As Rex Halfpenny introduced the idea of pairing artisan beers with gourmet chocolates at the Epicurean Classic in Traverse City, Michigan, an audience member remarked, “Why don’t people know this?”
“We are not talking about light beer and M&Ms here,” says Halfpenny, publisher of the Michigan Beer Guide and a certified beer judge. He presented the idea of eating high-cocoa-content chocolates with a swig of good beer at the 2007 northern Michigan culinary extravaganza.
For five years, Halfpenny has presented beer and chocolate seminars throughout Michigan, to the tune of 100 people audiences. Read on to learn how Halfpenny became the guru of what beer matches what chocolate—and how to put together a tasty pair yourself.
Wine Enthusiast: How did you put beer and chocolate together in the first place?
Rex Halfpenny: The idea came from a beer writer in Oregon, Fred Eckert. He did a tasting in Frankenmuth, Michigan, called Taste of the Great Lakes, [where he served] beer with candy. We enjoyed it, but we were amazed with his last pairing, Bells Expedition Stout with Stroh’s vanilla ice cream. Everybody in the room was like, “Beer and ice cream?” And the whole room went quiet because everybody was amazed at what a great combination it was.
WE: How did you make the leap to chocolate?
RH: I started investigating—only I elevated it. We do craft-brewed, higher-end beers, so I sought higher-end chocolate, higher-cocoa content, cocoa butter.
WE: How do you know which chocolates go with which beers?
RH: Look at stouts and porters—they have roasted flavors like chocolate or coffee. We use that as a stepping stone, a take-off point. For example, a Belgian Triple, which has citrusy-orangey flavors, [with] Green & Black’s Maya Gold. It’s spiced, chili spices and orange flavors.
WE: How can someone get started?
RH: Go out and find a variety of high-end chocolates and then get a variety of craft and imported beers. Sit down with friends and mix and match and discover.
WE: What about people who already know a lot about beer or chocolate or both?
RH: Pair crisper, lighter beers with candy [and] lighter chocolates. Work your way up [to] darker chocolates and robust, fully-flavored beers.
WE: Can you suggest some good pairings?
RH: With hoppy beers, use spicy chocolates. Rogue Brewery’s hazelnut brown ale with hazelnut or crème brûlée chocolates. Porter is good with milk chocolate. Stout has coffee flavors; get chocolate-covered coffee beans. Another good pairing is chocolate-covered caramels with an Oktoberfest beer.