It’s probably due to my background and interest in craft beer but of all the chocolate pairing events that I run, the beer and chocolate nights are the ones I enjoy the most. It’s always a lot of fun coming up with the pairings and teaching people about the parallels in both flavour and production methods between craft beer and craft chocolate, so I wanted to share this with a wider audience and recommend a few things you can try at home.
A lot of the information you can find about beer and chocolate matching is very simplistic and outdated. They’ll often recommend pairing ‘dark beers’ with ‘dark chocolate’, as if those two vast areas don’t contain a myriad of possibilities. You’ll also find guides that suggest pairing chocolates that have added ingredients such as cherry, caramel or coffee, and rely on these flavours to make the match work, rather than matching with the chocolate itself. Although I’ve used a couple of chocolates with added flavour ingredients in this guide, the flavour of the core chocolate and the terroir of the cacao are the main reason for those choices. As most of you will know, craft chocolate made with specialist cacao varieties can have a huge range of flavours that come just from the bean, exactly like all the different flavours that come hops, malt and yeast. It’s a real joy to explore how all these flavours can be friends.
1. Garage Project Tournesol with Sirene Cayenne
The Tournesol is a refreshing and complex spiced saison - one of my favourite beer styles. This beer is brewed with added citrus, coriander and white pepper, which makes it a perfect match for the Sirene Cayenne, a 73% chocolate made with Madagascan cacao. As with most Madagascan chocolate, this bar has beautifully light and citrusy notes and the warmth from the cayenne pepper that follows is a perfect match with the peppery finish of the beer.
2. Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta IPA with The Smooth Chocolator Tanzania
Pretty much all beer and chocolate matching guides say to steer clear of IPAs but we don’t need to listen to that. While the intense bitterness of some IPAs can make them overpowering in a match, there’s so much incredible flavour that comes from the hops that it would be crazy to ignore such delicious potential.
The Gunnamatta is brewed with an addition of Earl Grey tea that gives it an amazing citrus/bergamot aroma and a beautiful floral aftertaste. It’s a beast but also has a soft subtlety, so I chose to match it with The Smooth Chocolator’s Tanzania bar. At 70%, this chocolate has enough depth to stand up to big flavours but also has really light notes of sour cherry and rose the mingle well with the gentler side of the beer.
It’s important to remember that both good quality beer and chocolate have complex flavours that develop over time. Take your time when tasting and let each thing reach its own potential - we’re not looking to wash one away with the other.
3. Tuatara Tu-Rye-Ay with OCHO Solomons
The Tu-Rye-Ay is an IPA made with rye and heavily roasted malts, creating a beer with a deep, dark and robust body but with the fruity and citrus notes of Amarillo hops. This makes it a good match with the new OCHO Solomons 70% bar, which has the unusual combination of being quite deep and dark and chocolatey, yet with distinct notes of citrus and raspberry.
4. Renaissance Stonecutter with Wellington Chocolate Factory Bougainville Bar
The Stonecutter is a classic Scotch ale brewed with nine different malts and clocking in at a hearty 7%. Classic toffee and caramel notes prevail in this beer, with a slightly tart aftertaste that is reminiscent of raisin or port. Such a powerful beverage needs a strong chocolate so it makes sense to turn to Papua New Guinea, where some of the world’s most intense and distinctive cacao is grown. Wellington Chocolate Factory’s Bougainville Bar is one of my favourite examples of this origin, with wonderfully smooth notes of raisin, port and a hint of fresh tobacco.
5. Kereru For Great Justice with Dick Taylor Maple Coconut
This coconut porter is made with coconut that has been toasted in a wood-fired oven over manuka wood and manuka bark. As you would expect from a porter, it has a sweet, malty and chocolatey aroma and taste, though quite a light body for a beer of this style. The subtle hint of coconut is an obvious match with the maple roasted coconut on the chocolate, but the chocolate itself is meant as more of a contrast - it’s made with a cacao from Belize that has a distinctive tart/sour cherry taste to it. Sometimes I like to pick things that are opposites rather than parallels, and I guess I get a kick out of matching a chocolatey beer with a not-very chocolatey chocolate.
6. ParrotDog Otis with Hogarth Craft Chocolate Acul du Nord
This is the nostalgic and comfortable match - one to enjoy by the fire in a big soft chair. Otis is an oatmeal stout with a texture as smooth as the singer’s voice it’s named after. Notes of chocolate, coffee and burnt toffee make this beer a thoroughly pleasurable match with Hogarth’s Acul du Nord - a 68% chocolate made with cacao from Haiti. This bar is super smooth and has a rich sweetness that is reminiscent of butterscotch and medjool dates. It has so much depth and complexity yet is totally accessible and unashamedly yummy.
These are just a few suggestions using some of my favourite chocolates and some classic Kiwi craft beers. Have a play around at home and see what you come up with - it’s a great way to legitimise having a massive beer and chocolate session.