The pairing of beer with chocolate seems recently to have gained a life of its own. Among other signs are reports from New York that hint this lovely combination is “the next big thing.” Actually, during the past year, our stout ice cream float made inroads in the Big Apple, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Why would anyone even think of such a bizarre combination? The answer is simplicity itself: because there is beer and there is chocolate.
In 1989, I suggested to Carl Simpson, owner with Kate Bullard of Portland’s (OR) Dublin Pub, that we do chocolate and beer for my February tasting there, since it fell on Valentines Day. Carl agreed, but he must have had his doubts, and in truth I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Indeed, I was forced to consider the question, why would anyone even think of such a bizarre combination? The answer is simplicity itself: because there is beer and there is chocolate. A marriage made in heaven, as it were. It had all started the year before when I was trying to devise ways to twist the IRS’s tail. What better way than deducting some chocolate from my taxes. I kept careful notes, of course—the IRS can be fussy.
I didn’t want to be the only arbiter of which beer would go with which chocolate, so I declared it a Chefs’ and Brewers’ Choice Chocolate and Beer Tasting, and called on local brewers for help. I pressed them for combinations of chocolate with their beer. Next I approached a couple of local Portland chefs, but it was Greg Higgins, executive chef at Heathman Hotel, who added the stroke of genius that has made me famous in beer and brewing circles. Greg suggested a stout float made with chocolate fudge brownies, vanilla ice cream, and Guinness stout. If left to my own devices, I would never have had the courage to try that.
The beers were ready, and the chocolate was, too. Although the crowd was fairly large, only a few hardy souls actually participated in that first tasting, but they made up for their numbers with their enthusiasm.
I next tried the idea in Houston at the Dixie Cup Homebrew Competition. It was different there; we had a captive audience. A hundred beer judges who had sat all afternoon and evening judging beer and were in no shape to be critical. More important, they were too drunk to drive home.
Since then, I have done similar tastings at venues across the country and in London and Tokyo as well. I have become quite well known in those circles for such madness. Although it was Michael Jackson who invented the beer dinner (one or more different beers served with each different course), I am having great fun with my format.
As I continued my research, I realized there was a lot more to the beer-chocolate idea than was on the surface. Perhaps I was becoming a Brewchocoholic! If so, there were sinister lupulin undertones to consider, and it was soon necessary to increase my swimming time to burn off all those dark calories.