It’s fair to say that as we stood in Rococo’s latest chocolate shop in Marylebone there was some scepticism in the air. No one had ever matched beer and chocolate before. When you’re hankering for something sweet, reaching for a beer to go with it feels counter intuitive.
But it’s not, as we found out just in time for Chocolate Week (what a great idea!) this week.
There are two ways to match beer and food. One is to find the similarities and put them together: sweet with sweet, bitter with bitter, light with light, dark with dark. The other way to do it is to contrast those characteristics. Beer has so many taste profiles (more than wine, in fact) that you can do both with any kind of food.
Many of us were expecting dark chocolates with London porters and double IPAs. Of course, with beer sommelier/genius Rupert Ponsonby in charge, and in a chocolate shop as wonderful as Rococo, we should have known things were going to be a little bit more refined than that.
We started with a gorgeous white chocolate with cardamom seeds, and the match with Duvel – an 8.5% Belgian tripel beer – was inspired. The high alcohol and amount of yeast makes the beer sweet and slightly spiced, much like the chocolate. But what really made it was the slight maltiness that comes from the triple amount of barley in the beer (hence the term Belgian Tripel) – which matched the almost Horlicks-like flavours of the white chocolate.
From then on everyone was sold on the idea. With the high tannins in wine, matching it with something as delicate as chocolate can be hard. The wonderful thing about beer is you get all those amazing flavours with about half the amount of alcohol, which gives dark chocolate’s subtler flavours a bit more time to shine.
And so we set to, ploughing our way through a fantastic salted caramel ganache with Innis & Gunn’s delicious oak-aged beer, where the deeply oaky and vanilla beer melted into the chocolate like they had been designed to be together. We also tried Innis & Gunn’s bourbon cask-aged beer with an Islay whisky truffle. It was like biting on a lump of earth and then drinking fresh glacier water. A bizarre experience that’s certainly not for me, but for whisky lovers it’s something you simply have to try.
Another hit was the Liefmann cherry beer, which was perfect with Rococo’s bestselling single-estate dark Caribbean chocolate, inverting the relationship you would expect by putting bitter chocolate with a sweet and sour beer.
In the end there were chocolate shards and glasses everywhere, full of half drunk beers we’d left as we discovered some other genius combination that didn’t just go together but lifted both the beer and the chocolate. Great matching isn’t about matching flavours, it’s about finding new ones. And chocolate and beer – especially white chocolate with Belgian Tripels – is going right to the top of my new favourite flavours.
Celebrate chocolate week with some of Jamie’s very own mouthwatering chocolate recipes.