Beer and chocolate pairing has a much shorter history than either Valentine’s Day or chocolate, and it is not necessary to wait for the romantic holiday to practice pairing or romance for that matter. All kidding aside, beer and chocolate go wonderfully together creating their own romance if you will. Like many lasting romances both sides have similar upbringings. Both have been around since the dawn of civilization, both derive their magnificent flavors from roasting and fermentation, and both are consumed in some sort of celebration.
I have been pairing beer with chocolate for almost fifteen years, primarily with desserts at first and then six years ago I went savory with the first Beer and Chocolate dinner. I was certainly not the first and now there are many chefs that practice using chocolate as an ingredient in appetizers and entrees as well as the customary finale. As a professional chef, I base my experimentation on the fundamentals of the culinary arts and will always adhere to most of those basics at the same time as I push the boundaries a bit.
The unspoken rule that chocolate will pair only with dark beers or even brews that contain chocolate as an ingredient can be dismissed even more easily. If you think about the foods we commonly accompany chocolate with, like various fruits, caramel sauce and nuts, it is not a huge jump to say that beers with these flavor profiles will match up, as well.
The most recognized use of chocolate as a savory ingredient is the traditional Mexican Mole, a tasty sauce with a long list of ingredients, used to garnish various meat dishes. In taking a lesson from this classic you learn that chocolate can be used in the background of a dish to add flavor like a spice would normally do. The term “cocoa butter” lets you know that there is a certain amount of fat present so it can literally be added to a sauce like butter would to round out the taste and add a little texture, as well.
A successful pairing heightens the experience of both food and beverage. This month’s combination involves a savory dish and Belgian Strong Dark Ale (see Belgian & French Ales). The dish is Braised Berkshire Pork Short Ribs with Chocolate Parsnip Flan and Spinach and the beer in this case is Russian River Salvation. There are many other examples of this style produced across the country such as Allagash Odyssey and New Belgium Abbey Grand Cru. The Belgian yeast adds a hint of banana to the ale, and we all know that bananas and chocolate have had a love affair for quite some time. The same yeast also features some spicy flavors, which tame the richness of the flan and lift the taste of the short ribs to the next level.
The chocolate in this case gets it sweetness from the parsnips and this in turn brings out the dark fruit flavors in the beer as well as some subtle chocolate notes. If pork short ribs are not available in your area beef works just as well. These beer styles also couple with chocolate desserts in a fine fashion so there is no need to limit yourselves when doing your own beer and culinary matchmaking.
Chef Bruce Paton, the Beer Chef, is nationally renowned as an expert on pairing food with beer after creating and hosting over eighty beer and food pairing dinners (including six Beer and Chocolate Events) with some of the top brewers in the nation. He has written a Beer and Food Pairing column in The Culinarian for the past several years and contributed to Draft Magazine as well. Chef Bruce has been featured in books and several magazine articles such as Hotel F&B, Plate, The Celebrator Beer News and Beer Advocate as well as creating the menu for the 2008 World Cup Awards Dinner.