On the island of Madeira, I was once even served a mixed drink made from the local wine, dark lager (as opposed to the more usual light) and powdered chocolate. The producer of the wine made the drink, and eyebrows were raised when I unblinkingly enjoyed it.
They were raised again the other day when Whitbread launched a beer called Fuggles Chocolate, but the idea is deliciously sensible. The company may, though, have erred in launching this as a dark, mild ale on draught in the pub; the chocolate would have been more life-enhancing as a strong stout in a liqueur bottle, to be served at dinner.
Still, I enjoyed Fuggles Chocolate. Its flavours reminded me of roasted nuts and grains as well as chocolate. It started with a touch of Bourneville (enhanced by the soft bitterness of the Fuggles hop), and finished with sweeter, fruitier flavours reminiscent of pears in chocolate sauce.
Chocolate essence was added in the production of the beer, but that was to gild the lily. Many dark beers made without the magic bean have flavours that mimic chocolate. These arise when the barley is turned into malt. This process of germination and kilning is the first step towards the release of fermentable sugars. Different levels of kilning provide a variety of flavours.
The pale malt used in golden lagers gives biscuity flavours; a stewing process will turn the grains a reddish colour for typical Northern brown ale; a higher kilning makes for chocolatey, coffee-ish characteristics such as those found in stouts. The last are known to brewers as chocolate malts.
Chocolatey malt flavours can be experienced in such widely available brews as Mackeson Stout (which also contains sugars derived from milk), the medium-dry Beamish and the toasty Murphy's. They are more pronounced in the oatmeal stouts (using that creamy grain) from Young's, in London, Samuel Smith, of Yorkshire, and two Scottish brewers, Broughton and Belhaven.
Stouts made with oats are a delightful accompaniment to that wintry Scottish dessert, Atholl brose, made from the same grain with cream, honey and whisky.
As well as its Oatmeal Stout, Samuel Smith's makes a powerful (7 per cent alcohol by volume) Imperial Stout. This style takes its name from its well-documented popularity at the tsars' court in St Petersburg. An even more potent (9.5-10.5) Imperial 'Russian' Stout is made by Courage's.
In beers this strong, the yeasts produce very fruity flavours during fermentation. When the characteristics combine with the roastiness, the end result is like burnt currants on the outside of a cake. Try them with Christmas pudding.
Strong stouts are still made in various parts of the former Russian empire and China. One of my favourites, Lion Stout, is produced in Sri Lanka but widely available in Britain. I love it with kulfi, the Indian counterpart to ice-cream. The nutty beer goes wonderfully well with pistachio-flavoured kulfi.
Beneath the snowy mountains of Colorado last week, in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, I tasted some extraordinary flavours in the barley brew. Some, such as woodruff, were revivals of ingredients used before the widespread acceptance of hops early in this millennium. Others included lemon, ginger, coffee and essence of white chocolate.
I do not know quite what the Campaign for Real Ale would make of this, though it was Camra's influence in Britain that prompted the new interest in beer in the United States.
In Dallas, the American beer writer Fred Eckhardt once matched six different styles of chocolate with various beers. I especially liked the dark lager with Tobler nougat and a strong Belgian ale with Cote d'Or chocolate. In Seattle, where they love eclectic food and drink, I have enjoyed chocolate truffles rolled in dark malt.
Predictably, the French do it in style. In Strasbourg, at Patisserie Christian (10 Rue Merciere, near the cathedral), I have enjoyed beer-flavoured chocolate truffles (shaped like tiny tankards, with marzipan handles) and mousses with the same ingredient.Reuse content