Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
Yes, we’re all digging out from the snow, but it’s still Valentine’s Day and that means romantic dinners, chocolates — the works. While beer may not necessarily be the first beverage choice for dinner, there are plenty out there that would play well with desserts of all kinds. As luck would have it, a couple are arriving in our area just in time for the occasion.
The first of these is the much-hyped and long-awaited Chocolate Ale from Boulevard Brewing Company. Chocolate Ale debuted in 2011, a collaboration between Boulevard Brewmaster Steven Pauwels and Christopher Elbow, a pastry chef in Boulevard’s hometown of Kansas City. Chocolate Ale uses cocoa nibs from a rare Dominican variety with an emphasis on subtlety rather than an overly rich, cloying flavor. If you were lucky enough to snag some of Boulevard’s Coffee Ale last year, you get the idea.
The 2012 batch of Chocolate Ale had some issues, leading to a recall and to Boulevard giving it the year off in 2013 while it resolves issues in the brewing process. Thankfully those issues have been solved, and for 2014 it’s back with its biggest production run to date.
The lightness of Chocolate Ale will throw some expecting a richer flavor from a chocolate beer, but its lightness of being makes it an appropriate beer with a variety of desserts. You could just as easily enjoy Boulevard Chocolate Ale with fine chocolates and confections as you could with a fruit tart, or cheesecake. With just the tiniest hint of hops to it, I could even see Chocolate Ale with a cheese plate; think Manchego drizzled with honey.
For the chocoholics out there, an unexpected treat is hitting this week in the form of Foothills Brewing Sexual Chocolate. This cocoa-infused Imperial Stout clocks in at just under 10 percent ABV and has built enough of a following that its release day at the Winston-Salem brewery draws out enthusiasts who camp out overnight for a shot at it.
That kind of following and intense demand means not a lot of it made it up here, but you may come across some over the next couple of days — if you’re really lucky, maybe it’ll even be available on tap at the restaurant you go have dinner at. Sexual Chocolate is not the subtle, “touch of chocolate” ale that Boulevard’s is: it pours jet black, with lush aromas of cocoa and roasted coffee.
On the palate Sexual Chocolate is rich but not too heavy thanks to a healthy hop addition giving it some backbone. Redolent with flavors of dark chocolate, molasses, and dark fruit, Sexual Chocolate is a great way to cap off a Valentine’s Day meal.
What I’m Drinking This Week:
Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2012): I’ve had one last bottle from the first batch of this legendary stout in my beer fridge since its release and decided it was time to have at it. When these first got here I’d tried one and not been overly impressed with it: having never been a huge Goose Island fan, this didn’t exactly surprise me, though I had expected a bit more from a beer with such a huge reputation among craft drinkers. While the fresh BCBS was tasty, I found it simultaneously cartoonish and lacking for a distinctive bourbon character.
My hope was that some time would allow BCBS’ sugars to blow-off a bit, revealing a more restrained, mature beer. What I got was a beer that, while still undeniably tasty, didn’t give me any indication of its alleged greatness. Today, beers like Blue Mountain’s Dark Hollow give a combination of smooth enjoyability with just the right amount of bourbon influence at half the price of BCBS. After a few minutes and a couple sips, I poured about a shot worth of my High West Son Of Bourye into it — the result being a beer I’d happily hunt down and shell out good money for.
DuClaw Cocoa Fuego Chocolate Chipotle Stout: If this were available in Virginia yet, I’d have included it in this week’s Valentine’s Day recommendations. Alas, this was a sample from the gang at DuClaw ahead of its arrival in the next couple of weeks. I’m not always a fan of the use of chilis in beer — even Stouts whose malts go a long way toward balancing the heat. Cocoa Fuego is a nice departure for DuClaw; I usually find their beers kind of over-the-top (in all the right ways of course), but Fuego is roasty, spicy, and flavorful while also being a beer you want to have more than one of. It’s pretty impressive stuff; look for it in Virginia soon.
Victory Red Thunder (late-2012 batch): I loved this red wine barrel-aged version of Victory’s Baltic Thunder Porter when it first came here a little over a year ago — so much so that I bought a few extra bottles before it went away to stash away at home. I opened this bottle the other night to see how it was doing, and found myself drinking a completely different beer than the one I fell in love with. After a year in the cellar, the full, malty flavors and feel of the base Baltic Porter had faded away; in their place the more vinous aspects of Red Thunder has asserted themselves. Lots of acidity was present, and not a little bit of Brettanomyces (which I hadn’t noticed in the fresh beer at all) laid atop a bed of still-kicking dark malt tones. Red Thunder is still very good; at this point though, it’s basically an entirely new beer to discover.
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