When boiled down (pun intended) beer is an agricultural product, as is chocolate. This is one of the many similarities between the craft beer and chocolate worlds. Chocolate is produced from the seeds of a fruit that grows on a tropical plant. As with beer, chocolate is also a fermented product, and much like beer, there is craft production and mass production.
David Nilsen, beer writer, and educator sat down with Sarah Jane Curran, host of Beer Me! to discuss pairing beer and chocolate, inspired by these parallels. One main departure from the beer and chocolate production is a human rights component.
“The cacao supply chain estimates 60 to 70% of the world’s commodity cacao has human rights abuses along the supply chain,” says Nilsen. “So the big ethical difference between these two goes beyond any lines a person might want to draw between craft beer and macro beer. However, when it comes to the guest experience, there is still the hurdle of the final cost to the consumer, the hurdle with both beer and chocolate is that “we never should have been able to buy chocolate as cheaply as we’ve gotten used to.”
Nilsen recently published “Pairing Beer + Chocolate: A Bean to Bar Zine”, where he explains the process of making “bean to bar” (craft) chocolate, how to taste chocolate, and specific beer styles with chocolate pairing recommendations.
On the show, Nilsen breaks down the process of pairing beer and chocolate. He suggests: “Start with what you’re less familiar with, the chocolate” (assuming most, if not all, of our listeners are more familiar with beer). Once you have those flavors defined, you’re able to follow the basic principles of pairing beer with food.
There are some exceptions. Beers that have a strong hop bitterness struggle with chocolate, especially dark chocolate as the tannins can overwhelm the palette. There is also inclusion chocolates (chocolates with adjunct ingredients), that can be considered and layered into the experience. Nilsen describes all of this and more on the show.