Feb. 9, 2012 at 3:22 PM ET
I surprised my wife with an early Valentine’s Day gift this past weekend, but instead of the typical heart-shaped box of chocolates, I presented her with a bouquet of chocolate beers. She was thrilled, which I think is a clear indication that I married the coolest girl in the universe.
We picked through her gift over the weekend like it was a Russell Stover sampler, plucking out the goodies we know we love, and dipping into the others with a mix of anticipation and apprehension.
My wife is a great tasting partner, as she enjoys good beer but isn't a total nerd about it like yours truly. Her opinions aren’t affected by knowledge of brewers or beer styles; She likes what she likes, and like just about every lady I've ever shared one with, she adores chocolate beers.
And what's not to love? Chocolate beers are a great example of the creativity and individuality brewers can bring to their creations.
The first beer we tried was Terrapin Brewing's Moo Hoo Milk ChocolateStout. Moo Hoo is a great name for this beer, as its milk chocolate flavor and watery consistency bear more than a passing resemblance to Yoo-Hoo. There may be some hints of espresso and roasted malt at play in the background, but it's clear that Terrapin intended to create an easy-to-drink homage to chocolate milk. Mission accomplished. My wife and I both liked the flavor of this beer, but we agreed that the mouthfeel was awfully light for a stout that's packing this much chocolatey goodness.
Southern Tier Choklat had the same full-on chocolate flavor of the Moo Hoo, but it’s turned up to 11 and has a consistency that’s akin to motor oil. This beer is a straight-up luscious treat that coats your palate with pure chocolate delight until your eyes begin to roll back into your head with pleasure. But be warned, this decadent delight packs nearly three times the alcohol that you’d find in a Bud Light, so be sure to pace yourself.
The next beer was a split decision for us – Sam Adams Vixen Chocolate Chili Bock, a deep mahogany beer brewed with cocoa nibs and chilies. I enjoyed this one as a change of pace from the other beers we sampled, mostly because it wasn't all about the chocolate. Rather, hints of dried dark fruits, cinnamon and vanilla led the way, with the cocoa taking a back seat and followed up by the peppery kick of the chilies. I enjoyed the fact that this brew was a beer first and a liquid confection second, but my wife didn’t agree – she thought it wasn’t chocolatey enough for a beer with the word “chocolate” on the label. Fair enough, dear.
A real disappointment was Rogue Chocolate Stout. It certainly looked and smelled great in the glass, with its inky-brown color, generous head and nose full of sweet chocolate and rich malts. But these promises of delight unraveled upon the first sip. The flavor started off nice enough, with a lovely gush of chocolate and a hint of coffee, but then spiraled into a nasty bitter aftertaste that plunked itself unpleasantly upon our palates. This wasn't the good kind of bitterness that beer geeks adore; this tasted like a mistake, reminiscent of one of my botched homebrews (no one can ruin a perfectly good recipe like I can). I was surprised that this brew wasn't better given its position as one of the beer world's most celebrated chocolate offerings.
We both enjoyed Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. I liked its complexity, and my wife appreciated its cocoa kick. Unlike some of the other beers that had a one-note milk chocolate character, this brew was far more complex. A semi-sweet cocoa flavor is the star of the show, but it happily shares the stage with a supporting cast of toffee, espresso, licorice and a subtle hopping that had my inner beer geek searching each sip for new flavors. My wife also enjoyed the complexity of this one, and unlike the Vixen, it provided enough of a cocoa fix for her to consider it a proper chocolate beer. I’ve had Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout in the past, and didn’t remember it being this good. That’s why I say you need to taste a beer at least three times before forming an ironclad opinion about it – you never know when you and a beer will make a love connection.
One beer I buy every time I see it is Great Divide’s Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti. This imperial stout is brewed with cocoa nibs and a dash of cayenne pepper and is then aged in oak barrels. The result is a beer that’s huge on flavor, yet mouthwateringly smooth. The bittersweet cocoa blends artfully with a broad vanilla backbone, and the oakiness from the barrels gives it a dry and slightly boozy finish. The party piece is the heat from the cayenne pepper, which is all but undetectable after the first sip, but builds as you go through the glass until it is playfully peppering the back of your throat. Of all the chocolate beers I brought home, this was the one my wife asked after, which was a bummer – I was hoarding it for myself!
All told, my sweetheart and I really enjoyed exploring this collection of liquid confections. Just like everyone has their favorite chocolate in a sampler box (I’m a raspberry caramel man myself), there’s a chocolate beer to suit just about everyone’s taste. I say surprise the one you love with one of the beers above and have yourself a very happy Valentine’s Day indeed.
The beers I've included here were chosen because they are available in many places across the country. Please let us know in the comments below if I've overlooked your favorite chocolate treat from a brewery in your neck of the woods. Share the love! For more on this, check out my Beyond TODAY post on chocolate beers as a female-friendly option.
Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits.
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