One sometimes-forgotten aspect of the craft boom has been the rise of dessert beers, which provide the opportunity for dessert pairings, dessert recipes, or simply after-dinner drinks as an alternative to brandy, Port, or Cognac.
Asheville, North Carolina-based Wicked Weed Brewery, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, recently launched Guilty Pleasures, a seasonal variety pack of dessert beers. The 4-pack of 12-ounce bottles ($15) features Milk & Cookies imperial milk stout, as well as French Toast, S’mores, and German Chocolate Cake imperial stouts. Guilty Pleasures is available in ten eastern states, as well as Washington, D.C. and New York City. Oskar Blues Brewery’s seasonal label Death by Coconut Irish porter ($11 a 4-pack of 12-ounce cans) is also available nationally, while Rogue Ales is adding Cherry Choctabulous ($8 a 22-ounce bottle) to its line of chocolate stouts this month.
“A classic beer and dessert pairing is chocolate cake and stout—like a flourless chocolate cake and an American-style stout, for example,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association. Craig Hartinger, marketing director at Merchant du Vin—which imports Samuel Smith Brewery’s Organic Chocolate stout and Lindemans Brewery’s lambic ales—points to Lindemans Framboise’s pairing with a flourless chocolate cake. “The aroma of raspberries contrasts with the sharpness and roasted nature of the chocolate,” he says.
Greg Engert, beer director and partner at Neighborhood Restaurant Group—which operates multiple concepts in the Washington, D.C. market and the Grand Delancey in New York City—notes that carrot cake and West Coast-style IPA is another popular dessert pairing. “The dry, intense bitterness of the beer balances against the rich sweetness of the cake, while citric hop notes complement the carrot, cream cheese frosting and spice flavors,” he says.
Some beers pair surprisingly well with sweets. Engert suggests matching rauchbiers to “all things chocolate, since the beer’s bacon-like flavors bring a vibrant, smoky, almost salty flavor to complement the rich cocoa notes.” Trending beer styles also have a place at the dessert table, according to Engert, who notes that cheesecake matches well with Hazy IPAs, while sour beers with dark fruits pair nicely with chocolate-based desserts, gelatos, tarts, and cream pies. Herz recommends matching a saison with a dense dessert, such as crème brûlée. “The acidity of the beer complements the caramelized, hard-sugar crust of the dish,” she says.
Dessert beers are also making appearances in decadent cocktails. Hartinger says a number of accounts feature the Chocolate-Covered Raspberry cocktail—two ounces of Lindemans Framboise poured into a pint glass, topped off with Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate stout. At Better Than Sex, a four-unit chain of dessert restaurants, melted confections are used to rim beer glassware for offerings such as the Gyration, which pairs the same Samuel Smith stout with a Callebaut dark chocolate rim, and the Vanilla Vibration, which pairs Lexington Brewing’s Kentucky Vanilla Barrel Cream ale with a Callebaut white chocolate and brûlée sugar rim (both $10). According to Len Johnson, co-founder of the concept, the drinks are often ordered as appetizers prior to dessert.
Dessert beers can also be paired with other courses. Joe Pawelek, head of brewing operations at Wicked Weed, recommends pairing Milk & Cookies with rib eye steak, barbecued ribs, pulled pork, and chili. Meanwhile, Bliss Dake, vice president of marketing at Rogue, suggests matching the brewer’s chocolate stout with pot roast, Cherry Choctabulous with roast duck, and Double Chocolate stout with porterhouse steak. And many dessert beers can stand alone, of course. In addition to imperial stouts and barleywines, Engert says pastry stouts are “nothing short of dessert in a glass,” as brewers today are utilizing ingredients ranging from peanut butter to espresso to vanilla beans.
Dessert beers are just starting to hit their stride. “What began as experimentation has morphed into a developing category with new flavor profiles and increased consumer interest,” says Rogue’s Dake. “We don’t think this category will go away.”