Let’s face it, Valentine’s day is all about dessert and lovers, maybe even in that order. So here is a quick guide on how to choose a great beer to pair with dessert and maybe even share it with your sweetie. Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Food pairing in general is all about balance. If you have too many strong flavors, textures and sensations in a dish, there is too much competition; no single element can shine through--no one wins. If you have a dish that is filled with mild complexity, as well as a single very strong component, the rest of the flavors will be lost--everyone loses. Creating beer and food pairings is no different.
The best beer pairings are the ones where both the food and the beer are enhanced when they come together. These types of match-ups are rare, but when you find them they are phenomenal. You begin to see lights and colors dancing, you feel like fantasia is going on in your mouth--everyone wins. More often you will find pairings that are more one-sided. The beer truly enhances the food or the food takes a good beer and transforms it into something completely different and wonderful--definitely a win. I once had a Angry Orchard Strawman Farmhouse paired with some smoked pork butt that blew my mind. I mean, it’s a tart cider on its own, but with the smokiness and the tanginess of the barbecue sauce and the sweetness of the apples from the cider--fireworks! Amazing!!
There are loads of factors to consider when trying to create a great beer pairing. But today we are focused solely on desserts so that simplifies things significantly. In fact, here are just five very basic tips to consider when putting together your own pairing. So simple!
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Try a sour with cheesecake--something like De Brabandere's Petrus Aged Red. This wonderfully tart Belgian beer has a sour cherry taste right up front and is a dream with cheesecake.
2. Strong flavors pair well with creamy foods. Take an American strong ale like Stone Brewing’s Double Bastard or a Belgian strong ale like Brother Thelonious from North Coast Brewing. These are huge beers both in alcohol and in flavor. Monsters like this must be tamed so we need something creamy (read fatty) to balance them out.
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Try an imperial IPA (preferably one with fruity hops like Cascade, Simcoe or Mosaic) with creme brulee--Half Hitch from Crux Fermentation Project is a great example of an imperial IPA that would pair beautifully with it. The tropical fruity character of the Mosaic hops is fantastic with the toasty caramelly topping while the bitter finish will be softened by the creamy custard.
Another option is a Belgian strong ale with a mild cheese. Delirium Tremens is a bit of a spicy beer with honey sweetness and some lovely fruity notes. A mild cheese like Brie, or better yet Chaource would go beautifully.
3. Bitter flavors pair well with spicy flavors. IPAs are a tough match for many foods. Their intense bitterness buries most flavors, and as you might imagine, they aren’t the first choice when it comes to pairing with dessert. However, this is such an important pairing guideline that I couldn’t leave it out.
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If you love your IPAs here is a fun experiment for you. Try an IPA with chile chocolate. I know it sounds awful, but I swear to you it isn’t--and it’s very interesting.
4. Malty flavors pair well with tart flavors. Beers like bocks and barleywines are rich and thick with malt flavors. They feel heavy in your mouth. Some compare them to liquid bread. So you want to pair these malt forward beers with foods that have a strong enough flavor to compete. You need something big and bright to cut through the heaviness. For dessert you may want to keep it simple--fresh fruit or stinky cheese should do quite nicely.
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Try a barleywine with strawberries - Killer Penquin Barleywine from Boulder Beer Brewing Co. is not hop forward and has a great malty backbone that perks right up with the tartness of the strawberries.
5. Roasty flavors pair well with chocolate. This one is my favorite. Not only because I love my knife and fork--dark and roasty beers, but also because it's so easy. You really can’t go wrong.
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Try a stout with chocolate lava cake--any stout will work with this pairing, but you really don’t have to go to the extreme of a Russian imperial stout. A more toned-down chocolate, milk or coffee stout will not lose anything in the chocolate pairing and will make for an amazing dessert. Save those Russian imperial stout beers to have on their own or maybe in a milkshake.
For more great beer and chocolate pairings click here.
So, now armed with your five easy guidelines on how to make a great dessert beer pairing it's time to go out and try it. You can analyze it to death, but the only way to find a great pairing is through trial and error. So you have to try a few different options--darn! Really, that’s all there is to it. Remember, it's just beer--take the leap!