With Valentine's Day just a few days away, it's time to think about romancing your beer-loving sweetheart. Flowers are nice. A box of chocolates will do. But what they really want is beer. A mix-and-match six-pack of chocolate beers — brewed with actual chocolate — is the best way to express your sudsy affection.
Stouts and porters tend to be the favored styles for chocolate beer. The bitter chocolate and coffee flavors of dark roasted grains naturally complement the smooth tones of chocolate. The deep brown and black colors, along with the creamy texture, can make these luxurious brews almost seem like you're drinking melted ganache.
Chocolate stouts offer a range of flavor profiles. Some are dry and roasty with just a touch of bitter, dark chocolate. Others are velvety-rich and sweet with chocolate as the dominant note. Many are of moderate strength, and a few push into the double digits of alcohol percentage.
On the dry and roasty end is the classic example of the style, Young's Double Chocolate Stout. For fans of those bitter, high-cocoa chocolate bars, this English beer is the one. It's light-bodied and very dry, which accentuates the interplay of dark chocolate and coffee-like, black-malt roast. The nitrogen gas widget gives this beer a smooth, creamy mouthfeel that tempers the bitterness.
Another one on the dry and roasty side is Nevermore Chocolate Oatmeal Stout from Rush River Brewing Co. across the St. Croix in River Falls, Wis. At 8% alcohol, it swings to the stronger end, but without additional sweetness. The actual chocolate flavor is lower, with a dry, chocolate-cookie character. The underlying beer is a solid oatmeal stout. Roasted malts bring bitter chocolate and coffee notes without tasting burnt. The mouthfeel is silky-smooth from the addition of oats.
Similar, but with less alcohol is Chocolate Oatmeal Milk Stout from Fulton Beer in Minneapolis. The chocolate starts light but intensifies as the beer warms up. There is a crispness to it like a high-cocoa chocolate bar. The oatmeal brings bready notes and that characteristic creaminess.
Moving a touch toward the sweeter side is another old-school classic from England, Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout. This one has loads of chocolate, joined by a touch of drying, bitter roast that gives it a chocolate cookie impression similar to Nevermore. Samuel Smith's makes an excellent non-chocolate oatmeal stout. A slight oatiness and smooth mouthfeel suggests there may be some oats in this beer, as well. It finishes fairly dry with some lingering roast.
Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout from Odell Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colo., is all about chocolate from the moment you pour it in the glass. Dark chocolate aromas lead the way and carry through into the flavor, lingering long after you swallow. A drizzle of caramel and a faint hint of herbal hops complete the picture. Lugene leans sweet, but a counterpoint of subtle roast bitterness keeps it from being cloying. Drop a scoop of vanilla ice cream in your glass for a delicious chocolate stout float. Try it. You'll like it.
If you want to go big, Odell's Buried Treasure — an 11% alcohol imperial stout made with coconut and dark chocolate — is a great place to start. This bourbon and wheat whiskey barrel-aged beer is luxuriously smooth and dripping with deep, dark chocolate. Coconut comes in as a side note, blending with undertones of vanilla and caramel. Flavors of dark fruits like plums and dates develop as the beer warms.
At 14% alcohol, Bombon de la Muerte from Odd Side Ales in Michigan is actually a Day of the Dead-themed beer. But it smells and tastes like melted ganache, so it will do for Valentine's Day, as well. It is brewed with sea salt, but the salt is not apparent. What is apparent are fruity notes like black cherries and tangerines that become more intense as the beer warms in the glass. Bourbon-barrel aging makes its presence known in the form of subtle caramel and vanilla flavors.
Beer cocktail will melt hearts
If you really want to sweep your loved one off their feet, make them a Belgian Truffle — a blended-beer cocktail incorporating chocolate beer and Lindemans Framboise.
Lindemans Framboise is a sweetened Belgian lambic beer that is bursting with raspberries. This tart/sweet gem makes a perfect bonbon of a beverage when combined with chocolate stout. Sweetness offers a better contrast to tart than bitterness, so steer toward the sweeter, richer examples and blend to taste. Start with a little Framboise and build from there.
Of the beers described above, Samuel Smith's Organic Oatmeal Stout made the best blend. It's sweet enough to balance the acidity, chocolaty enough to balance the berries and has no extraneous flavors or excessive roast to get in the way.
Bombon de la Muerta also works surprisingly well. Big, bold and rich, it can stand up to a 50-50 blend. The beer's fruitiness complements the raspberry. I expected the barrel aging to interfere, but the caramel and vanilla just make it that much better.
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.