A Different Kind of Drinking Chocolate
The dark, highly roasted malts in porters and stouts can mimic the taste of cocoa. The Brewers Association in Colorado even suggests that this Valentine's Day, a romantic couple might forgo wine and "share a bottle of rich dark beer with their favorite chocolate dessert."
A few brewers go further, doing what the late beer writer Michael Jackson once called "gilding the lily": They add an essence of chocolate to a dark beer to create a dessert in and of itself.
For instance, Young's Double Chocolate Stout from Wells & Young's Brewing in Bedford, England, screams out for a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It has the ebony color, creamy head and coffee overtones of a Guinness, but with a semisweet chocolate flavor reminiscent of milk with Hershey's syrup. It's restrained enough to be quite quaffable. Head brewer Jim Robertson says he adds dark chocolate to the mash, but he won't say what brand or how much. Young's is available in 16.9-ounce bottles and 14.9-ounce cans.
Rogue Chocolate Stout, from Rogue Ales in Newport, Ore., originally was brewed for export to Japan as Chocolate Bear Beer.
Its label, featuring a teddy bear with a pink heart on its belly, was hardly designed for macho appeal. "In Japan, women give men chocolate for Valentine's Day," explains Sebbie Buhler, Rogue's regional rep for the Northeast. When the brewery decided to introduce the beer to American drinkers in 2000, Rogue founder Jack Joyce renamed it and substituted Buhler's portrait on the 22-ounce silk-screened bottle to honor her 10 years of service.
As a base, Rogue uses its Shakespeare Stout (a fairly strong and aggressively hopped example of the style), infusing Dutch bittersweet chocolate into the finished beer. Drier than the Young's, with a spicy, resiny finish, the stout is complex and intriguing, although the chocolate and the hops clash in the finish.
Well worth seeking out is Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence from the Belgian-owned and -inspired Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y. It was released in October to celebrate the brewery's founding a decade ago.
Also stout-based, Chocolate Indulgence is flavored with a powdered bittersweet chocolate from Belgium, added post-fermentation. "It makes a mess during filtering!" says marketing and media director Larry Bennett. It's drier and more subtle than the previous beers, with fruity overtones typical of the top-fermenting ale yeast.
If you can't find it locally, the brewery gift shop has a one- or two-month supply of the 25.4-ounce corked bottles, Bennett says.
Shenandoah Brewing in Alexandria continues to make its Chocolate Doughnut Beer, an oatmeal stout with a proprietary flavoring added. This novelty beer really does taste like a sugary Krispy Kreme pastry. It gets cloying when quaffed in quantity, so best to share a bottle. Six-packs of 12-ounce bottles usually are available at the brewery.
What foods do you pair with these beers? Serving them with more chocolate can be overkill. Bennett recommends drinking Chocolate Indulgence with a fruity dessert such as a raspberry tart or cherry cobbler. (If you're looking for a beer to drink with chocolate, he recommends his Three Philosophers: a strong Belgian ale, nearly 10 percent alcohol by volume, blended with Lindemans Kriek, a cherry ale from the Brouwerij Lindemans in Vlezenbeek, Belgium. )
Rogue Chocolate Stout is "a very versatile beer," Buhler says. "It goes beautifully with big, stinky cheeses, and particularly blue cheese." She also notes that it makes great beer cocktails, especially when mixed with Belgian fruit lambics. Try Lindemans Kriek or Lindemans Framboise (a raspberry ale). Those fruit beers are highly aromatic; to keep the stout from being overwhelmed, blend them at a ratio of at least two or three parts stout to one part lambic.
Buhler also likes mixing Rogue Chocolate Stout with Rogue Chipotle Ale, a beer flavored with smoked jalape¿o peppers. The half-and-half makes an excellent accompaniment to spicy Mexican fare such as chicken mole, she says. It might not be your typical Valentine's Day meal, so hold that thought until Cinco de Mayo.
Greg Kitsock can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.