What do you give your beer-loving sweetheart on Valentine’s Day? A hop flower bouquet? A box of beer and pretzel truffles? Or maybe beer-scented candles to set an amorous mood?
While all of these are real possibilities, what he or she really wants is beer. Like a bottled box of chocolates, a selection of chocolate beers — those brewed with actual chocolate or cocoa — is the perfect treat to brew up a little romance.
Stouts and porters tend to be the favored styles for chocolate beers. The bitter chocolate and coffee flavors of dark, roasted grains naturally complement the smooth tones of real chocolate. The deep brown and black colors along with the creamy texture can make these luxurious brews seem almost like drinking chocolate syrup.
One of my current favorites is Double Chocolate Stout from Rogue Ales. Packaged in Valentine red 22-ounce bottles, it’s hard to miss on the shelf. It starts off with a dry snap of roasted malt that gives way almost immediately to creamy, bittersweet chocolate. As you sip, it unfolds multiple layers of complexity as herbal hops, vanilla, molasses and dark fruits all vie for your attention. A dry finish makes it seem lighter than it is, tempting you to indulge in another glass.
Odell Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout is all about chocolate. Sweet milk chocolate flavors lead the way and carry through to linger in the long-lasting finish. A drizzle of caramel and a hint of minty hops complete the picture. Lugene leans sweet, but a counterpoint of subtle hop and roast bitterness keeps it from being cloying. Drop a scoop of vanilla ice cream in your glass for a delicious chocolate stout float. Try it. You’ll like it.
The ’72 Imperial Chocolate Cream Stout from Breckenridge Brewing Co. takes chocolate stout a step further by aging it in a whiskey barrel. Milk chocolate combines with caramel whiskey for a boozy confection. Strong notes of dried fruit remind me of those chocolate-covered fruit jellies in a Whitman’s Sampler box. There’s a lot going on in this beer — perhaps too much. The myriad flavors sit comfortably side by side, but in the end they never quite come together into a coherent whole.
On the local front, pick up a growler of Chocolate Milk Stout from Dangerous Man Brewing in northeast Minneapolis. One of the very few semiregular beers at Dangerous Man, Chocolate Milk Stout is a smooth and satisfying dessert of a beer. The creamy, sweet stout has a full mouthfeel and velvety texture. The flavor is dominated by cocoa and cream with subtle notes of toasted grain adding depth. Bitterness is low — barely enough to balance the sweetness.
For fans of those bitter, high-cocoa chocolate bars try the canned version of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. It’s light-bodied and very dry, which accentuates the interplay of dark chocolate and coffee-like, black malt roast. The nitrogen gas widget gives this beer a smooth, creamy mouthfeel that tempers the bitterness a bit. This would go well with a shot of Irish Cream. Chocolate Irish Car Bomb, anyone?
Not all chocolate beers are black. Boulevard Chocolate Ale is an amber-colored brew that brings a nutty dimension to the chocolate beer theme. The dominant flavors here are milk chocolate, vanilla and hazelnuts. Caramel tones bring a bit of sweetness. Moderately assertive spicy and herbal hops provide balancing notes of licorice and cinnamon. It goes out with a touch of lightly astringent cocoa bitterness. Look for this to show up in stores sometime around Feb. 9.
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.