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.

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Not The Verve: Left Hand’s Bittersweet (Symphony) Imperial Coffee Milk Stout

On the docket:  22 oz. Left Hand Brewing Co.’s Bittersweet Imperial Coffee Milk Stout (best by date of 4/17/16)

Poured into:  Jester King Snorkel snifter

S:  A coca-cola colored head forms atop an opaque, brown-black body.  It settles to a small cap, and leaves delicate, thin rings around the glass.  After peering closely at the bottom of my glass, I do see bubbles slowly tuning upwards to the top.

A:  The overture begins with roasted malt in the form of coffee, dark dark chocolate, and that oat-y aroma that reminds you of Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout or Left Hand’s own Milk Stout on Nitro (or even their Fade to Black).  A pleasant surprise- despite the high abv (8.9%) I do not detect the alcohols at the outset.  Perhaps they’ll feature in the second movement, after the beer has had a chance to warm up.  The hops, while subdued, are present in the form of a faint whiff of pine.

T:  A (bittersweet) symphony of flavors swirls around your palate after one sip.  Espresso and coffee tones are at a forte volume, from the actual coffee and roasted malt.  The sweetness from the lactose decrescendos the volume, smooths out the rough edges, like a strings section rounding out a bold brass of trombones, French horns and euphoniums.  If you listen closely with your tongue, you might even hear the gentle “ting” of the dark cherry triangle.  The movement ends with a bit of clanging bitterness, the hops playing snare drum and cymbals.  A low, warm boozy bassoon completes the finish.

F:  Smooth, fluffy and velvety- flutes, clarinets and perhaps a piccolo, to extend the musical metaphor I already established.  Oily, coating.  Deceptively light-bodied despite the usual assumption people have that dark beer is heavy.  The carbonation is present, gentle pricks on the tongue.  It’s just enough to scrub away the sweetness, like an usher guiding you to your seat with a flashlight.

O:  Marvelous offering by my favorite, sinister-friendly brewery.  It’s something to take in, and enjoy.  Pick it apart, study it.  Analyze it, like you might do with a well-composed piece of music.  I did.  I’d call this one Brahms-like, akin to his requiem.

Suggested food pairing:  Bold barbecue, earthy cheddar cheese, desserts featuring dark chocolate, cherries, or coffee flavors, tiramisu

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