Beer and chocolate do go together

January 25, 2010 8:42:28 AM PST
For many years, wine and cheese tastings were popular. Then along came wine and chocolate pairings. Now matching beer and chocolate is catching on. It may seem that beer, often thought of as ordinary and only appropriate for tailgates, does not "go with" elegant chocolates. But that's not true, according to Sir Marc Stroobandt from Stella Artois. Fine beers and chocolates DO go together he says. And what better expert could you find to talk about two of Belgium's favorite exports, chocolate and beer, than the Belgian-born Master Beer Sommelier? For proof of how perceptions are changing, just take a look at his title. Sommelier was once a title reserved for wine specialists.

For beer and chocolate the goal is to create either complementing flavors (reinforce each other's flavors, intensifying and deepening the tasting experience) or contrasting flavors (balance each other's flavor, so both stand out but neither dominates), Sir Marc explains. Beer and chocolate pairings build on this concept, but focus on the idea that people assume only wine can be served with chocolate and desserts. That's similar to the misperception about cheese pairings; beer is great with cheese, too, he adds.

Brew masters would argue that beer and chocolate is actually a better pairing than wine and chocolate, because of the broad range of beer styles and flavors, Sir Marc explains. Also, beer's carbonation helps cut through the richness of chocolates and cleanses the palate, getting you ready for the next bite. From there, the possibilities are endless for what Brew masters and Chocolatier can come up with.

Here are some examples:

Stella Artois is paired with a chocolate made with chipotle pepper and cinnamon flavors. The carbonation in the crisp lager immediately accentuates the spicy notes of the chocolate, before cleansing the palate and getting you ready for the next bite.

The citrus and coriander notes in Hoegaarden, an unfiltered Belgian white ale, complement the subtle orange flavors in the dark chocolate. The spicy orange flavors of both the beer and chocolate are heightened with this pairing.

Leffe Blonde, a dry, fruity and lightly spiced Belgian Abbey Ale, balances the rich creaminess of the milk chocolate. The flavors work together without overpowering each other, allowing you to taste everything the beer and chocolate has to offer.

The Belgian Pouring Ritual from "Savouring Perfection"

Courtesy of Stella Artois

Having the proper glassware to best accentuate the flavors, aromas and appearance of a particular beer is only the first step in serving the ideal Belgian beer. For the full experience, it must be properly poured from the tap.

The Belgians have mastered the art of the perfect pour, which not only ensures the utmost enjoyment of the beer, but also showcases the pouring process itself.

This art, known as The Belgian Pouring Ritual, is a nine-step, time-honored tradition that contributes to the country's legendary gold standard of beer service. Each of the nine steps serves a specific purpose, optimizing serving consistency, drinking enjoyment and the romance of the beer itself.

The bartender selects the signature glass for the beer being poured. The glass is scrubbed in a cool-water bath, preferably with a mild detergent. It's then rinsed with cold water to chill the glass.

The tap is opened in one swift motion to let the first burst of foam flow away. It must never enter the glass, thus ensuring every drop of beer is fresh.

The glass is held at a 45-degree angle to create the perfect balance of liquid to foam.

Step Four: THE HEAD
The head is created by straightening and lowering the glass. The foam is visually appealing and releases the beer's aroma.

The bartender closes the tap in one quick action and moves the glass away from the faucet to ensure no drops spoil the perfect head.

While the beer is flowing over the edge of the glass, the bartender cuts the head gently with a head cutter at a 45-degree angle. This eliminates the larger bubbles that burst easily and accelerate the dissipation of the head.

The bartender now stands in judgment. The beer's head should be two fingers thick.

The bartender then rinses the bottom and sides of the glass. This keeps the glass clean and cool and makes it comfortable to hold.

A perfectly poured pint of Belgian beer is presented with the logos of the coaster and glass facing the customer.

About Marc Stroobandt, Master Beer Sommelier and Belgian Beer Ambassador

Marc Stroobandt is a Master Beer Sommelier and Belgian Beer Ambassador with The F&B Partnership in the United Kingdom. Recently, Stroobandt began working with Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Leffe to promote Belgian beers, brewing history and pouring rituals as well as educate consumers on the art of beer and food pairings.

Stroobandt first became intrigued with the wide variety of specialty beers during his first year in law school in Belgium in 1982. He worked very closely with Belgian brewers and gained an unparalleled understanding of the Belgian beer landscape while working in some of the best Belgian beer bars. A stint in catering school helped Stroobandt develop a passion and expertise for pairing food with beer.

In 1998, Stroobandt was awarded an honorary knighthood by one of Europe 's oldest trade guilds, the La Chevalerie du Fourquet des Brasseurs (the Knighthood of the Brewers' Mashstaff). He is also Commander in the Order of De Roze Olifant.

Currently director and master beer sommelier for the F&B Partnership, Stroobandt lives in London, England. Together with his business partner, Fiona Smith, Stroobandt works in the United Kingdom and the United States as a consultant. Their goal: to enhance the appreciation of beer through product education, tasting sessions, master courses and beer dinners.

From "Savouring Perfection: A Celebration of Belgian Beer" Courtesy of Stella Artois

There's a natural affinity between Belgian beers and fine food. When the two meet, any occasion becomes a cause for celebration. Just as you might uncork a bottle of Chardonnay or a favorite Pinot Noir to accent your menu, Belgian beers complement a variety of foods, providing a balance of flavors and aromas to elevate your experience.

Belgians enjoy one of the most vibrant and diverse beer cultures in the world, and beer is incorporated into all aspects of the meal, even dessert. No other country offers such a stunning variety of authentic and colorful beer styles.

Belgian brewing methods vary widely, and some are extremely unique, such as Belgian lambic beers that provide a fascinating combination of earthy aromas and fruity tartness. Six of the world's seven Trappist breweries reside in Belgium. These strong ales are brewed following a monastic tradition that dates back more than a thousand years.

Today, Belgium has approximately 125 breweries that produce more than 500 different beers. The most popular styles include European pils, white, dubbel, tripel, blonde, brown, amber and Flemish red.

Beer and Food

When pairing beer and food, one of the most important things to consider is the balance between the beer and the food it's matched with. This includes the weight and intensity of the food, and the aroma and taste of the beer. Achieving the right harmony between the aromatics of the beer and food is one of the guiding principles of pairing.

"The wide range of Belgian beer styles ensures there's a beer for every setting and meal," said Bart Vandaele, owner/executive chef of Belga Café in Washington, D.C. "Experimenting with different combinations is the key to great cooking and to a great tasting meal."

Pairing beer and chocolate also offers opportunities to discover complementing and contrasting flavors. Beer, in many ways, make a better pairing with chocolate than wine because of the broad range of aromas and flavors found in different beer styles. In addition, beer's carbonation helps cut through rich chocolate flavors, also refreshing your palate to get you ready for the next bite.

Stella Artois

The crisp, dry flavor of Stella Artois makes it an ideal accompaniment for a variety of cuisines from around the world. The mild malt and light hops accentuate the richness of dishes such as lamb, lobster and shellfish without overwhelming the balance of flavors.

"Stella Artois brings out the hidden, secret flavor in recipes which you can't pinpoint but would miss if it wasn't there," said Chef Daniel Joly, Belgian-Born Master Chef, owner/executive chef at Mirabelle At Beaver Creek in Colorado. "The mild malt and light hops of Stella Artois accentuate the richness of foods without overwhelming the balance of flavors."

The signature Stella Artois Chalice is probably the most well-known Belgian glass. The distinctive Chalice releases the beer's flavor and multi-textured aromas. It is also specially designed to highlight the Belgian Pouring Ritual.


The Original Belgian White Beer, Hoegaarden has a soft body, naturally cloudy white appearance and thick, frothy head. With its citrusy finish, Hoegaarden (pronounced who-gar-den) is the perfect complement for light salads and seafood.

The beer is brewed with real Curaçao orange peel, a dash of coriander and a blend of wheat and malted barley for a refreshing flavor and spicy nose. Hoegaarden was awarded four consecutive gold medals at the '02, '04, '06 and '08 World Beer Cup®.

"The unique flavors of Hoegaarden add a freshness to recipes that enhances the seasoning of both the beer and the dish," said Sir Marc Stroobandt, Master Beer Sommelier and Belgian Beer Ambassador, The F&B Partnership. "The beer is great as an ingredient or infusion, as well as an accompaniment to a wide variety of light dishes like salads, spiced Asian food, seafood and, above all, mussels."

Hoegaarden is served in a hexagonal glass that showcases its natural cloudiness and spicy coriander-infused aroma. The thickness of the glass helps to maintain the desired serving temperature.

Leffe Blonde

Leffe Blonde is a Belgian Abbey ale dating back to the 13th century. The golden ale has spicy aromas of clove and vanilla, smoky caramel and roasted notes. The taste is sweet and silky, slightly drying with a well-balanced bitterness.

Leffe Blonde is served in a high-stemmed glass known as the Leffe Chalice, enabling drinkers to enjoy Leffe's delicate malt aroma and robust, creamy warmth.