Try to silence the curmudgeon long enough to hear a legendary homebrewer’s wise words.
You: “Valentine’s Day is a ‘Hallmark’ holiday.”
You: “It’s just a conspiracy amongst the jewelers, restauranteurs, and other retailers.”
You: “She expects me to do something for Valentine’s Day.”
You: “Prix fixe meals are a rip-off.”
You: “We celebrate our love year-round.”
Sage Homebrewer: “Relax, don’t worry, and have a homebrew.”
Charlie Papazian, homebrewing pioneer, is well-known for saying “Relax, don’t worry…” as a response to getting overly stressed out over the process and the eventual outcome of a homebrewed beer.
In the case of Valentine’s Day and all of the marketing hype, build-up, and stress I will paraphrase a bit and suggest that if you are stressed by the day of Cupid — do not worry and have a great beer.
The ensuing question in your head likely will be, “Is it that easy? Can I get away with that?” Let’s work through it together and see if this could work for you and your sweetheart this coming Valentine’s Day.
The concept of pairing beer with food, all courses of the meal in fact, is becoming much more understood and appreciated. With the diversity of beers that is available in almost every corner of the country, the idea of being able to pick up some very interesting beers along with cheese, charcuterie, and chocolate from the local marketplace is not such a far-fetched one.
For Valentine’s Day, let’s begin with the premise that the day should be about creating memories together through shared experiences. This can be experienced, of course, by going out on the town and allowing others to arrange all of the details. But, upon further reflection, will your significant other be more impressed if you personally arrange for a night of movies or music with accompanying beer and food at home?
Start with the food. A meal can easily be made from a selection of cheeses, charcuterie, and sweets.
Stop at one of your better grocery stores or farmer markets and pick up some cheese to your liking. Some of the most pair-worthy cheeses with beer include aged cheddars, blues, and goats.
Add some meats like smoked sausage, cured salami, and a pâté or terrine.
Finally, pick up something for dessert. Chocolate not only makes traditional sense for the holiday, but it can work very well with beer. It is difficult to go wrong with chocolate, though typically the more dark, decadent, and bitter the better. A chocolate dessert with mocha accents or fruit, like raspberries or cherries, in it can also work quite well.
For the beer, you’re in luck if you live in a state where food and beer happily co-mingle in the grocery store. If not, you have one more stop to make at your beer store. The challenge will be to purchase a different bottle to go with each of the “courses”.
To begin with the cheese, if you chose something like aged cheddar with its tendency for strong flavors, then you may find a more significantly hopped style of beer to go perfectly with it. But, yet, balance will be the key in this case, so finding a hoppy beer with a significant malt backbone will be important. On the lower end of the ABV (alcohol by volume) scale, a nice solid IPA (India Pale Ale) like Bear Republic Racer 5 (7% ABV, California) or Summit IPA (6.4% ABV, Minnesota) will do quite nicely in the 5% to 7% ABV range.
To start things off with a bang, though, if the cheddar has rich texture and strong flavors you might instead go with a little more of a robust malt backbone to accompany the hops as in an American-style Barleywine. Think Rogue Old Crustacean (11.5% ABV, Oregon) or Victory Old Horizontal (10.5% ABV, Pennsylvania) and you will have a winner with aged cheddar cheese.
If your cheese selection is something along the lines of a tart and/or funky blue cheese, these last two barleywines mentioned could do a swell job in pairing richness with richness. However, a beer with some tart and sour flavors might complement it as well. If you are not so experienced with sour beers, keep your eyes open for something relatively widely available like Cantillon’s Iris (5% ABV Lambic imported from Belgium), Allagash Confluence (7.4% ABV, Maine), Jolly Pumpkin La Roja (7.2% ABV, Michigan), or New Belgium La Folie (6% ABV, Colorado).
After you whet your appetite with a few bites of cheese, it’s time to give some of the meats a try.
When thinking of beer and meats, prosciutto and cured salame come to mind. When pairing these delectable slices of meat and their caramelized sugars, a beer’s caramelized malts like that of Anchor Liberty (6% ABV, California) also come to mind. The beer should be sturdy enough to stand up to the meaty and salty flavors, while not overwhelming the flavor of the meat. Yet it will also carry enough of a hop punch to help cut through some of the meat’s fat.
Smoked sausage might be another meat perfect for Valentine’s Day noshing. There is an old German beer style that is making a slow resurgence and is perfect with smoked meats and it’s all in the name: Rauchbier, or Smoke Beer. An authentic Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen (5.4% ABV), straight out of Bamberg, should do the perfect pairing trick. From the States, you should easily find a Stone Smoked Porter (5.9% ABV, California) which would also do admirably well with smoked meats.
Yet another way you might choose to go with regard to charcuterie is a meaty pâté or terrine. Here a Belgian Dubbel beer like Ommegang Abbey (8.5% ABV, New York) or Maredsous 8 (8% ABV, Belgium) will have enough richness to compliment the decadent pâté as well as hints of spiciness to counter any gaminess in the meat. One final way to go with these last meats and beer might be with the pronounced roastiness of a dunkel (dark) lager or brown ale. Here you might opt for a Hacker-Pschorr Münchner Dunkel (5% ABV, Germany) or a Sierra Nevada Tumbler (5.5% ABV, California).
Then there is the dessert course. Oh, the dessert course! Where would Valentine’s Day be without an over-the-top dessert?
The versatility of beer shows so well with many different foods. With desserts, particularly those where chocolate and fruit play a lead role, beer is just as at home as with any other pairing.
You may have picked up a chocolate tiramisu. Think solid porter and grab a Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (5.8% ABV, Ohio). Or perhaps you picked up a mocha bread pudding in which a coffee stout like Dieu Du Ciel’s Péché Mortel (9.5% ABV, Quebec) will compliment the dessert so well.
Dessert options are endless, but let’s end with one more suggestion. Chocolate mousse pie. The rich, chocolaty flavors of Southern Tier’s Choklat (11% ABV, New York) should be able to end your Valentine’s Day meal on a high note with an incredible chocolate overdose.
Remember, the great thing about beer is its versatility. And, the great thing about taste is that it is entirely subjective. Above here were some guidelines to follow. The fun part, though, is in picking up a variety of beers and foods and trying them for yourselves.
Pop in a movie, pop the cap, relax, and let the stress-free Valentine’s Day begin.
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