Pairing chocolate and beer is art and science

Amber Erickson Gabbey

Beer and chocolate pairings aren’t exactly new, but they are growing in popularity.

When The Very Nice Brewing Company in Nederland decided to do their first-ever beer and chocolate pairing in May, they enlisted the help of their newest neighbor in the shopping center, The Candy Man. A novice chocolatier, Dan “The Candy Man” Harrower was entering uncharted territory and was nervous about getting it right.

“There’s a real science to pairing and it’s much more complex than meets the eye,” says Harrower. “A variety of things can work, and a variety of things won’t work — both being too similar or too different can make for a bad pairing.”

It took several weeks of creating new chocolates and tastetesting to find the right combination. The goal is to find a pairing that complements both the chocolate and the beer, bringing out the flavors and really enhancing both items, both individually and as a collective.

Another popular pairing team in the area is Sarah Amorese, proprietor and professional chocolatier at Piece, Love and Chocolate in Boulder, and Jeff Mendel, craft beer veteran, food and beer educator and part owner of Lefthand Brewing Company in Longmont. The duo has offered classes and pairings at local breweries, like Avery and Upslope; corporate gatherings; charity auctions and private events throughout the region. According to Mendel, beer and chocolate pairings are about more than just beer or just chocolate.

“There is a movement towards more thoughtful consumption, enjoying local goods together and the power of sharing with loved ones,” he says.

These pairings are truly a creative culinary experience.

Beer and chocolate make great mediums because they are both versatile and accommodating to other flavors, while maintaining their own flavor profiles, says Mendel. Chocolate can enhance the beer just like beer can enhance the flavors of the chocolate.

“The intensity of the chocolate can bring out subtle flavors in the beer,” says Jeffrey Green, co-owner and head brewer at Very Nice. “A salted caramel, for example, brings out the underlying notes of a less complex beer, like a pale ale.”

Pairing any foods, but particularly beer and chocolate, is just as much an art as it is a science. The combinations are endless, and aren’t necessarily simple. From a chocolate-covered orange rind with a heffe to chocolate-covered espresso beans with a stout, some pairings can be obvious and complementary. Others can be more unusual and opposite. Taking an intense hoppy IPA and putting it with a creamy milk chocolate can counter the bitterness of the IPA, making a perfect relationship. Finding a good pairing requires taking the time to understand the ingredients, flavor profiles, textures, smells, sensory experiences and social aspects of both the chocolate and the beer. But even then, pairings of any sort are highly subjective and the process of pairing can be quite creative. Some of Mendel’s favorite pairings include Lefthand Good Juju Ginger Ale with Amorese’s Honey Lemon Tart, and Avery’s Hog Heaven Barleywine with Amorese’s Pecan Tart.

Other beer and chocolate pairings have occurred at 12 Degree Artisan Brewers in Louisville and Denver Beer Co. in Denver.

Whether you find a formal pairing or create your own, approach the pairing with some strategy, either pairing like or opposite flavors. But like so many things, if you take some risks and sample some unusual pairings, you just might be surprised at what you find.