First, let’s discuss how these beers are different from other styles. Being darker in color, ranging from brown to inky, opaque black is the obvious. This is achieved by using a blend of specialty malts in the grain bill of the recipe—brewer speak for percentage of malt. Specialty malts are different from two-row malted barley because they offer no fermentable sugars to the beer. They are strictly used to color and flavor a beer. They are kilned to different degrees from a light crystal malt to a very dark and brittle roasted barley.
Think of the process of roasting coffee. The longer the roast, the darker and more flavorful the coffee becomes. It is very similar to that of roasting grain. Some examples of specialty malt are: crystal, brown, roasted barley, black patent and even chocolate. Blending these malts together will give you the complexity needed to brew a porter or stout. Roasted barley will give you the dry-roasted flavors you will find in an Irish stout. Brown and chocolate malts will lend coffee-, toffee- and chocolate-like character. Crystal malts give the beer a fuller body and a slight sweetness. It should be apparent why these beers pair so well with chocolate.
Empire Brewing Co.’s Downtown Brown is an English-style brown ale made with specialty malts from Thomas Faucet Malting, in England. In my opinion, they are some of the finest malts available. The finished product has a nice nutty character, with flavors and aromas of coffee and chocolate. This beer would go very nicely with a lighter milk chocolate.
Black Magic Stout, another Empire beer, is a classic dry Irish stout. It is carbonated with nitrogen and has a smooth, silky, mouth-feel. The heavy use of roasted barley gives the beer a dry, roasted finish. I would pair this with a darker chocolate. Black Magic Stout is also used in the production of one of Empire’s proprietary ice creams made by Kimberly’s Ice Cream. It is a chocolate stout ice cream, with chunks of dark Belgian chocolate, chocolate-covered pretzels and beer nuts. By itself or as a beer ice cream float, it is delicious. Kimberly’s production facility is in Cazenovia, and she has a retail shop at 8240 Route 92, Manlius.
Dessert beer is quickly becoming popular as beer pushes itself into the food world. It is not uncommon for a restaurant to mount a full-scale beer dinner, pairing beers with each course. Ending the meal with the right beer can be challenging, however. I have recently tasted two New York state beers that are perfect for ending a meal, or pairing with chocolate for Valentine’s Day, one from Southern Tier Brewing Company and the other from Brewery Ommegang.
Southern Tier’s Chok-lat Stout is a great dessert beer. It is an Imperial Stout made with five different specialty malts and bittersweet Belgian chocolate. The aroma just bursts pure cocoa and the mouth-feel is big and robust. Chocolate flavors push through the roasted grain character and the beer finishes with a nice alcoholic warmth from the 9 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
Brewery Ommegang’s Chocolate Indulgence is another great chocolate-flavored beer. It is brewed with dark Belgian chocolate, and fermented with Ommegang’s Belgian yeast, which gives the beer a slightly different flavor. The aroma has notes of dark fruit and black coffee while the flavor hints of raspberries and dark chocolate. The mouth-feel is lighter due to the 7 percent ABV, but that makes it a bit more drinkable. This would be a hit with chocolate-covered cherries.
This Valentine’s Day, when you are on your way home to your sweetheart, pick up a growler of Downtown Brown for $15 to go with your heart-shaped box of chocolates. Nothing says I love you like chocolate and beer. Cheers!
Tim Butler is director of Brewing Operations at Empire Brewing Co., 120 Walton St. His column appears occasionally in The New Times.