From cards to candy and flowers to food, Americans are expected to spend more than $21 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts this year. And while liqueur-filled truffles can be fun to unwrap on the 14th, I wonder how many shoppers choose to buy that special someone a special bottle of wine, beer or spirits? Do sales of Four Roses bourbon spike in February?
For my money, beer does the best job of satisfying seasonal cravings during this romantic holiday, particularly a bottle of chocolate stout or porter. Why? Because many of the flavors produced by malting barley harmonize effortlessly with everyone’s favorite dark confection. Here in the Pacific Northwest, a growing number of breweries now make beers with cocoa powder, cacao nibs, baker’s chocolate or the like. Some examples, such as the Reuben’s Brews Chocolate Box series, are taproom-only releases, but plenty of others find their way into distribution. So instead of yet another heart-shaped package of assorted candies, consider sweetening someone’s day with a container of chocolate beer instead.
The Golden Experience | Oakshire Brewing – Eugene, OR
If Willy Wonka were to write a beer recipe, this would be it. Sweet and strong with notes of Nutella, vanilla and decadent ganache, this thick, fudgy imperial stout was inspired by Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Slightly boozy in the finish with a dusting of cocoa powder, it’s a beer that inspires wonder and warrants caution. (12% ABV)
Chocolate Stout | Rogue Ales & Spirits – Newport, OR
Luscious and creamy like a malted chocolate milkshake, this nitro stout pours a dark brown color with aromas of Nesquik, cafe mocha and dark caramel. A roasty note along with a whisper of earthiness and the flavor of semi-sweet chocolate pieces help to balance an otherwise sweet beer. (5.8% ABV)
Midnight Malt Cocoa Porter | Pelican Brewing – Pacific City, OR
Deep, chestnut brown with a frothy collar of tan foam, this full-bodied porter has a nose that combines brown bread, dark chocolate and rich molasses with a faint nuttiness. Complex and craveable with enough bitterness to keep it from sliding into syrupy territory, Midnight Malt finishes with a nudge of charcoal, a dash of dryness and a tannic linger. (6% ABV)
Cocoa Cardamom | Cascade Brewing – Portland, OR
A treat for fans of sour beer, this barrel-aged blonde ale is brewed with Dutch cocoa, cardamom seeds and orange zest. Super fragrant with notes of citrus, spicy cardamom and an earthy, musty character, it’s a light-bodied beer with prickly carbonation and a subtle chocolate foundation. Tartness and a toasted walnut quality carry into the finish. (9.8% ABV)
Mocha Rhino Suit | Alesong Brewing & Blending – Eugene, OR
Jet black and blooming with intense aromas of molasses, whiskey, brownies, French roast, and allspice, this is a chocolate beer for coffee lovers. Full-bodied with a touch of alcohol heat that manages to stay in check, Mocha Rhino Suit tastes a little like a Black Russian cocktail that’s heavy on the Kahlúa. A swipe of Tootsie Roll sweetness and a suggestion of baking spice in the finish complete the sip. (11.8% ABV)
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Chocolate Imperial Stout | Everybody’s Brewing – White Salmon, WA
A collaboration with Drake’s Brewing in California, this dark delight entices with fragrant vanilla, milk chocolate, rich bourbon, sweet coconut and a tickle of spice. Smooth and full-bodied with a boozy edge as it warms, Everybody’s barrel-aged beauty tastes like chocolate babka with a bittersweet backbone and a pleasant whiskey linger. (12.2% ABV)
Embers Mexican Chocolate Porter | Payette Brewing – Boise, ID
Sometimes you want a dessert with a bit of a kick, and when you do, Embers Mexican Chocolate Porter is what to reach for. Dark malt, salted caramel, and a hint of chili mingle on the nose, while the flavor delivers all that along with gooey chocolate and a pinch of cinnamon. Mellow and medium-bodied, the hot pepper heat is faint and doesn’t emerge until the finish. (6% ABV)
Author of The Great Northeast Brewery Tour and a contributor to The Oxford Companion to Beer, Ben Keene has judged beer competitions across the United States and frequently speaks at industry conferences and conventions. He lives in Seattle.