With Valentine’s Day falling on a Friday this year, you may wish to look beyond landing a dinner reservation; it will surely be a cluster of a night for most restaurants. Stay in instead and do it right with a fancy California beer pairing that you curate yourself. A little artisan chocolate and cheese are all you need to set the mood. I reached out to Alex P. Davis—Certified Cicerone (aka beer sommelier) and general manager of Santa Monica’s delicious food and beer emporium Library Alehouse—to get some ideas and inspiration for hosting a Valentine’s Day beer pairing at home.
And if you’ve already got plans that night, more power to you. But if you’re still interested in experiencing the glory that is craft beer alongside chocolate, turn your weekend into a full-blown Valentine’s extravaganza. That Sunday, February 16, Smog City Brewing will be hosting a beer and chocolate pairing with L.A. chocolatier ChocoVivo, featuring four beers and four different chocolates. Flights are $15 each and RSVPs—due no later than Sunday, February 9—are a must.
Now then… on to Alex’s expert recommendations!
Smog City Amarilla Gorilla IPA (American IPA) “IPA seems like a less than intuitive dessert companion given its reputation for bitterness, but that’s precisely why I’ve chosen to feature it here. Besides, there are probably those less lucky in love who might find a bitter beer perfectly fitting for Valentine’s day.”
→ Cheese pairing: Aged Cheddar “With greater age, cheddar often takes on sweeter, nuttier notes and develops a sharper bite. I find that the sharp, dry qualities of IPA resonate beautifully with that characteristic bite, while the tropical and citrusy notes in certain IPAs can bring out more of that sweetness inherent in aged cheddar.”
→ Chocolate pairing: TCHO Chocolate Covered Mango
“TCHO uses a fruity dark chocolate to cover the dried mango. The bitterness of the chocolate and IPA marry nicely, clearing room for your palate to find the dried mango’s match in your IPA.”
> Available for growler fills at Smog City Brewing, 1901 Del Amo Blvd., Suite B, Torrance, 310-320-7664, smogcitybrewing.com.
Firestone XVII Anniversary Ale (Barrel-Aged Blend) “A big, decadent beer seems perfect for a celebratory evening and the fact that this beer is a harmonious union of many beers makes it all the more fitting. Firestone XVII is a malty beast, boasting loads of sweet bourbon, dark fruit and chocolate.”
→ Cheese pairing: Unie Kaas 3-Year Gouda “This cheese is loaded with umami. Its savory notes are tinged with hints of butterscotch and dried fruit. The smooth, mellow maltiness of XVII is only augmented by the cheese’s glutamate goodness. The beer’s whiskey and dark fruit notes are bolstered with the cheese’s subtle sweetness and fruit. Barrel-aged beer and old Gouda are one of my favorite pairs.
→ Chocolate pairing: ChocoVivo Shangri-La Bar “[L.A. chocolatier] ChocoVivo produces this bar with black sesame and goji berries, both of which add welcome elements to the beer’s flavor profile. Black sesame hints at peanut butter, giving the pairings a Reese’s-like note, while goji berry adds tartness, providing balance to the pairing.”
> Firestone XVII is available in bottles only; to locate one, consult Firestone Walker’s beer finder and call the stores listed to verify availability. You can also pick one up at the Paso Robles brewery or its significantly closer Buellton taproom: 1400 Ramada Dr., Paso Robles, or 620 McMurray Rd., Buellton, 805-225-5911. (I know, I know… their forthcoming Venice taproom can’t come soon enough.)
The Bruery Oude Tart (Flemish Red) “You can’t have a Valentine’s-themed pairing list without something red. In this case, I’ve opted for the The Bruery’s Flemish Red which boasts notes of tart cherry, red wine, toasty oak, and refreshing acidity.”
→ Cheese pairing: Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog “I’ve always found sour beer and creamy, tangy goat cheeses to be a match made in heaven, and this pairing is no exception. Cherry notes in the beer bring out the subtler citrus character of the cheese while the beer’s acidity and carbonation relieve the palate of the cheese’s coating creaminess. To really amp things up, spread the cheese on some toasted raisin bread and drizzle with a little honey.”
→ Chocolate pairing: Strawberry Balsamic Chocolate Truffles “I used to get these truffles at the late Jin Patisserie on Abbot Kinney but they can usually be found at Compartés Chocolatier in Brentwood as well. Everything about these truffles is perfect for the beer. The strawberry and cherry sing together. The balsamic notes round out the beer’s acidity and the chocolate forces some of the beer’s toasty oak character to the fore. I could not be more pleased with this pairing.”
AleSmith My Bloody Valentine (American Amber / Red Ale) “Too easy? Perhaps. That said, this is a seasonal beer that I look forward to every year (along with its October counterpart, Evil Dead Red). This hoppy red ale has big citrus and spice notes accompanied by rich toffee and hints of chocolate.”
→ Cheese pairing: St. Agur Blue “One of my favorite blue cheeses to pair with beer as it’s a bit creamier and less aggressive than some heftier blues. The somewhat spicy character of the cheese plays nicely with the citrus and spice of the hops, while the cheese’s extremely creamy texture melds with the beer’s lush malt for a luxurious, but not overpowering finish.”
→ Chocolate pairing: Vosges Red Fire Chocolate Bar “Featuring caramel, ancho chile, chipotle, and cinnamon, this chocolate bar is not for the faint of heart. That said, those who try this pairing will be treated to a palate-singeing delight. The bar’s caramel and chocolate easily find analogues in the beer’s malt profile, and the beer’s inherent spice and bitterness amplify the flavor of the chile and cinnamon for a fiery, yet enjoyable finish.”
> My Bloody Valentine is available in bottles at better craft beer stores around town, or at the brewery if you feel like making the trek to San Diego: AleSmith Brewing Company, 9368 Cabot Dr., San Diego, 858-549-9888, alesmith.com.
For more beer pairing tips, check out the Brewers Association’s beer pairing chart.