The concept of a dessert beer is nothing new, as there’s essentially a brew for every course (and every meal, for that matter). But just as there’s a “been there, done that” comfort zone in main course pairings, there can be a tendency to be too safe when seeking the right match for a dessert indulgence, as well. Sure, porters go great with vanilla ice cream, but sometimes that pairing can be a bit… well, vanilla. Here are a few dessert-beer pairings worth exploring.
Believe it or not, an ideal companion for a slice of carrot cake is an IPA. Randy Mosher, author of “Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink” and “Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What to Drink and When to Drink It,” was the first to suggest such a pairing, the discovery of which he calls “an epiphany.”
“When I first heard about that combination, I was skeptical as well,” says John Holl, author of the “The American Craft Beer Cookbook: 155 Recipes from Your Favorite Brewpubs and Breweries.” “But when you think about it the right way, a nutty, earthy carrot cake that’s a little sweet—you’ll maybe get some raisins in there [and] walnuts—those complement the caramel malts in IPA really well.”
Meanwhile, resinous flavor elements, like those in Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Torpedo Extra IPA, or the tropical fruit notes of many hop varietals are known to balance some of carrot cake’s earthy sweetness. Even IPAs that incorporate actual fruits like mangos and passionfruit can work. “It adds a new dimension of fruit and perceived sweetness to it,” Holl says.
Another option to complement carrot cake is an imperial red ale. “[It] seems the crystal malt really picks up on the raisins, spice, and fruit,” Mosher says. “The cake is too sweet; the beer is way bitter. Together they seem to annihilate each other.”
There are a number of dessert-themed beers that try to mimic the flavor of crème brulée, but to go with the dessert, Holl advises something different: a Belgian or Belgian-style quad. “You’re getting some fig, plum, and dark stone fruit, and there’s a nice floral [quality] to it,” he says. “A quad and crème brulée match up to each other and complement each other as well.” The richness of the brulée pairs perfectly with the depth of flavor of the Belgian. Additionally, the robust carbonation of the quad scrubs the palate of rich, fatty elements, prepping it for the next bite.
When it comes to chocolate desserts, try not to fall into the culinary trap of pairing a brew with chocolatey notes. “Imperial stout and chocolate is an easy and natural pair that nearly always works, but it’s very uncreative and ‘matchy-matchy,’” Mosher says. “So I’ve taken to putting chocolatey beers with things the flavors go naturally with: caramel, nuts, and red fruit like cherries and raspberries.”
For deep chocolate confections, Garrett Oliver, vice president and brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery in New York, recommends Belgian-style kriek (cherry) and framboise (raspberry) beers. The experience is not unlike eating chocolate-dipped berries.
File this one away for the fall: Instead of pairing pumpkin beer with pumpkin pie, grab a classic winter warmer. The cinnamon and clove elements common in such cold-weather brews make for a tasty partnership with pumpkin desserts. “When you get a winter warmer with a thicker body to it and [add that to] the creamy consistency of pumpkin pie, it’s a nice sensory experience,” Holl says.
Few end-of-meal dishes embody “rich and creamy” as much as cheesecake. Diners definitely are going to want something that not only boasts healthy, palate-scrubbing carbonation, but something that has ample fat-cutting acid as well. For basic, unadorned cheesecake, Oliver suggests dry-hopped sours. Big, boozy barleywines are another match for some cheesecakes, as well as shortcakes and desserts with bitter chocolate elements. “Basically, I would look at moving away from residual sugar as the basis for pairing,” Oliver advises, “and look more toward roast, big malt flavors, and cutting acidity.”
There may be nothing more American than apple pie, but as far as pairings are concerned, you’re going to want to look overseas for inspiration—particularly to Belgium. Mosher recommends a brew with caramel characteristics, such as Kwak from Brouwerij Bosteels or Gouden Carolus Classic from Brouwerij Het Anker. The pairing also works with more European apple fare, like strudel.
Like IPA, a crisp lager isn’t typically the first style that comes to mind when one thinks of dessert, but certain well-made Mexican-style lagers—which continue to be all the rage among craft beer producers north of the border—can be quite the evocative selection. “Think lime in a Corona,” Holl says. “You don’t want that [lime] tartness to be washed away and you don’t want some of the subtleties of the graham cracker crust to be washed away. [A Mexican-style lager] blends into the background and lets the other elements shine.”
Short’s Brewing Company’s Key Lime Pie
Capturing the main components of the dessert this limited-release beer is named for, Short’s starts with a golden ale with specialty malts as a base, then builds the flavor from graham cracker crumbs, a small hop bill, lime juice, lactose, and marshmallow creme. To pair, head brewer Tony Hansen recommends a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream, “or, if you want to get weird, caramel bacon popcorn.”
7.3% ABV | Elk Rapids, Michigan