Beer has been matched with many different foods by many different people, but one that seems to surprise the most number of people is chocolate.
Chocolate and beer have a natural affinity that at first seems strange but on closer inspection is much more obvious. Both Chocolate and beer are a combination of bitter and sweet, and it is this balance that defines both the type and the end flavour of each.
Chocolate is native to central and southern America and is the seed of the Cacao tree. The beans are fermented, dried and hulled before the nib is ground. This is then made into a paste called chocolate liquor, which is roughly half cocoa solids and half cocoa butter. Further separation can leave more or less of one or the other depending on what the end product is to be.
About a thousand or more years ago Cacao trees arrived in Mexico from South America and the Mexicans didn’t look back, taking to this new drink with much gusto. Did I say drink? That’s right, Chocolate was initially consumed as a beverage and in fact the word chocolate seems to have an original meaning of ‘warm drink’. This early chocolate was drunk with spices the most notable of which was chilli, a spice that finds a natural flavour balance with chocolate, and also in some beers.
Beer has itself been spiced with many things throughout history and it was destined to be that at some stage someone would use chocolate. Several examples of this practise are available in Australia and include Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (a recent winner at the AIBA) and Meantime’s Chocolate and a Sydney favourite in Redoak Belgian Chocolate Stout. Of course many beers can have a chocolate profile without any cacao seeds being harmed. Many stouts have a natural chocolate profile due to combinations of darker and roasted grains including the blindingly obvious chocolate malt.
When it comes to pairing beer with chocolate it is pretty hard to go too wrong. Anyone who has still had a beer in hand at a 21st as the mud cake came out can probably verify this. But a most basic and dependable start is to use the classic compliment and contrast rule. The sweeter the beer, the more bitter the chocolate. The sweeter the chocolate the more bitter (and I prefer a roasted rather than hop bitterness for this) the more bitter the beer. This should not be viewed in any way as a hard and fast rule but rather as a starting point for combinations.
Another aspect for pairing is spicing of the chocolate, spicing of the beer and other beer flavour profiles. For example chocolate is commonly flavoured with vanilla, raisin, cognac, rum, caramel, nuts or honey all of which are flavour profiles that are associated with various styles of beer. Fruits also have a flavour role in both beer and chocolate, from cherries to oranges considerations can be met on both ends of the match as a direct flavour or as a secondary component to the pairing. A great example of this type of secondary component is blue cheese.
Blue cheese can be a great pairing with chocolate and is certainly no stranger to beer. Throw into this mix another component such as red meat, make the chocolate component a savoury sauce and you have the potential for one hell of a meal. This doesn’t mean throwing a steak on the BBQ and covering it with a block of choccy and a bit of cheese washed down with a macro lager, but it should indicate the depth of comparative flavours between beer and chocolate.
The best way to start though is to just take a stab at a choice and run with it. Remember, it’s beer and chocolate..even if the match doesn’t work they’re going to be pretty good anyway! At its best, who knows what level of choc/beer bliss you will end up having fun with.
Beer and Chocolate Suggestions
- Classic Chocolate Truffle: A Baltic Porter such as Okocim or Baltika Porter
- Lemon myrtle scented white chocolate truffle in a dark chocolate case: Witbier such as Hoegaarden, Feral White or La Trappe Wit
- Dark Chocolate with Almonds: Belgian Dubbel such as Chimay Red, Maudite or Bright Brewery Dubbel
- Mud Cake: Imperial Stout like Durham Temptation or Red Hill Imperial Stout
Other good beer alternatives include:
- Foreign Style Stout like Sinha Stout or Coopers Best Extra Stout
- Chocolate Liquor truffle (dependent on the liquor)
- A Belgian-style strong dark ale such as Gouden Carolous, Rochefort 10 or Trois Pistols