Beer: The Most Romantic Drink of All

That high-stress relationship holiday is around the corner, and I’m sure florists, Hallmark, restaurants, and M&M Mars are poised to make a killing.  Yes, I’m referring to Valentine’s Day.  Inspired by Ms. Puckette’s article over here on her site, I feel wine is pretty well covered.  My focus will be on my first love, beer, and its ability to pair well with chocolate.

Right out of the gate, beer already has an edge over (most) wine when pairing with food- its carbonation.  Capable of cutting through rich, thick flavors and dense fat, those bubbles in beer act as a palette-cleanser.

Couple this cleansing ability with similar flavors found in chocolate, and beer is effective, versatile, and quite the complimentary beverage to chocolate.  Dark, roasty stouts and porters may contain black patent and/or chocolate specialty malts, providing flavor.  Some brewers even add chocolate itself into the recipe, as is the case with Samuel Smith Chocolate Stout made with organic cocoa.  Another option for pairing is a milk stout, such as Left Hand’s Nitro.  It’s brewed with lactose (milk sugar) which does not ferment out, leaving the beer a touch sweet.  Try milk stouts with chocolate high in cacao, to counter and soften the bitterness.

beer_and_chocolate

For those fans of spirits, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout or porter will provide a layer of depth and complexity to your chocolate pairing.  Bourbon barrels impart a dose of vanilla and caramel, plus a dryness due to the oak compounds.  Pair these brews with quality milk chocolate and experience something akin to a Milky Way Bar.

Something commonly paired with chocolate is fruit.  Combined with either white or traditional chocolate, fruit beers make excellent “chocolate-covered strawberry/cherry/raspberry” experiences.  A beer such as Founders Rübæus, or its big brother, Blushing Monk, are made with raspberry puree.  Raspberries also provide a hint of tartness, adding a balance to the rich, creaminess of chocolate.  Or, you could skip the fruit AND the chocolate, and blend a chocolate and fruit beer together, a la Samuel Smith’s strawberry and chocolate.

For the truly adventurous, perhaps something esoteric is in order.  The few of us who enjoy those whack-and-unwrap chocolate oranges, try Sierra Nevada’s Side Car (or any pale ale with hops that impart an orange flavor to the beer) with some creamy milk chocolate.

I know me and my wife will find some sort of awesome combination to celebrate this year’s romantic holiday.

The Best of All Possible Worlds: Firestone Walker’s XIX

Firestone_Walker_XIX

On the docket:  22 oz. bottle of Firestone Walker’s XIX.  Bottle date:  10/2/15

Poured into:  River Horse snifter

S:  The body fills into the glass as a walnut, mahogany orb, nearly black.  The bottom sports orange tints, the meniscus counters with a light aubergine.  The head, a dense, foamy taupe cap builds and dies.  What’s left is a tight ring at the outside of the glass, full of bubbles.  An archipelago of small bubbles floats in the center.  Small brown particles (FW warned drinkers ahead of time) settle to the bottom.  Carbonation is visibly undetectable.

A:  First and foremost, the barrel-aged aspect of the aroma, front and center:  vanilla and a slight oaky, earthy tobacco.  After consideration and a swirl, one might also take in coffee, dark chocolate, fruit cake, coconut, and a slight spiciness.  Warm, piquant booze sends a tingle up the nostrils.  In the middle of it all is a very subtle pine resin.  All in all, a multi-layered aroma giving evidence of each of the four beers in this celebratory concoction.

T:  Wow, so much happening, I doubt there’s any way I’ll catch it all.  Much of the aroma carries into the palate.  The coffee, chocolate and fruit cake are easiest to pick out.  New flavors, not in the nose are here too, such as a rich molasses (thank you Stickee Monkee), and fleeting touches of caramel (and thank you Bravo).  Delving further into the structure, there’s also a soft anise/black licorice feature (Dr. Parabola, I presume?).  Though a massive sweetness sticks around through mid-palate, it leaves after a while, providing a drying, tannic, oaky finish.  The finish itself is long, and certainly feels like the smooth burn of brandy, and the vanilla of bourbon barrels.

F:  Thick, oily and coating.  Heavy on the palate, with just enough lift from the carbonation.  Chewy (there you are, Mr. Merkin).  As it warms it gets almost too heavy… almost.

O:  This one deserves contemplation, as Firestone Walker has done it once again.  This beer is greater than the sum of its parts.  Each sip and degree of temperature change brings something new.

S:  3.75  A:  4.5  T:  4.75  F:  4  O:  4.5

Suggested food pairing: if you must… sharp cheddar cheese, hearty beef stew made with a splash of whiskey… but really, this one deserves full attention.  Enjoy it on its own.