Vie de Cacao

Pairing Craft Beer & Artisanal Chocolate

Pairing Craft Beer & Artisanal Chocolate 0

Think chocolate and beer are an odd couple?  Actually, they are interestingly alike.  And if you want to conduct your own craft beer + artisanal chocolate tasting, keep reading.


Why Beer + Chocolate?


Beer and chocolate are similar in many ways.  For instance, both develop much of their flavor during fermentation.  Both beer and chocolate balance bitter and sweet flavors—bitterness from hops in beer and cacao in chocolate, sweetness from malted barley in beer and sugar in chocolate.  Some terms that describe the flavors in chocolate and beer are similar—coffee, toffee, caramel, molasses, biscuit, malt, and fruity notes such as raisin.  “Chocolate” is even a word used to describe one of the flavor notes in some beers.


And beer and chocolate are fun to pair because the flavors in beer can not only complement or sharply contrast those in chocolate, but the carbonation in beer serves as a palate cleanser—a task not accomplished by wine, except for sparkling wine.

The Pairings with Craft Beer from Denizens Brewing Co.


Because artisanal chocolate demands to be matched with high quality craft beer, we teamed up withDenizens Brewing Co. for a Craft Beer + Artisansal Chocolate Pairing Event last month.  Denizens is a local brewery with a two-level taproom and beer garden, and they were key in changing a county law that previously did not allow micro-breweries to self-distribute their beer to retailers.


The law previously required these breweries in Montgomery County, Maryland, to deal with a “middleman,” the Department of Liquor Control (“DLC”), which meant that all alcoholic beverage purchases by retail establishments had to be made from the DLC itself, and that made it difficult for micro-breweries to compete with . . . let’s call them “macro-breweries.”


When pairing, begin on the lighter end of the beer and chocolate spectrum and finish with bolder flavors.  For the sold-out Denizens' event, however, we broke this rule of thumb because we decided not to pair all complementary flavors.  In formulating the combinations, we sought beers that complemented the flavors in the chocolates, contrasted the flavors, and/or cleansed the palate.


After a few tasting sessions with the folks at Denizens, during which we not only sampled beers and chocolates, but also discussed the flavor notes we detected and the overall range of pairings we wanted to present, we selected the following five:

  • Caramelized Cacao Nib Bites with Lowest Lord English-Style ESB/Extra Special Bitter:  We used a 60% dark chocolate that was adorned with caramelized cacao nibs. The Caramelized Nib Bites flirted between textures and tastes of crunchy, smoky, bittersweet flavors, drawing out the bitter notes in Denizens’ ESB, which isn’t overly bitter, but more so balanced.


  • Cuban Espresso Ganache with Ponch’s Porter:  We paired our cuban espresso flavor with Denizens’ Porter. The Cuban espresso ganache, which is reminiscent of an authentic café cubano—sweet and strong, teased out the coffee and chocolate flavors in the Porter.  The soft espresso ganache also contrasted the texture of the Caramelized Cacao Nib Bites.

  • 70% Ganache with Born Bohemian Czech-Style Pilsner:  We created a 70% bittersweet dark chocolate ganache for the event, teaming it with Denizens’ refreshing Pilsner.  The Pilsner softened the bitter notes in the ganache, while cleansing the palate.

  •  Dark Chocolate Fleur de Sel Caramels with Big Red Norm American Red Ale:  These salty, slightly sweet, and fulsome caramels melted on the tongue, embracing the caramel notes in Denizens’ Red Ale. Again, the chewy texture of the caramels served as a contrast to the ganaches, and because the caramel lingered in your mouth, it blended smoothly with the Red Ale.

  • Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee with Third Party Belgian-Style Tripel:  We selected our buttery almond toffee with hints of dark chocolate to play off the sugar and spice notes in Denizens’ Belgian-style Tripel.

Conducting Your Own Tasting

Getting Started

  • Work with craft beer and fine chocolate.


  • Invite others.


  • For chocolate, select pieces that can be consumed in two bites, such as a truffle, a chocolate-covered caramel, a chocolate-dipped piece of fruit, or pieces of a bar. Also, work with a variety of textures—that is, don’t choose all truffles.  For instance, for our event at Denizens, we incorporated caramels and toffee, which varied the textures as well as flavors.


  • For beer, pour 3 or 4 oz beer servings (a reason to do the tasting with others because you’ll have a lot of beer left otherwise).


  • No more than 3 to 5 beer + chocolate pairings (my suggestion is to have eaten something light beforehand).


  • The intensity of flavor in the beer and chocolate are a consideration because a beer with intensity could overpower the flavors in a particular chocolate. Decide whether you want to pair a beer and chocolate that have similar flavor profiles (complementary); that oppose each other (contrasting); and/or a beer that cuts through the flavors in the chocolate (cleansing).  I prefer a tasting that includes some complementary flavors and some contrasting ones (and some where the beers cleanse the palate).  For instance, try a beer that cuts through and cools the tongue from a spicy chocolate.


Here are suggestions for selecting beers and chocolates for your tasting:

  • Try a pilsner with a not-overly-sweet white chocolate.


  • Choose a milk chocolate with 35-40% cacao, which offers some sweetness and some depth, offsetting the bitterness in an IPA.


  • Belgian-style dubbels would likely complement milk chocolate with raisins or dried cherries, while Belgian-style tripels would complement a chocolate with citrus notes.


  • Dark beers like stouts and porters are easiest to match with chocolate but that’s if your goal is complementary flavors. Try a stout or porter with bittersweet dark chocolate or contrast the bitterness of a stout or porter with a sweeter chocolate, such as white chocolate.


  • Try a higher percentage chocolate with a refreshing beer for divergent flavors.


  • Experiment with chocolates with salt or spices.


Conducting Your Tasting

  • Use your senses. When tasting chocolates, focus on the visual (the shine and color of the chocolate), the aroma, the texture as the chocolate melts in your mouth, the flavors, and the finish.  Likewise, note the same when sampling the beer.


  • The chocolate should be at room temperature. As for the beer, there’s much to be said about the best serving temperature depending on the type of beer, but generally speaking, the beer should be chilled but not just out of the fridge.  Sip room temperature water between pairings.


  • If you've chosen all complementary pairings, move from lighter flavors to bolder ones.


  • Experiment with sampling the chocolate first, then sipping the beer. Then do the reverse.  Notice the flavor profiles that emerge depending on the order in which you taste the beer and the chocolate.


  • Discuss with others how the pairings worked (or didn’t), and enjoy!


Crispy Tofu with Cacao Nib Rub

Crispy Tofu with Cacao Nib Rub 0

Our Cacao Nib Rub is delicious on meat, but don't limit yourself.  Try it on fruits, vegetables, and even, as you’ll see here, tofu.


Makes 4 servings


1 14-oz package of extra firm tofu
2 ½ tablespoons Cacao Nib Rub  (more on cacao nibs here)
3 ½ tablespoons olive oil


Cut tofu into 1/3 inch thick blocks, yielding 8 blocks, each under 2 oz.  Lay paper towels on a cutting board, and lay blocks of tofu on the towels.  Cover with more paper towels.  Lay another cutting board on top of tofu to extract as much of the water as possible.  Leave for several minutes.


Stir together Cacao Nib Rub and olive oil.  Coat each piece of tofu with marinade, covering each side of each tofu piece.

Let tofu marinate in Rub and olive oil mixture for at least 15 minutes.  We used an indoor grill and grilled the tofu over low heat, for 15 minutes per side.  You can also broil the tofu on low for approximately 10 minutes per side.


The tofu will develop a crispiness and flavor that's a delicious meat substitute!  Once the tofu is done cooking, use any leftover marinade on the tofu for extra flavor.  Serve with your favorite sides.

Cacao Nib Spread

Cacao Nib Spread 0

Cacao nibs add texture and bitterness while agave lends some sweetness to creamy goat cheese.  Orange zest offers additional depth to this spread.


1 8-oz log of goat cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup cacao nibs
2 1/2 teaspoons blue agave nectar
1 orange
Crackers or baguette


For more about cacao nibs, read my post here on what nibs are and a variety of ways to use them.  In a large bowl, use a spatula to combine goat cheese, cacao nibs, and agave.  If serving on a baguette, slice and toast. 


Spread a generous amount of goat cheese mixture onto crackers or baguette slices.  Over each cracker or baguette slice, zest a small amount of an orange using a microplane.



Cacao Masala Chai

Cacao Masala Chai 0

In the last few years, chai has made a regular reappearance in my life.  Most times, I'll make a quick chai with only two spices (cardamom and cloves), but other times, I'll want more depth to my chai.  Here’s a recipe for a brisk chai with subtle notes of chocolate.

As a kid, chai was a daily treat for my sister and I growing up in Pakistan.  After our parents and grandparents woke up from a late afternoon nap, chai was served to the adults, and my sister and I always managed to get at least half a cup each.  As the adults would sit in chairs in the living room to sip their chai and talk, my sister and I would plop down on the floor and cozy up next to the coffee table (or is it a chai table if chai is being served?), which was the perfect height when we were seated on the floor.  It also put us in the middle of the action—the adults had to reach around us to get their chai and we got to hear all the gossip.


We loved chai because we turned it into a sweet treat by adding lots of sugar.  Dessert before dinner!  It was also game time for me.  I played the game of dipping biscuits into the chai and figuring out how many times and how deep I could dunk the biscuit into the chai before it would break off and fall into the chai.  The biscuits were delicious, and I’m not even sure I drank the chai each time.


When I left my parents’ home in Miami, chai stopped being part of my routine, and coffee took its place.  When I visited my parents or family, I'd drink a cup or two of chai if some was already being made for others, but I only occasionally made a cup for myself.  I still drink coffee in the mornings because I can grab it on the go.  (I’m in search of a chai cart or chai wallah in DC.)  But, in the evenings, when I want something warm and need a little caffeine to power me through but not keep me up all night, I've been making chai.  I also make chai on weekend mornings when I have time to savor it.

The ingredients

 A few words about some of the ingredients.


I prefer using whole spices for chai rather than making a spice blend because I can vary the spices and the amount  depending on the taste I want.  This recipe uses whole, green cardamom pods, fennel seeds, freshly-sliced ginger, and whole cloves.

Assam tea

Assam tea is a black tea named after the region where it's grown, Assam, India.  It’s grown primarily at or near sea level and has a brisk, malty flavor with a strong color.



Cacao powder

This recipe calls for natural, unsweetened cacao powder, also known as cocoa powder.  Pure, unsweetened cacao powder imparts a bitter taste and a deep chocolate flavor.  To get powder from the cacao bean, the nibs are first ground into a paste (chocolate liquor),  most of the fat (cacao butter) is removed, and the remaining solids are ground into a fine dust to produce cacao powder.  You can also use raw, organic cacao powder, which is found mainly at health food stores.  The cacao powder is said to be raw because the cacao beans have been processed only at low temperatures to retain maximum nutrients, and as a result, this powder apparently has higher amounts of magnesium,  iron, potassium, and other minerals and antioxidants.




I've used both 2% milk and almond milk in this recipe without having to alter the proportions.


Cacao Masala Chai Recipe

Makes two servings.



  • 1 cup water

  • 1 cup milk

  • 3 green cardamom pods,  crushed (To open the pods, take a knife with a large, flat blade, like a chef's knife, place the cardamom pod on a chopping board, and using the heel of your hand, and lightly crush the pod under the flat part of the blade.)

  • 3 whole cloves

  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds

  • 1 thin slice of fresh ginger

  • 3 1/2 teaspoons of loose black tea (I prefer Assam)

  • 2 teaspoons natural, unsweetened cacao powder

  • Sugar or sweetener of your choice

Equipment & Tools

  • Measuring cup and spoons

  • Medium size saucepan

  • Whisk

  • Strainer

  • Two medium-size mugs


  1. Put all ingredients except tea, cacao powder, and sweetener into saucepan over medium heat.

  2. Bring to a boil.

  3. Reduce to a simmer and add tea.  After 4-5 minutes, slowly add the cacao powder into the saucepan as you whisk lightly to keep the cacao powder from clumping.

  4. Strain and pour into cups.

  5. Sweeten to taste. 

If you decide to use raw cacao powder, stir it in once the tea is taken off the heat to minimize nutrient loss.


  • Puja Satiani