Valentine's treat, try a beer cocktail called a Belgian Truffle. A 50/50 mix of Lindemans Framboise Lambic and chocolate stout, this blended-beer concoction is like raspberry truffle in liquid form. Choose a fuller-bodied, sweeter stout that will stand up to the sweet/tart raspberry fruitiness of the lambic. Rogue Chocolate Stout or Southern Tier Choklat work well for this. It is a combination not to be missed.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.