Industry experts pair up to give Milwaukee a taste of perfection
Chocolate and beer?
We all love them. But, together?
"They're a natural match, since chocolate and beer are both fermented foods," says Julie Waterman, owner of Indulgence Chocolatiers. "Both are about the balance between bitter and sweet. And both are founded on similar flavors, whether they be fruity notes or deeper caramel and coffee flavors."
And Waterman believes in what she says. She has partnered with the experts from Leinenkugel's Tenth and Blake Beer Company to show how high-quality chocolate (including Indulgence's newest blackberry espresso truffle) pairs perfectly with Leinie's newest line of Big Eddy small batch brews.
"This series is a tribute to Chippewa Falls and the Big Eddy Spring, the water source for our brewery," says Dick Leinenkugel, fifth generation brewer and business development manager at the Tenth and Blake Beer Company. "It also connotes big beers ... experimental brews. The Big Eddy series is just that. They're beers with more hops, more malt, more alcohol, more character."
The first release in the series, which will also include a double IPA, a Baltic porter and a Scotch ale, is a Russian imperial stout, which will be available November through January. This dark brew is a genuinely big, full-bodied, beer-geek beer with a complex flavor profile that includes rich caramel, coffee and toffee, along with notes of dark, voluptuous fruit. So, it's really no surprise that it pairs deliciously with chocolate.
"From a flavor perspective, chocolate and beer resonate with one another," says Leinenkugel's trade brewer and flavor expert, Grant Holtackers. "They're not exactly the same, but they sort of echo in your mouth. The beer can really help the chocolate out, and the chocolate also helps the beer. Pairing them together develops a richer, more full experience."
Some of beer's more unique characteristics, including its low alcohol content and carbonation, contribute to its extreme versatility. Holtackers points to the palate-cleansing properties of beer, which mean that beer can be paired with foods like chile peppers, artichokes and asparagus, which are often challenging to pair with wine. Waterman agrees.
"Beer is one of the more natural things to pair with chocolate," Waterman explains. "It's even easier than pairing with wine. Since you're not dealing with the complication of balancing tannins and sugar, you can be a bit more loose with your combinations."
The fact is, beer and chocolate aren't so different. Malt beer is naturally very sweet and would be far less palatable without the bitterness of hops. In much the same way, the bitter cocoa flavor of chocolate is paired with the pleasant sweetness of sugar. In both cases, perfection lies at a point of balance between bitter and sweet where each reach its decadent best. The popularity of both high end chocolate and the resurgence of craft beers has also created the optimal environment for adventurous pairings.
"We're in the midst of an awesome renaissance in brewing in the U.S.," says Holtackers. "With over 2,300 breweries and some of the best right here in Wisconsin, brewing different varieties of beer, there's a very strong beer culture developing. In turn, beer lovers are really interested in looking at what's new, educating themselves, making themselves better, wiser beer drinkers."
Waterman and Holtackers offer the following tips for anyone looking to experiment with pairing beer and chocolate:
1. Taste both your chocolate and your beer at room temperature – more flavors present themselves as beer warms, so you'll get the most out of your tasting experience.
2. "Match the browns" – try matching the intensity of the chocolate and the beer. As the chocolate gets richer, match it with higher alcohol content and more intense hoppiness or deeper flavors.
3. Try contrasting flavors – match lighter fruity beers with intense, darker chocolate.
4. Gases from carbonation play off of salt – experiment with pairing chocolates that contain sea salt with your favorite beers.
5. Have fun and experiment – there are no hard and fast rules, only guidelines.
The fact is, the more you know about beer, the more flavors you'll be able to discern. And the more flavors you can discern, the more astute you'll become at the pairing process. Good chocolate, like good beer, is multi-dimensional. So, the more you taste and experience, the more qualities you'll be able to recognize.
So, the next time you sit down to enjoy a bit of delicious chocolate, consider pouring yourself a glass of a fruity Belgian sour, a malty doppelbock or a potent barrel-aged imperial stout. You might just surprise yourself.
If you'd prefer, you can also get advice directly from the experts. Look for Indulgence and Leinenkugel's Brewing Company together at a variety of upcoming local tasting events, including Wine & Dine Wisconsin on Nov. 12 and 13 at the Frontier Airlines Center.
Chocolate and beer? Does this lady live under a rock? This is nothing new or strange...go try a chocolate stout like Young's Double Chocolate Stout or Southern Tier's Choklat. Groundbreaking journalism from your friendly neighborhood Aardvark.
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