The thing about covering a beer and chocolate tasting is that everyone you tell about the event is automatically jealous and assumes that all you do every day at work is get liquored up and eat sugar.
And while that may be true, I have a confession to make. I wasn’t really that excited about it. Mainly because, well, I don’t really like beer.
I know. I know. What kind of American am I? Apparently not the kind you would want to have a beer with, I guess.
The thing is, there was this incident, in college, at a house party, involving ping pong balls, red Solo cups and keg beer. And, while I am enticed by the idea of you imagining my crazy collegiate antics, and therefore assuming I partied like crazy and led an awesome life on campus, I feel I have to tell you that it only really involved about 2 ounces of beer. That was all I needed to, well, let’s just say, “forfeit.” What can I say? I can’t handle liquor well. The upshot is, I’m a super cheap date.
Anyway, the incident left a bitter taste in my mouth for beer and I’ve mostly avoided it at all costs since then. I won’t even let a guy buy me one at a ball park, which I’m told is the place where cold beer tastes like love and heaven.
So, when I found out I was going to the beer and chocolate tasting event at the Fine Chocolate Show in Chicago last week, I honestly wasn’t super excited about it. But, seeing as how I was getting paid to get liquored up and eat sugar, I figured what the heck?
Clay Gordon, publisher and senior chocolate correspondent for The Chocolate Life, as well as Jim Blockinger, midwest Regional Manager for Merchant du Vin, started the event by explaining the art of tasting beer while eating chocolate to us.
Blockinger said it’s important to first hold the beer up to the light to see how clear it is. Then, one should sniff the beer multiple times, like a dog sniffs grass. (This is important, because when you taste wine, you are supposed to just take one long whiff). Then, one should taste the beer and the chocolate separately, which helps create a flavor memory for each one, and also helps one better understand the benefits of the pairing.
Gordon says that while wine has long been paired with chocolates, beer actually makes a much better mate. That’s because beer has a lot of the same roasting flavors of the chocolate and a texture that’s more complimentary.
He was adamant in his belief that there’s no right or wrong pairings though and let us all enjoy each sample with whatever combination of chocolate we wanted.
We started with:
1. The Samuel Smith Organic Chocolate Stout — With a name like “chocolate stout” you might assume the beer tastes like Hershey syrup, but you would be wrong. While it did live up to the description of supporting a “lush chocolate aroma,” it honestly still tasted like bitter beer to me. Pairing it with milk chocolate was a pleasant surprise though, as it helped offset some of the bitterness. I was also surprised by how much the melty texture of the chocolate blended with the bubbles in the beer to create a smooth mouth feel.
2. Ayinger Celebrator — This “rich, dark elixir with cascading layers of malt complexity balanced by elegant hops,” again was not quite up my alley. However, again, the pairing with a milk chocolate did ease the bitter taste and create a pleasant mouth feel.
3. Lindemans Faro — By far my favorite beer mostly because it tasted nothing like beer. The “fruit and caramel aroma” was “balanced by subtle complexity and refreshing acidity.” In other words, it tasted like a fruity spritzer. Personally, I thought this paired best with a milk chocolate, with helped highlight sweet notes in each.
4. Lindemans Framboise — My second favorite of the bunch, this beer featured extremely strong raspberry notes as well as “undertones of fruity acidity; elegant, sparkling clean taste.” The robust raspberry flavors paired well with a very dark chocolate, which blended with the beer to create a flavor fusion of fruit and beer.
5. Westmalle Tripel — The fifth and final beer was a Westmalle Tripel. Although, I so thoroughly enjoyed both the Lindemans that I decided not to tempt fate by trying any more beers. So, my colleague, Editor-In-Chief Bernie Pacyniak tried it in my stead. He said the beer, which featured, “glowing orange-gold color, herbal aroma and complex flavors that meld rich malt sweetness, warmth, hops, and powerful drinkability” paired well with the milk chocolate, its complexity competing a bit too much with the dark chocolates.
I have to admit, I left the event with the names of the two Lindemans plugged into my cell phone so I could order them the next time I’m in a high-end beer bar with a hot guy. I may never make a special trip to the store for them, but at least now I know there are at least two beers out there that don’t make me want to, shall we say, ““forfeit.” Thank you Gordon and Blockinger for the insight.