By Rich Ireland
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It still seems to surprise people every time I show up to a party or beer pairing with a dessert course to be served with beer.
In fact, my pairing of a specialty vanilla bean beer with chef Tim Urbanic’s Bavarian crème pastry pushed me over the edge to win this year’s FeastivALL beer/wine fundraising dinner.
More recently I showed up to a Gazette-Mail Life & Style columnist gathering with a specialty cherry beer from Wisconsin, and served it with a chocolate cheesecake — once again leaving many with a new way of thinking about craft beer.
West Virginians are finally able to access many delicious beers that work when properly paired with dessert dishes.
Everything from bourbon-barrel-aged stouts to raspberry lambic beers are readily available, though some are more seasonal, like ales made from pumpkin.
The stronger, more intense imperial stouts or specialty fruit beers are a good place to start when pairing. Look for specialty ingredients on the label, like hazelnut or vanilla, to direct you toward a thematic flavor.
The key to pairing beer with dessert is to match intensity of flavors. You don’t want either the beer or dessert to overpower the other.
It’s a good idea to know the beer; don’t go in on blind faith that the beer tastes like the label reads.
Another tip is to try to use contrasting flavors, like cherry with chocolate, for example, or sour with sweet.
Ultimately it’s dessert, so sometimes subtlety goes out the window!
There are also many desserts where the beer has a direct role; ice cream floats using chocolate stout are a good and very easy example.
An unlikely yet compelling pairing is hoppy double IPA with glazed carrot cake. The bitterness goes very well with the creamy frosting on the cake, while the complex flavors of the beer play around with the cake itself.
Dessert is a great place to start, especially when learning how to pair beer and food. At least you know that if you miss on the pairing, you can drink the beer and eat the dessert separately while you rethink your strategy!