Two of my favorite things in this life are chocolate and beer. If I’m ever feeling down or slightly blue, a good bar of dark chocolate or a decent pint of IPA always seems to boost my mood.
But what about enjoying both together, surely that’s a double whammy of happiness?
Beer and chocolate pairings? Now, you may have heard about pairing red wine and chocolate, after all, fruit and chocolate just go well together. It can be a very nice combination if you can find the right red wine.
But, the taste of chocolate when paired with the right beer can also be a gastronomic delight!
That’s not even mentioning the recognized health benefits of drinking beer and eating chocolate. Well-known authoritative health professionals have shown links between reducing the risk of heart disease with the successful pairing of beer and chocolate.
It is also known to protect the bones, boost your levels of serotonin (the body’s natural feel-good drug), and help in the fight against diabetes.
Pairing With Beer Instead of Wine
The idea of pairing beers with different varieties of chocolate has been growing in popularity over the last decade or so, especially among artisan chocolate makers.
Before that, wine, especially among our lady friends, was seen as the perfect accompaniment to chocolate. How many times have I had to say sorry to my wife with a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine? Next time I’m going to get her a nice box of artisan chocolates with a fine IPA.
There are so many variations of wine, such as Cabernet, that it can be difficult to match just the right one with your favorite dessert; chocolate.
In the winemaking world, vintners make very different wines from the same grape variety. One will make it dry, another will make it sweeter. One will use American oak, another will use French. The resulting wines have very different characters. Sometimes, only a true oenophile can determine that they are in fact all of the same varietals.
Pairing wine with chocolate can often be tricky at best. Some of the tannins found in many wines don’t work well with chocolate and although the flavor combinations they give may be interesting, they won’t always be a pleasurable contrast on the palate.
It can be argued that chocolate actually pairs better with beer than wine.
With beers, each style has its own distinctive flavor and aromas which can be paired with different styles of chocolate for a magical taste experience.
Tips for Pairing Beer and Chocolate
One of the key things to remember when pairing beer with chocolate is they are both very similar.
They are both fermented foods that undergo an amazing transformation of flavors during the fermentation period. Just like fine craft ales, getting the best flavors from the chocolate fermentation process takes time, patience, and craftsmanship. And finally both chocolate and many beers offer a delicate balance of both sweet and bitter flavors.
Let’s start with the basics, rather than pairing two dominant flavors together as you do with wine and chocolate, beer can be a subtle partner to bold chocolate. Beer balances its light and bubbly effervescent qualities with the intensity of rich chocolate.
The rules of beer pairings with chocolate are quite simple. A good first rule to follow is to pair similar flavors, like with like. Start by pairing lighter chocolates like milk chocolate or white chocolate with light-bodied beers and then work your way up to darker chocolate varieties with rich and darker beers.
Many people assume only sweet or heavy-bodied stouts and porters complement bitter chocolates but in reality, pairing brown ales, lagers, bocks, hefeweizen, and even ciders works just as well.
There are certain styles, by virtue of their flavor characteristics such as bready, toasty, caramel, toffee, roasty, chocolaty, coffee, and fruity notes, that just seem to go well with chocolate.
Balancing the Sweet and Bitter Notes
One of the most important things to consider when pairing beer with chocolate is that while sweet goes with sweet and bitter tends to work well with other bitterness, you should always choose a beer that is less bitter than your chocolate.
A stout is usually much easier to pair with semisweet chocolate or dark chocolates depending on the brew. If you have a beer with tart or citrus notes, like a Belgian witbier, then you will want to pair it with darker chocolate rather than sweet milk chocolate.
Acidity in Beer and Chocolate Pairings
Most beers are only slightly acidic at the most, with a pH that ranges between 4.0 – 5.0 (remember the lower the number, the more acidic something will be) but also carbonation can often add to acidity too.
Some sour ales may even have a pH rating as low as 3.0 which doesn’t tend to pair well with chocolate. Although some high cacao content dark chocolate may be an exception to this rule, you will often find the bitterness of the chocolate when combined with the acidity of a sour beer overwhelming.
Beer and Chocolate Pairings That Won’t Disappoint
Oatmeal Stout With Milk Chocolate
Typically very dark in color with roasted malts, an Oatmeal stout is smooth with no bitterness which works so well with the delicate flavor notes of milk chocolate. The perfect dessert beer some would say!
IPAs With Dark Chocolate & Spice or Salt
The earthy hoppy flavors of an IPA pair best with a dark chocolate that has been salted or spiced to provide more depth of flavor on the tongue.
Pilsner With Semisweet Chocolate
Pilsners are easy-to-drink beers that are slightly sweet with an earthy malty character.
A perfect accompaniment to a semisweet chocolate that isn’t too dark, the lighter malt and champagne-like qualities also work well with malty and nutty milk chocolates.
Brown Ales With Dark Chocolate Coated Nuts
With a medium to high hop bitterness, brown ales, especially those of the American variety, also feature a roasted malt character with notes of chocolate and caramel which makes it an ideal partner for darker chocolates; especially those with nuts.
For a decadent treat why not enjoy some chocolate-covered nuts, especially almonds with a pint of your favorite brown ale?
Wheat Beer & Hefeweizen With Milk or White Chocolate
Those extra flavors of clove, orange peel, and sometimes even bubble gum lend themselves well to milk or white chocolates which feature similar flavors.
Porters or Bocks With Caramel Style Chocolate
Darker beers with complex roasty, big caramel, and toffee or coffee flavors are ideal for pairing with chocolate truffles with caramel fillings and/or nuts, or even a milk chocolate bar with caramel.
Any high-quality chocolate works well with darker flavors of Porters and Stouts. Experiment and have fun.
Belgian Beers With Fruit Infused Chocolates
Think of Belgium, and the two most common things that come to mind will probably be beer and chocolate
Belgian beers often exhibit a soft caramel sweetness and spicy phenolics from the special yeast they use. These beers go very well with fruit-infused chocolates, such as a chocolate-covered strawberry, or raspberry truffle.
Belgian Dubbels and Tripels are especially nice with chocolate. Both have residual sweetness and lots of fruity esters which pair well with your favorite chocolate dessert. Who knows more about beer and chocolate than the Belgians?
Irish Stout and High Cocoa Content (80%+) Dark Chocolate
Perhaps the ultimate beer and chocolate pairing, stouts work well with chocolate because of the coffee and chocolate notes you will often find in their flavor profiles.
In addition, dark chocolate usually has a lower fat content which pairs well with stouts and many other bitter beers.
Which Beers Don’t Pair Well With Chocolate?
Generally, beers that can’t stand up to chocolate’s rich fatty oils are difficult to pair. These would include session beers (ie. low alcoholic beers that are meant to be consumed in quantity), light lagers, some lawnmower beers, etc.
You may find exceptions, probably with lighter ales with some fruity ester notes, and these pairings may even be good. But the really great pairings come from the maltier beers with higher alcohol that can cut through the fatty cocoa butter in chocolate.
Very bitter beers are also difficult to pair with chocolate. Chocolate flavors are broken down into seven categories: Spicy, Floral, Earthy, Fruity, Vegetative, Caramel, and Nutty.
To me, there seems to be a conflict between the bitterness of an IPA, and the spicy and floral notes in most chocolate. Perhaps you have a favorite IPA with a lot of malty sweetness that pairs favorably with some chocolates, but for most, it’s a tough sell.
The Health Benefits of Beer and Chocolate
All this talk of beer and chocolate might be making you feel guilty. But before we finish this quick round-up of beer and chocolate pairings, let’s quickly touch on the health benefits of beer and chocolate. Yes, there are some and what a result! You can now drink beer and eat chocolate and be healthy too. In moderation of course!
Studies from Harvard University have recently found that beer and chocolate can help reduce the risks of heart disease. One of the most significant elements is that both beer and chocolate consumption can help increase the amount of HDL (the good kind of cholesterol) while also reducing the amount of LDL (the bad type of cholesterol).
Although wine is often credited with having high levels of antioxidants, beer actually has a higher level of antioxidant properties due to both the malted barley and hops found in most beers.
Higher temperatures used to roast the malts in beers creates additional antioxidants with darker beer tending to have more antioxidants than lighter beer.
Both beer and chocolate have good levels of vitamins and minerals. Beer contains plenty of B vitamins and also contains potassium, magnesium, selenium, and biotin. These minerals and vitamins protect the body from ailments such as a stroke or anemia.
Dark chocolate which has a 60 – 70% cocoa content also contains high levels of minerals including iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
Finally, we have the feel-good factor. Just like chocolate, moderate beer consumption can encourage the release of endorphins and the natural feel-good drug serotonin. These promote a feeling of wellness in the body.
However, be careful as studies have also shown that too many endorphins can also cause depression. It’s a very fine line and moderation is always key. Too much of a good thing isn’t always too good for you!
Beer and Chocolate Final Thoughts
Pairing beer with chocolate is quickly becoming a buzzword in artisan chocolate circles.
The bittersweet taste of many chocolates goes well with most ales, just remember to try and pair similar flavors.
If the chocolate is very bitter, pairing it with a very bitter ale may not be the most pleasant of tastes on your palate. Likewise, sour beers rarely work with the smooth taste of most chocolates, although some citrussy chocolates may benefit from a little extra sourness, it all depends how eye-wateringly sour you like it.
Once you have delved into the many different complementary flavors of chocolate and beer, why not try exploring the different pairings of beer with food we have looked at?
Just like chocolate, don’t assume wine is the only suitable pairing for food, often beer adds more flavor than wine can. Some of the beers now even come in classy wine-style bottles, but we’re not suggesting you surprise your loved one with a Dime Bar and a can of Bud. Instead, treat her (or him) to a box of artisan chocolate truffles and one of the many American craft beers you can now easily buy in the 7/11 at the same time.