Typically, wine is the adult beverage of choice on Valentine's Day. But the craft beer world is increasingly coming up with good alternatives.
While the bitterness of an especially hoppy beer might not be ideally suited (unless, of course, you were recently dumped - when bitterness might be appropriate), there are a number of offerings that blend well with the day, offering explosive tastes of chocolate and/or sweet fruit.
One brewery is even using the holiday to launch a new seasonal offering. Dogfish Head on Friday released Romantic Chemistry, an IPA brewed with mango, apricots and ginger, at its Milton, DE brewery and Rehoboth, DE brewpub. (National distribution - in 12 oz. bottles and draft - will begin on Feb. 15 and should be found on retails shelves and taps by late February or early March.)
While many Valentine's Day-appropriate craft offerings can work as a good desert beer (and we've listed a few especially good ones at the end of the column), it'd be a mistake to neglect beer and food pairings if you're making a special meal at home.
Similarities can be good, but often contrasting flavors often work best (think, for instance, of a sweet and sour sauce). And be careful that one doesn't overpower the other.
"I love it when you pick a beer and a meal that balance the intensities," says Will Hofmann, a certified cicerone who works for Sweetwater Brewing. "I wouldn't pair [a Sweetwater 420] up with a big, bacon wrapped pork chop. That would dominate the beer."
But try a 420 with some fried cod (made with a 420 beer batter) and it's an incredible thing. Hofmann and I did just that at Amen, a Charleston,SC seafood restaurant. Take a bite of the fish, then sip and you'll notice there's no bitterness. Sip the beer and have a bite and there's no oiliness after the fish.
The beer acts as a palate cleanser.
"It's like when you take a bite of steal," he says. "That first bite is so good, then the others are less so. But if you have a beer or wine, it cuts through that - and your next bite is just as good."
Another pairing worth your while? Try a glass of Jester King's Mad Meg with Scotch Eggs, using this recipe from Chef Harold Marmulstein of Austin's Salty Sow restaurant. The smoothness of the eggs, spiciness of the boudin sausage (and remoulade sauce) and the earthy tones and strong malt in the beer blend together wonderfully.
Not up for cooking? Here are a variety of beers that will make your Valentine swoon.
Lindeman's Framboise - If you're looking for something fruity, this is the ideal choice. Loaded with raspberry flavors, this fruit beer walks the line between super sweet and tart, which works out to a nice balance. It's very light and goes down smooth. And, if the sweetness is a bit too much on its own, try pouring Framboise over vanilla ice cream. The creaminess of the dairy and the tartness of the beer are absolutely fantastic together. (ABV: 2.5%)
Samuel Smith Organic Chocolate Stout - Smooth and velvety, this is one of the best chocolate stouts on the market. It's a double-layer chocolate cake in a bottle that foregoes coffee notes. It's also a fun beer to pair with other foods, ranging from cherries to (again) ice cream - depending on your tastes. (ABV: 5%)
New Belgium Ben & Jerry's Salted Caramel Brownie - When it was first announced, this sounded like a stunt beer. It's not. Technically a brown ale, the taste is more like a liquid brownie with just a hint of the caramel and salt in the name. Lightly carbonated and very smooth, it has a nice creamy finish. It's getting a little harder to find this one-time release (which hit shelves last October), but they're still available with a bit of searching. (ABV: 6.3%)
Foothills Brewing Sexual Chocolate – Released annually (since 2006) in the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, this cocoa-infused imperial stout tends to sell out fast, so you're going to have to hunt for it at this point. It's silky smooth with caramel and roasted malt flavors peeking out around the chocolate. Whether it will instill any sort of urges in your partner will likely depend on the rest of your presentation, though. (ABV: 9.75%)
Russian River Brewing Supplication - Like anything from Russian River, you're going to have a hard, hard time finding this, but if you do, you're a Valentine's Day hero. (I've literally seen people squeal with joy when they get one as a gift.) Supplication is a wonderful sour brown ale that's aged in used Pinot Noir barrels. It boasts a heavy cherry flavor and remarkably clean finish. Some sours and wild ales can be overpowering. This one borders on perfect. (ABV: 7%)
Samuel Adams (sam) Chocolate Bock - With a very pronounced milk chocolate flavor, this offering from Samuel Adams is a bit lighter than other chocolate beers in this list. It's moderately carbonated with a few hints of cream. You'll also likely pick up some vanilla mixed in with the chocolate, which only adds to the flavor. (ABV: 5.8%)
Westbrook 5th Anniversary Chocolate Raspberry Imperial Stout - Westbrook makes amazing stouts - and this latest might be one of their best. You're hit with a solid punch of raspberry as you take a sip (especially when the beer is cold). That's balanced with chocolate that becomes more prominent as it warms. Despite the high ABV, it's a very smooth drinking offering. (ABV: 10%)
Dogfish Head Romantic Chemistry - Let's be clear: This shouldn't work. An IPA with sweet fruits? But this is a romance worth pursuing. With its rock solid IPA base and the perfect blend of mango and apricot teasing the taste buds, it's a wonderfully balanced blend of hoppy and sweet. Personally, I didn't pick up the ginger, but that could be because the other two additives were dominant. While IPAs are generally best cold, to really appreciate the fruit in this, let it warm up some. That's when the sparks really start to fly. (ABV: 8%)