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.

Nice to Wheat You: St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale

St_Ambroise_Apricot_WheatOn the docket:  16 oz. can of St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat

Poured into:  Innis & Gunn craft glass

S:  Amber-orange with a crystal hue.  A off-white head that forms, fluffy and tall but sinks after a minute.  A small cap sticks around.  Lazy bubbles climb to the top.

A:  The biggest portion of the aroma comes from the bright apricot aroma.  Also present is a subtle tartness from the wheat, plus a hint of fruit and herbal notes from the Willamette and Golding hops.  Straightforward and pleasing in its simplicity.

T:  Apricot fruit up front, and an initial sweetness.  By mid-palate though, it starts to dry out.  Similar to the aroma, there’s a slight tartness imparted by the wheat.  This is by no means sour, just an added layer of complexity.  Certainly on the malty side of the spectrum.  However, there is a dryness to the finish (give it a minute to develop).

F:  Medium-light body, Gentle, smooth carbonation.

O:  Pleasant, simple, refreshing fruit beer that isn’t brash and citrusy.  Fans of peach and nectarine flavored beers may also enjoy this one.

Suggested food pairing:  Baby spinach and arugula salad with cracked pepper, thin-cut pork chops with mashed potatoes and applesauce, fruit tart, peach cobbler

Orange You Glad I Said Bolero? Bolero Snort’s Orange Cream Pop IPA

On the docket:  16 oz. can of Bolero Snort’s Orange Cream Pop IPA (brewed with lactose, orange zest & vanilla beans)

Poured into:  Innis & Gunn craft glass

S:  Honey-gold or Ticonderoga pencil, supporting an off-white head.  It sits around for a while, great retention.  Lacing is thick and doily-like.  Mostly translucent but clear.  Tiny bubbles well up from the base of the glass.

A:  Bright orange citrus and a touch of vanilla stands out first, with a slight pine and subtle sweet malt.  Excellent aroma, could sniff this for the dog days of summer.

T:  Much like the aroma, the orange zest comes through immediately, plus a small dose of pine.  Midway through the malt comes in, simple with a water-cracker starkness.  This is also where the gentle sweetness from the lactose helps to balance out the bitterness of the hops.  The vanilla is in there somewhere, helping your mouth think that you’re cooling off with a creamsicle.  With a crisp and bitter finish, this one makes you reach for more.  Without a doubt an IPA.

F:  Medium body, with some fluffiness.  Finely attuned carbonation.

O:  Intriguing take on an IPA that’s well executed.  It does conjure images of that white van and unforgettable loud-speaker jingle, standing in line, and finally handing over a few dollars for Good Humored relief from the blistering summer sun.

Suggested food pairing:  Green salad with mandarin oranges, chicken and vegetable and mozzarella kabob skewers, fruit salad, fruit tart, ambrosia

Gose Down Easy: Anderson Valley’s Briney Melon Gose

On the docket:  12 oz. can of Anderson Valley Brewing Co.’s Briney Melon Gose

Poured into:  Innis & Gunn stemmed craft beer glass

S:  The body pours a golden straw and sports a creamy bone head.  The cap builds, lingers, then eventually settles down to a small, tight and hugging band of bubbles.  Tiny bubbles helix their way to the top from the base of the glass.  Lacing is thin, delicate but consistent bands with each sip.  There’s a slight haze to this, but does not detract from the beauty.

A:  Subtle but luscious watermelon, the slightest hint of funk, clean briny mineral, and soft malty sweetness comprise the nose.  A strong sniff reveals the rind of the watermelon, not simply the meat.  Another long sniff pulls out a faint floral aspect, it must be the Bravo hops.

T:  Certainly the most interesting aspect of the beer, the fruit flavor is everything done right about fruit used in beer.  The melon is present, but gentle, and melds with the pale malt and malted wheat into a lovely tang.  The sea salt is there too, adding balance to the acidity and fruit.  And, while it’s certainly sour, there a nice give and take between sweet and salty, sour and fruity.

F:  Crisp, and dainty on the palate with ample carbonation, lending another element to its drinkability and and refreshing nature.  The finish is relatively short, with a small dose of bitterness in addition to the melon flavor that rides along the entire time, beginning to end.

O:  Excellent execution of a fruit-flavored gose, and less on the traditional side (no coriander for starters).  Thirst-inducing and paradoxically, thirst-quenching.  Sessionable at 4.2%, imagine this on draft after a day out hiking, biking, running, kayaking, or any other summer activity in the sun.

Suggested food pairing:  goat cheese, summer ingredient salads, grilled chicken or fish with lemon-pepper seasoning (because the beer already brings the salt)

 

MAGnificent IPA: Dogfish Head’s Romantic

On the docket:  12 oz. bottle of Dogfish Head’s Romantic Chemistry IPA (brewed with mango, apricot and ginger)

A:  Ripe mango greets the nostrils.  The apricot is reminiscent of peaches in syrup you ate as a child in elementary school, sweet and fragrant.  The ginger however, is a little more hidden, manifesting as a slight spice kick.

S:  Amber-orange and wonderfully clear, the body fills out the glass and sports a bone colored head that builds high.  After it settles down, it still has some density, sustaining as a half-inch cap.  Lacing is viaduct-ish, with arched legs.  A long continuous trail of bubbles rise to the top from the base of the glass.

T:  The fruit shows up all at once, and lingers for quite a while.  Mid palate, the malt shows up briefly, a cracker-clean sweetness.  The finish is both juicy and drying, the fruit persisting all the way through to the end.  This is also where the ginger is easiest to detect, providing a spicy kick in addition to the hops.  Though bitter, it’s in order to bring contrast to what could be an overly-sweet fruit beer.

F:  Medium-light, with just a hint of smooth creaminess.  Carbonation is moderate and provides a nice scrub, urging you to take another sip, and then another.

O:  If you enjoy fruity IPAs, then this will be love-at-first-sip for you.  The ginger adds a nice contrast, balancing out the sweetness provided by the fruit.  An enjoyable fruit IPA, and something to offer someone who only thinks IPAs are nasty, hoppy, and bitter.

Suggested food pairing: Arugula salad with vinaigrette dressing and blood oranges, Roasted duck with orange coulis, fruit tart, creamy cheddar cheese

 

Swim with the Big Fish: Ballast Point’s Watermelon Dorado DIPA

Ballast_Point_Watermelon_Dorado

On the docket:  12 oz. bottle of Ballast Point Watermelon Dorado DIPA

A: Sweetness and a full waft of watermelon. It’s pleasing to inhale, and smells authentic. clean malt also present, but the fruit aroma certainly overpowers the hops.

S: Golden orange with a thick, persistent beige head. Carbonation activity visible, small bubbles lazily making their way to the top of the glass. Head is thick and creamy, receding slowly. Lacing is regular and bandy.

T: A befuddling blend of watermelon, bitterness, and a touch of malty richness compete for attention. This is exactly what you think it is, a DIPA with watermelon added. There’s definitely traces of both the flesh and a touch of the white almost-rind you encounter if you’re not careful when taking a knife to a wedge. As it approaches room temperature, the hops are more identifiable, countering the fruit with a dose of pine resin.

F: Medium body, with the hallmark oiliness of a DIPA. Though it ends fairly hoppy and bitter, the watermelon carries all the way through to the finish, manifesting itself as a muted version of a watermelon flavored gummy candy (not necessarily a bad thing). Some dryness, just a touch of sweetness.

O: As far as DIPAs go, I’ll stick to traditional renditions. However, if you want a change of pace from your normal routine, pick this up and give it a try.

Suggested food pairing: Um…. spicy Thai food? Easily one of the hardest beers I’ve had to determine a food pairing for- one sip and you might understand why.

Something Berry Different: Pacific Gem Single Hop

Green_Flash_Pacific_Gem_Pale_Ale

On the docket:  Green Flash Brewing Co.’s Pacific Gem Single Hop (American Pale Ale)

Poured into: 6 oz wine glass

S: Hazy honey-gold body that supports a nearly tan head.

A: Berries! Blackberry leads the procession, followed by a darker fruit note… black currant? Some woody note in there too, plus a cracker-like malt in support. Subtle, inviting.

T: More berries, in the taste. In addition, a white-bread crust shows up in a clean crisp malt. Ends quite fruity, rather than bitter and hoppy.

F: Medium-light body, average carbonation, but that’s ok. The flavors here are subtle and delicate- less scrubbing action needed.

O: My first experience with a Pacific Gem single-hop beer. Enjoyable, easy to session.

S: 3.75 A: 4.5 T: 4.5 F: 4.0 O: 4.25

Pairs with: Fruit salad, mild cheeses, chicken or pork with a berry-reduction sauce.