Nothing says Valentine’s Day like truffles. A creamy ganache center enveloped in a shell of delectable chocolate, a truffle is the ultimate expression of sensual indulgence. It is pure decadence rolled into a bite-size ball.
While it may surprise some, beer is a match made in heaven for these delicious little treats. From fruity sours to chocolaty stouts and porters, beer can partner perfectly with any truffle variation.
As a general rule when pairing beer to truffles, stick with malty and fruity sour beers. Malt — from toast and caramel to blackened roast — offers sweet and bitter complements that bridge well to sugary cream and dark chocolate. Fruit beers bring contrasting acidity that sets off the sweet chocolate and cuts through the richness. Think tart raspberry sauce on chocolate cheesecake.
Truffles are intense. Stronger and more intensely flavored beers are a must. Pick an imperial stout or stronger Baltic porter over an Irish stout. The chocolate overpowers the latter, leaving a pairing that tastes fine, but is ultimately underwhelming.
Highly hopped beers such as IPA seldom work. The intense bitterness becomes harsh and clinging in combination with the sugar and bitter dark chocolate. Stronger tasting examples can overwhelm the truffle entirely.
Hop heads need not despair, however. Milk chocolate truffles can find harmony with IPA. The added sweetness of milk chocolate can tame the bitterness. A maltier IPA with juicy, citrusy hop flavor is heavenly with a milk chocolate cardamom truffle.
To get you started, I’ve paired an assortment of sweets from Just Truffles (1363 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-690-0075, justtruffles.com) to start you out on your own exploration of the world of truffles and beer.
Just Chocolate truffle: Oh, my goodness! So much chocolate. A melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate ganache wrapped in a dark chocolate shell, this is the ultimate in bittersweet. Just Chocolate is the most popular piece in the Just Truffles portfolio and the hands down favorite in my assortment. It’s also the most versatile for pairing.
Imperial stout is an obvious go-to. It’s a perfect match in intensity and texture. Bitter chocolate flavor from roasted malt melds seamlessly with the truffle. Some caramel, dark fruit and coffee notes in the beer add layers of complexity to the pairing. I chose North Coast Old Rasputin, but there are many examples of the style available. For something local, try the recently released Silhouette from Lift Bridge Brewing Co. Barrel aging gives it additional vanilla and whiskey flavors that add intrigue to the pairing.
A fruited sour is another great pairing built on contrasting rather than complementing. Ommegang Rosetta is a subtly sour beer made with cherries. The pairing perfectly conjures chocolate-covered cordial cherries. It’s all about the interplay of bitter dark chocolate and sweet, dark fruit. To push the sweet/tart contrast even further, think about Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille, a traditional cherry lambic from Belgium.
My favorite Just Chocolate pairing was with Wells Banana Bread Beer. This banana-flavored brew sounds like a gimmick. And it is. But it’s a gimmick that really works. It tastes just like banana bread and is actually quite tasty. Together with the Just Chocolate truffle, it’s a frozen, chocolate-covered banana caked in nuts. Delicious.
Pears William truffle: This one has a creamy white chocolate ganache infused with a sweet pear liqueur. It’s like baked pears with a drizzle of dark chocolate syrup. Pears are considered an aphrodisiac in many cultures, making this a perfect Valentine’s Day sweet.
Éphémère Pomme is a Belgian-wheat ale flavored with apple from Canadian brewer Unibroue. Its bready-sweet malt serves as a base for low peppery spice, a hint of banana and abundant green apple. Together with Pears William, it’s an explosion of fruit. The chocolate becomes almost an afterthought as pomme fruit is layered on pomme fruit. It’s not quite apple and not quite pear. But it’s unmistakably delightful. There is a pear version of this beer, as well — Éphémère Poire — but I have not seen it locally for some time.
Pear and balsamic vinegar are a classic combination. Matching Pears William with a Flemish red or brown ale re-creates this culinary staple in bonbon and beer. For a red ale, go with Duchesse De Bourgogne. It’s a bit sweeter than some other examples of the style, with rich balsamic and dark cherry notes. It enhances the pear, but the sourness doesn’t overwhelm the chocolate. For something similar with even less acidity, choose a Flemish brown such as Liefmans Goudenband.
Peanut Butter, Caramel and Sea Salt truffle: How can you go wrong with milk chocolate, peanut butter, caramel and sea salt enrobed in dark chocolate? A sprinkling of salted caramel peanuts is the frosting on the cake. So much goodness is packed into a bite-size package.
Imperial Stout works well here. Chocolaty malt enhances the sensation of chocolate and peanut butter. And who doesn’t love chocolate with peanut butter? The caramel and salt bring out some of the subtler malt notes in the beer, creating added layers of nuttiness. Go for a slightly sweeter stout with big chocolate notes. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Great Divide Yeti and Satin Solstice from Central Waters Brewing Co. in Amherst, Wis., are all good choices.
Going fruity with this one gives you peanut butter and jelly. Actually, with the chocolate and caramel addition, it’s almost like Nutella and jelly. A sweetened Belgian lambic is perfect here. The raspberry Framboise or cherry Kriek from Lindeman’s are great choices.
For something more tart, try Raspberry Roselle, a limited-run, raspberry-infused version of Fair State Brewing Cooperative’s year-round, hibiscus-infused sour ale Roselle. The added acidity helps tame the sweetness. Sour and salt tone each other down.
Hot Chocolate truffle: Hot Chocolate is a dark chocolate shell around habanero-infused bittersweet chocolate ganache. Sweet chocolate up front with a lingering spicy bite after swallowing, it’s a great way to spice up any valentine activity.
For this pairing, there is one beer to rule them all — Bomb! from Prairie Artisan Ales in Tulsa, Okla. This 13 percent alcohol imperial stout is made with coffee, chocolate, vanilla bean and ancho chile peppers. It’s got everything it needs to go head to head with Hot Chocolate — sweetness, bitterness, cocoa and spice. The combination does ramp up the heat, but the vanilla bean gives a smooth sweetness that keeps it from going over the top. Add chocolate on chocolate on top of dark-roasted coffee and you have a recipe for excessive deliciousness.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.