With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, you may feel overwhelmed by red and white decorations, flower ads, and expectations of how you should demonstrate your love. It can be hard to navigate through the landscape of pink hearts and fluffy bears, but here at Beerploma we’ve done the hard work for you. This year we’re helping you break out of the box of chocolates! Instead, check out an underrated pairing – chocolate and beer! Wine and chocolate are out for 2014, but beer and chocolate? Now that’s a love story! Along with my husband, I’ve crossed the Twin Cities for samplings from local chocolate shops and Cuisinevault and great liquor stores to bring you some pairings you’ll want to try yourself. We invited a couple friends along for a tasting and I’m sure we’ll inspire you to track down some special treats for your love as well!
We started the night out with a Berlin Style Weisse from local Joseph Wolf Brewing, Co. and champagne truffles from Candyland in Stillwater, MN. While we were familiar with some of the local breweries in the area, we weren’t as sure where to find a great craft beer in the local liquor stores. Doing a little research we found Stillwater Liquor. I was intrigued by what I saw on their website – locally owned, operated, and giving to charity? All great things I could support. Although the craft beer selection was a little small, the customer service was great and they seemed eager to grow in the craft beer area. We selected the sour wheat ale by the Stillwater brewery and headed over to Candyland in downtown Stillwater. With their homemade truffles, fresh popcorn, and old fashioned candies, this shop (with 3 Twin Cities locations) is a favorite of many locals and for good reason.
If you’re looking for a pairing to match closely to traditional bubbly, this is the pairing for you. The sour wheat ale brings to mind the effervescence of champagne as it tickles the back of your throat. The brewery is currently being operated by the great granddaughters of original proprietor Joseph Wolf in collaboration with Dubrue of Duluth, MN. The label states that they are working on a series of artisanal beers and I for one can’t wait to see what else they have to bring to the table. The beer brought out the sweetness of the champagne in the chocolate, with the chocolate in turn mellowing the sourness of the beer. The flavors complimented each other and left a sweet bubbly feel on your palate. This pairing ended up being the favorite of our friend Elise and was a bargain at under $15. (Alternate Pairing: add raspberry syrup to this beer and pair it with a raspberry truffle.)
For our second pairing of the evening we hopped over the river to Hudson, WI. For this stop we hit up historic Casanova Liquors and Knoke’s Chocolates, both located downtown. If you haven’t been to Casanova’s in a while, you might be surprised by their growing selection of craft beers. The back area if filled with craft brews to the point of almost being claustrophobic, and while their selection isn’t as big as some, it’s has more than enough offerings for any beer lover. They also fill growlers! Further into downtown Hudson you’ll find Knoke’s Chocolates and you’ll never want to leave. Knoke’s is known in the area for the quality of their chocolates and it’s easy to see why. Not only do these candies taste great, they are gorgeous. Your Valentine will be thrilled to receive a box of truffles from this downtown staple.
We decided on a bottle of Serendipity from New Glarus. The brewery created this fruit ale after a drought left them short on cherries for their cherry sour. Thinking outside of the box, the brewers gathered what cherries they could get and combined them with apples and cranberries to create this ale, and it’s been a hit ever since. We decided on dark chocolate merlot truffles to pair with this deep red ale. The result worked better than we could have imagined. The deep, dry merlot flavor of the truffle made the sweet fruit flavors in the beer pop. The fruit flavors came out crisp and clean and in turn tamed the bitterness of the dark chocolate. Coming in around $18 for 4 truffles and the bottle, this pairing did not disappoint my palate or wallet. It’s easy to see why this was our friend Mark’s favorite. (Alternate Pairing: try a milk chocolate option or the blueberry balsamic truffle from Knoke’s.)
Coming back across the river we headed out to Minneapolis for our third selection of the night. I love the selection and people at South Lyndale Liquors so that’s where we headed! If you haven’t stepped into this south side staple you’re missing out. South Lyndale Liquors has a wide selection of craft beers at great prices, although I would like to see a greater offering of MN beers on their shelves. We decided on the Genghis Pecan from Clown Shoes of Ipswich, MA. This 2013 pecan pie porter uses real brown sugar and roasted pecans in the brew – which would be perfect with a nut cluster! (Big thanks to Al at South Lyndalefor this suggestion!) So off we headed to the Candy Jar, a Minneapoliscandy and gift shop. At the Candy Jar you’ll find friendly staff and a great selection of treats and gifts sure to thrill any Valentine on your list. They even have a variety of sugar free chocolates in their case, so be sure to check them out if you have someone in your life that can’t have sugar, or is watching their intake. We selected 4 pecan clusters, which were a steal for a dollar!
I won’t lie to you – this pairing was spot on. The nuts and chocolate in the candy amplified the roasted pecan flavor in the beer and brought the brown sugar flavor to the forefront. My biggest regret of this pairing was that we didn’t buy more pecan clusters. I could have honestly spent all night enjoying this combo. This pairing would please anyone and everyone who is a nut fan. This was also our cheapest pick of the night coming in around $9 for the candy and beer. (Alternate Pairing: a turtle or any nut caramel cluster.)
Our final pairing of the evening was from St. Paul. We stopped first at Just Truffles on Grand to check out their offerings. If you haven’t stopped into this local shop you’re missing out. We were greeted right away and offered a sample – how can you not love that customer service! These candies are free of waxes and preservatives so you’ll want to make sure to keep them refrigerated. I was surprised by the price of $4/truffle, but these are huge truffles! At any other candy shop this amount would make 2-3 standard size truffles easily, so the pricing really does balance out. We decided on café au lait truffles and went on our way to the Ale Jail where the friendly and knowledgeable staff was waiting to assist us in both the Ale Jail and the connected Wine Thief. You won’t find your mass produced beers here – no Budweiser or Miller on these shelves. Instead you’ll find many local offerings and craft brews from around the country. Here we selected an Espresso Oak Aged Yeti from Great Divide Brewing Co. out of Denver Co.
Both Andy and I picked this pairing as our favorite of the evening. The Yeti is an imperial stout aged on oak chips with coffee added, which served as the perfect mate to our café au lait truffles. Both the beer and truffles worked together and enhanced the overall coffee flavor that they each brought. If you’re looking for the perfect end to a great Valentine’s Day dinner, this pairing is worth every penny. It was the best of everything an after dinner cocktail or dessert should be. Our St. Paulstop was the steepest cost of the evening at $29 but trust me, these two were worth the price. And if you really want to pull out the stops next Friday, this duo is sure to impress. (Alternative Pairing: we’ve got nothing! None of us had any reason to switch this team up!)