For all of my Denver chocolate and beer nerds, this post if for you guys. Or anyone who is a lover of beer and chocolate, or Great Divide fans.
The Star Bar in Denver is one of my favorite newish bar discoveries. It's a small dive bar, that has tons of awesome craft beer, and a skilled cocktail maker behind the bar who also specializes in beer cocktails. You can bring food in from across the street which is perfect because the most awesome hot dog joint in all of the land happens to be right across the street from the Star Bar. Biker Jim's! So, not only is there awesome beer, outside food, and cocktails, but there is a pool table and it's a dive bar. Greatest discovery of Denver. I am in Denver at least once a year for the Great American Beer Festival and this is pretty much where I hang out.
Justin Lloyd, the owner, created one of my favorite beer cocktails and it's currently featured in our BeerAdvocate Magazine Issue #59 Dec. 2011.
1 oz Dagave Extra Agave Spirit, or any quality Anejo tequila
3/4 oz Leopold Bros. Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liquor
1/2 tsp Crushed Chipotle powder
6 oz Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
Combine spirits with ice in mixing glass, stir to mix and chill, and strain into a clean mixing glass. Then add the crushed chipotle powder, and stir vigorously to completely incorporate the spirits and spice. Strain into a goblet or an hour glass Pilsner glass. Pour in chilled beer with a two inch laced head.
The Star Bar partnered with The Chocolate Therapist of Littleton, Colorado to come up with a beer and chocolate pairing. They featured Great Divide beers, another personal favorite of mine. Brian Dunn is the nicest guy in craft beer and his beers are some of the best out there.
I wasn't at this pairing event so there are no pictures are accompanying these pairings. But I will be as detailed as I can with what I know about chocolate and the beers featured.
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter and Sea Salt / Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
I can imagine this combination working with the peanut butter and natural chocolate-coffee flavors on the beer as well as the wood flavors from the oak. The sea salt more than likely helped tame the sweetness of the oak aging on the beer.
Milk Chocolate Amaretto Cappuccino / Great Divide Grand Cru
The Grand Cru is a Belgian-style dark ale with an 11% abv. The milk chocolate was more than likely the right pairing for the malts. As sweet as milk chocolate can be, the nuttiness and milky quality of it will help with the sweet overbearing malts of a big Belgian-style like this beer. Sometimes you have to pair sweet on top of sweet to allow the flavors from both beer and chocolate to come through. Otherwise the sugars will take over everything. Sweet on Sweet will allow the subdued flavors to come forward. The cappuccino flavors would no doubt add some depth of flavor and tame the boozy esters from the high abv.
Milk Chocolate Orange / Great Divide Hercules Imperial IPA
Hercules is a big malty double IPA. That means bigger hops and bigger malts which leads to a higher abv. These are technically imbalanced beers. Having the cold is the way to drink them and as they warm up the imperfections of the doubling come through. Sticky sweet malts, or the excessive bitter hops. This is what people love about these beers once they have warmed and open. I personally prefer mine very cold so the balance is still intact and all the ingredients are still on an equal playing field.
The orange is all about the hops. Bitter citrus flavors of hops and sweet orange oils and flavors are a natural fit. But the milk chocolate is all about the malts. As explained in the pairing above. Sweet on sweet and probably drew out some natural creamy milk flavors and nuttiness.
Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger / Great Divide Hoss Rye Lager
I am surprised about this pairing. Dark chocolate, at least 65% is great with rye beers. Rye tends to have a bit of a drying effect on the palate and the dark chocolate interacts well letting sweet flavors and deep fruity complex flavors of chocolate come out. With Hoss' natural fruity flavors, they probably brought out the best in each other with fruit flavors. The ginger is the surprise for me. For me ginger is spicy and soapy. Sometimes it has a clean flavor and other times it's all soap. I can only imagine this working with the spicy rye flavors and the malts rounding out the earthy flavors from both rye and ginger.
Milk Chocolate Maple / Great Divide Hibernation 2009
I am not sure what the 2009 flavors produced for this beer, but as a fairly big English-style ale with dry hopping and big roasted malts I can imagine this pairing working with the milk chocolate nutty flavors again and big roasted malts, but also the maple probably drawing out more toasted flavors from the malts.
Cayenne Pepper Savouries / Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
This one is a wild card for me. I am not sure what type of chocolate was used here but like the cocktail posted above, the cayenne pepper spicy heat just mingles and marries good heat with chocolate flavors from the Yeti. I am sure the chocolate also drew out the natural toffee and roasted flavors from the beer.
Chocolate and beer are a wonderful together. A lot of people tend to dismiss beer still thinking it all tastes the same or it's like Bud/Miller/Coors. To some of you reading this, this is a no brainer, but to others this might be an eye opener. Beer and chocolate can and do work amazing together. And to be honest, beer has such a larger range of styles than wine, especially American styles, and has endless combinations to explorer. So if you are interested in thinking outside of the box, start taking bar of chocolate with you to your favorite bars that serve a good range of craft beer and start experimenting. Start buying bottles of beer from your local package store and do some exploration at home with some chocolate samples. It's fun and it's a lot cheaper to crack into a beer than it is for some wines.
** Using beer review sites like BeerAdvocate.com and gathering a collective of opinions from various reviews is a great way to begin to understand a beer before you try it. Look for the similarities in reviews. Similar flavor notes and flavor descriptors.
** Hops and chocolate are not a good match. IPA's especially are not the best match for chocolate, but IPA's work well with cream or fats. So think of chocolate covered caramels, soft caramel or mou's. And even think about toffees or chocolate cheese cakes or rich cream based truffles as a place to start with IPA's. Chocolate covered fruits are a good place to go with IPA's too. Not just chocolate covered orange peels, but lemon peels, mangoes, pineapples, anything with a nice tart citrus flavor. It's tough to get IPA's and chocolate right. It doesn't mean it can't be done, it just means that you will need a variety of influences for a pairing other than just chocolate.
** Imperial Stouts are not always the right match for chocolate. It seems like it's always supposed to be imperial stouts and chocolate but some American Imperial Stouts have a hop flavor that is just too strong for the chocolate. Make sure you understand which stout you are buying into. Beware over overly roasted, acidic, or bitter stouts. They could be too robust for the chocolate. And if you have a chocolate with the same characters, you could be burying or cancelling out those flavors that make the beer or the chocolate distinctive and unique.
** Have fun and try not to over think things. Taste is subjective. If you find something that works for you but others may not like, it doesn't mean the pairing is wrong.
** If you are tasting big ester-y alcohol notes more than you are tasting flavors in the beer or chocolate, then it is a wrong pairing. The same rules apply for any alcohol and food pairing.