Ask the Experts: How to Pair Chocolate with Beer, Wine and Spirits

10/23/2018

The holiday season is approaching with every passing day, and with it comes the annual arrival of the nation’s sweet tooth for chocolate.

While most consumers consider holidays like Easter, Halloween and Valentine’s Day to be prime chocolate buying times, it is actually Christmas that takes the largest slice of chocolate cake.

According to a recent report by Slice Intelligence, online chocolate sales surged by an average of 171 percent in the two weeks leading up to December 25. Compare that to Halloween, in which there was only a 70 percent rise in online chocolate sales in the two weeks preceding October 31.

Looking at this data, we can assume that a lot of your customers will be gifting – and gifted – chocolate during December. Use this as an opportunity when merchandising your account for the holiday season and building some displays, endcaps and shelves pairing chocolates with beer, wine and spirits.

If you run an on-premise account, you can take advantage of the increased interest in chocolate during the holidays by creating special chocolate-focused dessert menus complete with beverage pairings for holiday parties.

As for the pairings themselves, we reached out to our beer, wine and spirit experts and got their advice on how to ensure your menus and merchandise displays are perfectly paired for sweet success.

Pairing Beer with Chocolate – Ryan Ferebee, Breakthru Beverage Minnesota Craft Beer Specialist

How do you approach pairing beer with chocolate and desserts?

I often suggest sticking to simple pairing guidelines, but it is always fun to think a little deeper with the creativity of beer styles and food. Before diving into off into the deep end, here are a few things to always keep in mind:

  • Match strength with strength. Be careful not to have the intensity of the pairing overpower the other. For instance, pair a delicate beer with a delicate dessert, and a complex beer with a complex dessert.
  • Contrast is important. Choosing a beer with moderate bitterness will balance a sweet dessert, or vice versa.
  • Complement the sweet dessert with a beer that not only has a similar flavor as chocolate, but complementary flavors as well, such as coffee or bourbon.
  • Cut the sweetness of a dessert with a beer that offers a moderate to high amount of carbonation, bitterness, or even an elevated level of alcohol. Too much sweetness from both the dessert and beer might not have our palates wanting to go back for more.

What are a few of your favorite chocolate pairings?

Certain styles of beer that are complex such as an imperial stout, a barrel aged imperial stout, or flavor-infused imperial stouts with coffee are fun to pair with rich, complex, decadent chocolate desserts like flourless chocolate cake and truffles.

Fruited sours such as lambics and barrel aged sours are a great pairing with a white chocolate cheesecake. The acidity from these beer styles will cut right through the rich creaminess of the cheesecake, yet also complements and balances sweet chocolate and tart flavors from the beer and dessert.

Why do you feel those pairings work so well?

Beer is a liquid form of food. That’s why beer and food pairings work so well. There are so many good options and numerous ways to pair the two. Keeping the few basic guidelines mentioned above brings more enjoyment with the beer and dessert. After each sip, bite, sip, our palates reset and crave the next sip, bite, sip if paired well.

 

Pairing Chocolate with Spirits – Daniel Dufek, Breakthru Beverage Wisconsin Beverage Development Specialist.

How do you approach pairing spirits with chocolate and/or chocolate desserts?

In general, I would favor aged spirits here. While it’s certainly possible to pair a gin or white rum with chocolate, it can be a bit more challenging. All the sweet caramel, vanilla, and spice notes you get from the barrel are just so natural with chocolates.

The one exception I can think of here is a well-made agave spirit, whether that be tequila, mezcal, or other. I find agave spirits to have such an extraordinary range of flavor without aging that there are a lot of pairing possibilities within this category.

Also, be wary of proof. Taste the spirit neat first, but don’t be afraid to add a touch of filtered water or even ice if that’s your preference. Too much alcohol on your palate will make it difficult to get the most out of the pairing.

What are a few of your most successful pairings?

  • Milk chocolate with VSOP Cognac – Both of these components have subtle flavors that don’t overpower each other. Softer fruit flavors in the Cognac really shine with the fruitier milk chocolate.
  • Turtles (or other nutty chocolates) with bourbon – Classic American wood-barrel notes in each – vanilla, caramel, baking spice, nuts.
  • Dark chocolate with rye whiskey – This combination has some of those same barrel notes, but but with the additional minty, peppery spice notes of rye, which stands up to more intense cocoa flavor.
  • Chocolate, espresso and aged rum – Molasses sweetness and vanilla/caramel barrel notes balance out the bitterness of both coffee and cocoa.
  • Red berry flavored chocolates – such as strawberry and raspberry – with an unaged, Espadin mezcal – Smoke plus a touch of savory combined with fruit and rich sweetness. It is a very complex and layered pairing.  

 

Pairing Wine with Chocolate – Tracy Strum, Breakthru Beverage Wisconsin Fine Wine Specialist

How do you approach pairing wine with chocolate and desserts?

When pairing wine with chocolate, I feel the accompanying flavor with chocolate is important to take into consideration. For example, if a chocolate truffle has berries, caramel and coffee incorporated in it, the complementary flavors need to be taken into consideration just as much as the chocolate itself.

For me, I find that the best way to approach chocolate and wine is to taste and compare. Unlike most conventional wine professionals, I love a dark chocolate with a soft tannin red wine like merlot.    

What are a few of your favorite wine and chocolate pairings?

My favorite wine and chocolate pairings are the following – which normally don’t follow conventional wisdom:

  • Sparkling rosé with a raspberry dark chocolate truffle.
  • A ruby port with dark chocolate (can you tell I am not a fan of milk chocolate?). However, I do like a tawny port with milk chocolate and lots of caramel.
  • Dark chocolate with coffee and a port. Once again, I would lean toward ruby port.
  • I love a right bank Bordeaux (mainly merlot) with bitter dark chocolate.

A few years back we did a flourless chocolate torte with Tenuta di Nozzole Il Pareto which is 100% Cabernet – it was amazing.

Why do you feel those pairings work so well?

I enjoy how they taste and interact with each other. I do not feel constraints when eating chocolate with wine.  A small amount of dark chocolate goes a long way and can complement a wide range of wines if it’s not too tannic. 

Here at Breakthru Wisconsin, we do a few chocolate pairings and trainings each year where we experiment a bit to see what works. You could follow traditional pairings, but I think it is more fun to investigate.

 

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