Pairing wine and food has been a beloved exercise of foodies for a long time. Pairing beer and food is a more recent phenomenon, at least in countries outside of Europe. Beer lovers in places like Belgium never lost sight of the very natural relationship that beer has with almost any sort of food.
The Beer Renaissance
The beer renaissance outside of Europe reignited interest in beer and food pairings in recent years. These days it is now almost commonplace to find beer dinners presented in all parts of the world from Boston, Massachusetts to Sydney, Australia.
When pairing beer with anything it is important to remember the three Cs - compare, contrast and cleanse.
The Three Cs
The first C, compare, refers to finding similar flavors in the beer and the food. For instance, if you are serving roasted meat, a dry porter with lots of roasty-toasty flavors makes a great companion. When you contrast flavors in a beer and food you look for tastes in both that, while different, can complement each other and create an exciting pairing. Imagine, for example, a tart and tangy sour beer paired with a sweet fruit dessert. And finally, the cleansing aspect of beer is always important in its relationship with food. All beers cleanse the palate to a certain degree but some styles do it more effectively. Pilsner is a great cleanser. It is effervescent and features a nice hoppy lager snap at the end of the drink. This makes it a great companion for fatty foods like sausage or pizza as it cleanses the palate between each bite.
Pairing With Chocolate
To some degree, the first two Cs are useful with chocolate as well. Think about your favorite chocolate dishes. The magic of them probably has something to do with similar or opposite flavors blending to become more than the sum of the parts. Dark, bitter chocolate pairs brilliantly with sweet fruit - a contrasting pairing - while sweet chocolate syrup makes sweet milk all the better - a comparison pairing.
When we talk about pairing beer and chocolate, it becomes apparent how the variables become almost infinite.
A great place to start is with a flourless chocolate cake - dense, sweet and packed with dark, chocolaty goodness. Serve it with a pint of dry or Irish stout and you are employing all three Cs. The dark, roasty flavors of the stout compare almost perfectly with the dark chocolate. The sweetness from the sugar in the cake contrasts with the bitterness of the beer - each flavor lifting and highlighting the other. Finally, the cold, creamy stout will nicely cleanse the palate between each bite.
The combination of a very dark chocolate bar - at least 80% cocoa - with a sweet beer like Leffe Blonde flips the contrasting pairing of bitter and sweet on its head. The rich, sweet flavors of the Blonde tame the sharp, bitter, almost acidic chocolate. At the same time, the chocolate lifts the spices out of the beer and blends with them for a completely new flavor experience.
Throwing a Pairing Party
Consider throwing a chocolate and beer pairing party. Gather seven or eight chocolate dishes - any more and serious palate fatigue will start to set in - and as many different beers. Go for variety. You can focus on different types of chocolate bars for a purer experience but that tends to be rather limiting. Chocolate pudding, cookies, cake and even mole' can be all be brilliant pairing choices for beer. Be equally experimental with your beer choices, too. Naturally, include a stout or two but think more broadly. Gather a sour Belgian ale, an IPA, a lager and anything else that grabs your fancy. Serve your guests small servings of both the chocolate dishes and the beer. Encourage everyone to look for her favorite combination.
There is no right or wrong way to pair beer and chocolate. As you experiment, you will find some pairings that you like better than others. Some combinations will seem simply wrong. But everyone will bring new and unexpected flavors out of both the beer and the chocolate.