Chocolate and Beer Revisited
Jack Joyce, CEO of Rogue Brewing down in Newport, OR, called me a while back to do a chocolate and beer tasting in the small town of Issaquah, WA, population about 12,000, located about 17 miles east of Seattle across Lake Washington and Mercer Island on I-90, Washington’s main cross-state artery. Rogue had only recently bought that town’s small brewpub, Issaquah Brewhouse. Jack wanted to introduce himself and his brewery to the townsfolk and raise funds for “Main Street Issaquah,” a local group dedicated to downtown economic revitalization, design and promotion.
Normally, it is just about impossible to use the beers of only one brewery in a beer and chocolate tasting. Very few breweries have the necessary six to 10 darker, heavier and diverse brews to pair well with chocolate. Pale beers are not too useful for that purpose, and neither are hoppy ones.
One needs bocks; doppelbocks; brown ales; rich, dark Munich beers; Bavarian weizens and weizenbocks; schwarzbiers; stouts; Scottish ales and barley wine style ales. Belgian fruit ales, pale ales, abbey style ales (dubbels and tripels), and French biere de gardes also work well with chocolate.
That’s a substantial list. As one might imagine, it is rare to find a brewery with the minimum six such diverse beers in its repertoire in the same season of the year.
For Rogue, however, it was no problem at all.
Rogue is one of the very few breweries in the country that could manage such a diverse selection of distinguished beers. In fact I can think of no other US, British or German brewery that could pull off such a feat during any season. Just for the record, let me note that the Rogue brewery pub (located in the very center of the large industrial brewing plant in Newport) regularly has no fewer than 24 different beers of the brewery’s own brewing. Twenty-four! From one brewery! All on tap at once!
I had no difficulties getting the six in which I was interested put on tap in the Issaquah location in time for my tasting. These were:
- Rogue Mocha Porter, World Beer Cup silver medal winner, and a well-made porter that tastes like it has coffee in it, although it actually has none;
- Hazelnut Brown Nectar, a well-done brown ale with a modest dollop of hazelnut extract on the finish, giving it a rich, elegant flavor profile;
- McRogue Scotch Ale, a splendid, full-bodied strong ale made to be drunk with chocolate⎯no doubt of that;
- Shakespeare Stout, a fine, dry oatmeal stout just made for a chocolate match;
- Old Crustacean Barleywine, one of my all-time favorite barley wines and one demanding⎯yes, demanding!⎯a chocolate fix to match its fullness; and
- Russian Imperial Stout, Rogue’s new World Beer Cup gold medal, a beer that Empress Catherine would surely have drooled over, and one for which I had planned a special mission in this tasting.
By the time I had settled on the beers, I began to think about the chocolate match for such a wonderful list. Normally, the hosts of my various beer and chocolate tastings are looking for some relatively cheap chocolates to serve at the event. (Won’t just any chocolate do?) Most people singularly fail to understand that the world of chocolate is at least as complicated as the world of craft beer. And anyway, I knew what I wanted in chocolate, even before I picked the beer.
This tasting demanded Issaquah’s own wonderful Boehms Chocolate, which company is located very near the brewpub. I had known founder Julius Boehm, and I wanted his chocolates and his alone for this tasting.
I had met Julius years earlier, when he was 50 and I was 21. We taught swimming together; he was a volunteer teacher, and I worked for the Red Cross in that area during the late 40s. I had learned to love his rocky road chocolate (with marshmallows). It was so delicious that I became addicted. He died in 1981, at age 84, but not before raising money to build a swimming pool for the town. The pool is named after him.
His memory is well served in Issaquah. I couldn’t imagine having a beer and chocolate tasting in that town without using Julius Boehm’s chocolates.
With that in mind, I set up a meeting with Bernard Garbusjuk, current owner, to select chocolates that would match these fine beers. The first and last beers on the list I set aside⎯the Mocha Porter to match with chocolate chip cookies, a must in my chocolate-beer tastings; and the Rogue Imperial Stout saved for another “must,” the vanilla ice cream stout float with which I usually end such tastings.
That left four beers to pair with first-class chocolate accompaniments. The very dry Shakespeare Stout was easiest. Bernard had a basic bittersweet chocolate that simply had to be paired with the dry stout. It’s a Boehms specialty, from rare Criollo beans harvested only in the high mountains of Venezuela and on small plantations around South American chocolate country. These small chocolate discs are distinctive, with earthy undertones and characteristic fruity and floral notes. They seemed made just for this particular stout.
Bernard and I made these selections at 9:00 on the morning of my tasting. We sipped beers and nibbled chocolate pieces in a most decadent fashion as we wandered across the beer list and possible chocolate choices. Early on we sampled some four hazelnut/chocolate combinations to find a match for the Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar. We settled on a lovely gold-foil wrapped, dark and milk chocolate layered, hazelnut flavored giandujia (from Italian, pronounced soft-J as Jiandooya) truffle square. It was perfect for the brown ale.
The McRogue Scotch was willing to go with any chocolate. Narrowing that list to one was impossible. We finally limited it to two. The McRogue is one of those beers that demand attention at 17.6 percent fermentable extract at original gravity; it boasts a cuddly 7.4 percent alcohol by volume (abv). Boehms Encore Orange Chocolate Truffle Square seemed to fit perfectly; but then Bernard brought out his Boehms Scotch Treat, a lovely butterscotch peanut-butter almond in a white chocolate dip. We had to use both these items. Gawd, how did I ever survive that morning?
Rogue Old Crustacean was still waiting for recognition. A barley wine style ale, at no less than 26 percent fermentables and 11 percent abv; that beer demanded something strong, gooey, and excessively sweet. I knew what I wanted, even though Bernard was a little nonplused at my choice. Old Crusty needed Boehms milk chocolate rocky road to sleep with. That proved to be a fine pairing, a favorite of the audience, that night at the tasting, although it was the Imperial Stout, another 26-degree beer with 11.5 percent abv, in a stout float that won the hearts of the audience as the evening’s best.
Bernard had done many chocolate-wine tastings, but he told me that chocolate and beer was a much better wedding. I already knew that.
Fred Eckhardt lives, writes and drinks beer in Portland, OR. He is the author of The Essentials of Beer Style and Saké (USA).