As with all our pairing guides, we want to do more than just recommend one or two pairings that might work for you. Instead, we’ll take you through a little history and comparison of the two industries, give you some basic principles for pairing, and offer some additional food for thought.
In this article, we look at craft beer and craft chocolate.
CRAFT BEER & CHOCOLATE: A COMPARISON
A Very Brief History
Beer is the oldest recorded recipe in the world, with first records dating back to around 5,000BC. However, it is believed that the first brewers came about around 10,000BC. This would have been the primitive cultures of Mesopotamia.
Beer made its way to Europe from the Middle East, where it became evidently very popular. Beer was valued for its nutritional and safer-alternative-to-drinking-water credentials.
Beer arrived in the New World with the settlement of the first European colonists.
Today’s beer, or ‘modern’ beer, is thought to be born during the early Middle Ages.
The ‘craft beer’ movement began in the late 1960s in the US, a time when regional breweries were consolidating and some closing. Local breweries were then championing this ‘craft beer’ movement. During around the 1990s, the concept of home-brewing beer became more popular.
In the UK, this craft movement really took off in and around 2002. This was linked to Gordon Brown’s budget, in which the Progressive Beer Duty was put in place allowing smaller breweries to pay a lower tax rate. With craft breweries then coming into the mainstream consumption, in less than 15 years the number of small breweries tripled.
Cocoa origins can be traced to Ecuador, with first recorded cultivation with the Olmecs in Mexico ~5,000BC.
During the Mayan and Aztec Mesoamerican era, cocoa beans were ground into a beverage, and drank for pleasure and religious purposes.
Via Christopher Columbus, cocoa beans eventually reached the Spanish, and similarly were enjoyed ground as a drink. Europeans quickly developed a taste for drinking chocolate.
A Dutch man named Van Houten in 1826 developed a ‘cocoa press’ to separate the cocoa butter from the beans, thus resulting in a distinction of ‘fat-reduced cocoa powder’ and cocoa butter.
In the UK, Fry’s discovered that if you added cocoa butter back into ground cocoa mass, it can stabilise the ‘chocolate’. Fry’s in the 1840s created the first chocolate bar.
The Swiss discovered a wonderful process of ‘conching’ (evenly distributing the cocoa butter within, i.e. making it silky!) which had been discovered by chance by Lindt, when Rudolph Lindt’s assistant left the chocolate to grind overnight. The Swiss, by Nestlé’s pioneering of powdering milk, began to create milk chocolate.
The ‘craft chocolate’ movement started in the early years of the 21st century.
First Records in the UK
Beer plays such an integral part within British culture.
It is thought to have been well established within Britain when the Romans arrived in 54BC.
It was one of the most common drinks during the Middle Ages.
England’s first mainstream relationship with chocolate is associated with the prevalence of it as a beverage in the 17th and 18th century. This was a hot beverage consumed by the affluent social classes. Chocolate bars were first mass-produced in 1847 after Fry and Sons discovered that if you added cocoa butter back into ground cocoa mass, you could stabilise it and produce chocolate bars
Consumption per capita in UK
Whilst the number of pubs in the UK is falling thick and fast, our consumption of beer, is on the rise. The market share of craft beer is less than 5% of overall beer sales in the UK (compared to 23% in the US).
Average volume per capita for 2018 had been 7.04kg, and predicted to be 7.01kg in 2019 (Statista, 2019). That averages out to be about 2 70g bars every day.
For craft chocolate, unfortunately there is no research nor stats into this.
Spend per annum
£10,788.82m in 2018 (Statista, 2019). The average spend per person in the UK is over double for beer than for chocolate
£4,978.92m in 2018 (Statista, 2019)
SOME PRINCIPLES OF PAIRING BEER & CHOCOLATE
Assemble 3-4 bars; ideally from different cacao regions and of different intensities. Here is a great opportunity to introduce different makers too (and from different countries!)
Do the same with beer. Introduce different styles – from IPA to gose to porter (we’ve also found lagers to be hugely underrated in food pairings!)
Use our texture, mouthfeel and flavour sheets below to help you articulate what you are tasting with the chocolate (with particular focus on flavours and mouthfeel) … and for beer, maybe try this.
Invite at least one (and ideally more) friends. We strongly encourage sharing the pairing experience with more people, as no two palates are the same; but foremost because it is a really fun experience!
Have some water on hand and any neutral palate cleansers, such as bread.
Do not worry about the order you taste (i.e having the beer or chocolate first). You may begin to notice that pairings will change depending on the order that you’re tasting in. For example, we like to take the chocolate first, then the beer, then go back to the chocolate (and it’s probably worth going back to the beer again!).
POINTS OF FOCUS
How to taste: Chocolate
Snap, smell, let it melt on the tongue.
Whilst chewing or sucking chocolate is perfectly acceptable, when ‘tasting’ chocolate we strongly encourage people to smell it first and let it melt on the tongue. As flavour is detected via your sense of smell (both via your nose; orthonasal; and via swallowing; retronasal), with the chocolate’s pure cocoa butter melting at just below human body temperature, we are treated to a wealth of flavours.
How to taste: Beer
Pour, swirl, smell, drink; don’t chug!
At this stage, you should begin thinking about what particular flavours, tastes, textures and sensations you are experiencing. Hint; there is no wrong or right answer here…
Is it a match?
When choosing the bars and beers, look for flavours and textures that not only match (e.g. smoked chocolate with smoked beer), but pairings that also contrast (e.g. stone-ground chocolate with a smooth beer). Some pairings work together by layering or fulfilling complexity (e.g. a fruity, complex Belgian beer with a rich, indulgent bar akin to chocolate pudding).
In short, does the pairing match, contrast, or fulfil complexity? And foremost, does it produce a natural harmony – as if the pairing had always meant to be?
SOME ADDITIONAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT
If you’ve been to one of our chocolate tastings, or read about avoiding confusion between bitterness and astringency, you may have experienced, or stumbled across, our thoughts and experiments to do with mouthfeel: astringency and the trigeminal nerve.
Astringency is classically defined as when the saliva in your mouth is “pulled” away so you have the sensation of “drying”, “roughing” and/or “puckering”. You desperately want something else to drink and get your saliva going. Classic cases of astringency are when we eat or drink a product with lots of tannins (red wine, whisky, roasted coffee beans, many teas and of course chocolate). Although astringency, this puckering, is very different from bitterness, all too often we confuse the two.
It may be that part of the problem for us in the West is that many astringent items are also quite bitter. In Japan the difference between what they call bitter (nigai 苦い) and astringent (suppai 酸っぱい ) and (渋い shibui) is very clear. The classic Japanese persimmon (kaki) is astringent and causes your mouth to pucker. But it’s also quite sweet. And this perhaps helps explain why in Japanese there is less confusion between the two sensations. It’s hard to think of a common fruit or drink we have in the West that is astringent (mouth puckering) but also sweet.
The cool thing about both chocolate and beer is that they both have flavour and mouthfeel, and both stimulate the trigeminal nerve, i.e. they both have astringency. Whilst bitterness in beer is acceptable, astringency, on the other hand, is thought to be an ‘off-flavour’ by brewers and experts. Some balanced astringency can be pleasant in certain beer styles, however if it becomes too noticeable it generally ‘ruins’ the beer experience. The same thing can be said for chocolate. Astringency and bitterness are always welcome and acceptable, however these tastes and mouthfeel sensations must be balanced.
When testing your craft beer and craft chocolate pairings, you may come across something we refer to as a “car crash” pairing. Hat tip to Steve Taylor, beer expert and a good friend of Cocoa Runners, for lending us this epic term. Whilst a truly good pairing should work as a synergy, as both the beer and chocolate, in their own right, should taste amazing, therefore being paired together is a taste sensation; we call out a pairing for being a “car crash pairing” if it not only does nothing to enhance both the beer and chocolate, but actually sabotages both the beer and chocolate.
One way to test this hypothesis is to find a chocolate bar that you find works particularly well with a beer, and then take the same beer style (e.g. an IPA) and see if that still works with the chocolate. An example we came across had been that Menakao’s Sea Salt & Nibs worked beautifully with a Dutch-brewed Imperial Stout, however with a particular US-brewed Porter and another US-brewed Imperial Stout it created a subpar to awful taste sensation.
OUR CRAFT BEER & CHOCOLATE PAIRINGS
Fruity Sour with a Fudgy Dark Milk Chocolate
Sour beers are very much seasonal beers; falling into fashion in S/S and out by A/W. Sour beers are, as the name suggests, very sour. Often too sour for the average palate, however they do have a strong following; not quite to the levels of IPAs, nor even stouts nor pilsners.
How we might suggest pairing chocolate with sour beers; with their intense acidity; is to take a sour that has been brewed with juicy fruits.
Why not try: Crux Fruited Gose with Menakao Milk 45%
Or how about: Pressure Drop’s Triple Cherry Gose with Akesson’s 43% White Chocolate
Fruity, Malty Noted Lager with a Dark Milk Chocolate
Lagers, whilst hugely popular on a mass-scale (think Heineken, Corona, San Miguel) are often underrated at craft-scale. Although typically easy-drinking, not all lagers are the same. One pairing we like to opt for is to find a nice, fruity, malt-noted lager and pair it with a dark milk chocolate.
Why not try: Crate Brewery Lager with TCHO’s 53% Dark Milk Chocolate
American-Style Barely Wine with a rich, not too sweet White Chocolate
The ‘barley’ wine style of strong ale typically ranges between 6-11% alcohol by volume. The suggestion of an American-style barley wine, opposed to its founding English counterpart, is that the American-style tends to be more hop-forward.
Find a barley wine that has caramel, malty, and fruity aromas and flavours, nothing too carbonated.
Why not try: Mikkeller Big Worst Barley Wine with Ruket’s 48% Peruvian White Chocolate
Imperial Stout with Textured and Salted and Textured Chocolate
If you’ve Googled chocolate and beer pairing, you’ve probably come across this pairing already. Dark beers and chocolate are typically the ‘go-to’ pairing due to the richness and dark flavours they both behold. On reflection, this actually isn’t the easiest pairing to achieve.
Stouts are a dark beer, and yet within this style there are a number of variations, including milk, oyster, imperial and porters. With an imperial stout, also known as Russian imperial stout, aim to find one with chocolate and roasted flavours, with a soft but distinct hoppy bite to it and a touch of bitterness.
A chocolate that contains a touch of salt will reduce the bitterness of the beer and increase the overall perceived sweetness, sourness and umami flavours – thus making it a very dynamic pairing. Adding a contrasting texture of the chocolate to the pairing also helps balance with the often thicker texture of dark beers.
Why not try: Oedipus Kinderyoga with Menakao Sea Salt & Nibs
IPA with a Mellow Dark Chocolate
IPAs take no prisoners in taking the throne of craft beer. And yet, despite their huge popularity, this style probably has the most variability within compared to any other style of beer.
Choose an IPA that’s not too hoppy or bitter, but more relishes in fruity-led flavours and has a crispy bite. An IPA that is essentially easy-drinking.
We opt for a mellow dark chocolate here so as to not overpower the beer, but rather ground the bright and juicy flavoured beer.