It seems that as soon as the Christmas displays are taken down on Dec. 26, shops are suddenly filled with the red hearts and cupids of Valentine's Day. Stuffed bears, flower displays, jewelry store sales and offers for romantic island getaways seem to be everywhere.
One item, however, seems to trump all others on the national day of love.
From the ubiquitous Werther's Samplers and Hershey Kisses covered in red foil to specialty shops serving blissful coco goodness, chocolate can conger up romantic visions of a quiet candlelit dinner. Invariably, in that scene there would be a bottle of wine on the table.Before reaching for the vino, why not consider beer instead?
As American craft brewers continue to pitch the idea of food and beer pairings for dinner, they have not skipped dessert.
Fred Bueltmann, vice president at Michigan's New Holland Brewing, has been promoting the pairing of beer and chocolate for years, even holding tasting seminars on the pair.
"There are so many known companions on the flavor wheel of beer and the flavor wheel of chocolate," he said in a telephone interview earlier this week. "It's a natural example of bridging flavors between beer and food. Our palates already know these flavors."
It's natural then to think that beer styles like a stout or porter would be the easiest to pair with chocolate and Bueltmann agrees with that. But there really is no limit.
Brown or amber ales made with a caramel malt could certainly compliment a chocolate caramel. Or a saison-style farmhouse ale with notes of citrus could go well with, say, an orange infused chocolate, Bueltmann noted.
"Once other ingredients start being involved in the chocolate you can introduce, different beer flavors," he said.
To that end, Buckbean Brewing of Reno, Nevada paired up with a local chocolate shop and has been selling gift baskets combining each of its canned beers with artisanal chocolates.
Buckbean's flagship is an Orange Blossom Ale, and brewmaster Dan Kahn said they paired the beer with a lavender truffle and a chili-chocolate truffle made by Sweets candy company that makes and sells chocolate throughout the greater northern Nevada area.
For Buckbean's Tule Duck Red Ale it was paired with a sea salt caramel and a black forest truffle. The savory aspect of the caramel complements the robust character of beer that has a lot of caramel malt.
"There is a good hops character, not as much hop bitterness as a pale ale, but you notice it and the sea salt actually brings out additional flavors," said Kahn.
Kahn said these pairings weren't done on a whim. In early January, with Valentine's Day in mind, his wife suggested gift baskets. So they took several beers to Sweets and sampled various chocolates.
The candy company was already familiar with pairing chocolate with wine, but were new to beer.
"They were a little surprised we wanted to do it," said Kahn. "And when we did the tasting they were surprised as to how well it actually worked."
About 30 gift baskets were delivered to the brewery, with about half remaining by Wednesday afternoon. Kahn, expects them to be gone well before the 14th. Buckbean already expects to repeat the same idea next year.
But, if you can't make it to a chocolate shop before Sunday, you can always pick up a chocolate-style beer like Rogue's Chocolate Stout or Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock.
Brewers always make gift giving so easy, don't they?