By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Of course you love beer, or you wouldn’t be reading this. But should you drink beer with your Valentine’s chocolates?
Of course, sweetheart.
Oregonians love to pair craft beer with craft chocolate, now possible thanks to the relatively young craft chocolate or “bean-to-bar” movement here.
Gone are the industrially bland brown sugar lumps. Enter the rich, complex goodness produced by chocolatiers — crafters who are winning the hearts and minds of true chocolate lovers.
After years of enthusiastic research into chocolate, the Straub family recently opened Creo Chocolate at 122 NE Broadway St., just a few blocks from the Moda Center. Portland’s streetcar stops across the street from their chocolate shop and cafe.
Like any attentive small-batch brewer, the Straubs carefully sourced their cacao ingredients, visiting Ecuador farms to review practices. It’s no small job to create delicious chocolate from the fermented and dried fruit of a cacao plant. Luckily, the family has many hands for the roasting, cracking, winnowing, grinding, conching, tempering, molding and packaging required to produce the various chocolates offered at the store and online. You can see all of that by joining occasional tours at the store, or you can watch work in progress while you enjoy chocolate treats, coffee or sipping chocolate in the cafe.
Beer and chocolates belong together, said Carl Singmaster, one of Belmont Station’s owners. Other experts agree. Both fermented products (yes, real chocolate begins with fermented beans!) can be enjoyed for their unique characteristics: mouthfeel, aroma, flavor, richness, astringency -- all of these nerdisms can be applied to both beer and chocolate. Pairing chocolate and beer is not an exact science, so I encourage you to do your own research. Invite your Valentine over for a tasting and choose your own pairings.
Meanwhile, Carl’s suggestions for pairing Creo Chocolate with Oregon beers, along with my own recommendations, are listed below:
Creo 100% Cacao — You would think this chocolate, with no ingredients save the Ecuadorian Heirloom Arriba Nacional cacao beans that are in most of Creo’s products, would be too bitter to eat. But somehow the Straubs have coaxed a smooth and palatable nutty flavor from the beans and packed it into a bar. I tasted hints of raisins or dates. In fact, this is health food, Carl tells me. Creo’s 100% Cacao, as with any dark chocolate bar with more than 70 percent cacao, is full of heart-healthy minerals and antioxidants. Some claim it improves skin tone and brain function. Carl suggests pairing very dark chocolate with Barley Brown’s Don Vanuchi “The Killer.” This big, roasty Russian imperial stout goes well with the almost fruity, nutty, vanilla character of the chocolate, Carl said. Other possible pairs include: Crux Tough Love [Banished], a barrel-aged imperial stout, and Hopworks Organic Motherland Russian Imperial.
Creo Purely Dark 73% Ecuador Cacao — Added to the Heirloom Arriba Nacional cacao is a bit of organic evaporated cane juice to make this slightly sweet chocolate bar that will appeal to milk chocolate lovers but has nary a drop of dairy. This bar, which is the basis for several other varieties at Creo, is a finalist for the 2016 Good Food Awards in San Francisco. Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis Oatmeal Stout, Baerlic Noble Oatmeal Stout, Alameda Black Bear XX and a whole host of other Oregon medium-dry stouts pair well with this chocolate. The sweet and the dry flavors in both the chocolate and the beer complement each other.
Creo Nibs & Sea Salt — This is a 73% cacao chocolate bar studded with sea salt and the crunchy nibs from the roasted and husked beans of cacao. In the nib, a superfood, you can taste the flavors of the region where the beans are grown. Creo’s nibs add a dry nuttiness, perhaps almonds (my suggestion) or dried coconut flavors, to the sea salt and cocoa butter. Carl suggests pairing with: Upright Four, Pelican Saison du Pelican or The Commons Urban Farmhouse Ale. These three saisons, and other Oregon saisons, are a light complement to the mild nuttiness of the nibs and the dryness of the salt. This chocolate-beer pairing is proof that beers don’t have to be dark to pair with chocolate.
Creo Spicy Dark 73% Cacao — The Straubs call this chocolate a “party in your mouth,” but when beer is added, the flavors actually intensify. Chilies, cinnamon and other spices are added to the dark chocolate bar to create a heat sensation that reminded Carl of Red Hots. Carl and I agree: this is one kind of chocolate bar that can stand up to an IPA, especially those that feature the “C” hops common in Oregon — Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Columbus and sometimes Cluster and Crystal. These hops are fragrant and citrusy, bringing out the peppery taste and emphasizing the chocolate difference. Lompoc C-Note, Ex Novo Dynamic Duo and Fort George Vortex will work, but of course there are too many great IPAs to mention them all! If you’d rather have a mellower party, try pairing this spicy chocolate with a hoppy red -- Ecliptic Phobos was among Carl’s suggestions.
(a) 122 NE Broadway St., Portland
Monthly recipes and pairings from your favorite brewpubs around Oregon.